Stanley Kubrick once famously said J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy of novels was unfilmable.
It is hard to imagine what the great director would have made of Amazon’s $1 billion gamble on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a 50-hour television series based on the dry historical footnotes published at the end of book three.
The show, out Friday globally on Prime Video, aims to tap into the huge and enduring appeal of books still regularly voted the world’s best-loved novels of all time, as well as Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning film adaptations.
It is central to Amazon’s bid to stand out in the “streaming wars” with Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max—whose own Game of Thrones prequel just launched—and is bankrolled by multi-billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, a Tolkien mega-fan.
But populated by heroes and villains who are barely—if at all—referenced in Tolkien’s trilogy and its “Appendices” of fictional mythology, and featuring a largely unknown cast and creators, there is no doubting the scale of the gamble.
“It is quite nerve wracking—we’re building something from the ground up that’s never been seen before,” said Sophia Nomvete, who plays Princess Disa, the first female and first Black dwarf depicted on screen in Tolkien’s world.
“There’s definitely a few nerves. We want to get it right,” she told AFP at the Comic-Con fan event last month.
The Rings of Power is set in Tolkien’s “Second Age”—a period of history in his fictional Middle Earth world thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
So while a handful of characters from Jackson’s films reappear in Amazon’s show—mostly younger versions of elves such as Galadriel and Elrond, who are of course immortal—there is no Frodo, Gollum, or Aragorn in sight.
Most characters from Tolkien lore are appearing on screen for the first time, and some have even been created entirely from scratch for the show.