02 September 2022

The wrongs of power

For some months now, I've been following (mainly on YouTube) fan reactions to The Rings of Power, Amazon's adaptation/desecration of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings mythos, now finally released.  Set in the "Second Age" thousands of years before the events of the main trilogy, TRoP is at best very loosely based on Tolkien's storylines, with many characters changed beyond recognition and others entirely made up for the new show.  Unlike Peter Jackson, who explicitly committed his classic film adaptation of the trilogy to embodying Tolkien's values and messages rather than his own, Amazon's hacks have made much of how their show represents "the world as it is today", a distinctly odd preoccupation for an escapist fantasy.

[Disclaimer:  I am not an expert on Tolkien.  I avidly watched the Jackson films years ago, and read the novels more recently, and that's about it.  Some of the people I've been following on YouTube have an astonishing mastery of the subject -- it's almost like scripture to them.]

In brief, this looks like the latest example of what we've seen over the last few years with other "franchises" such as Star Trek, Star Wars, and Alien, each of which has been run into the ground by soulless corporate hack spinoffs and reboots and prequels and what have you, tricked out in some of the visuals and characters from the originals, designed to extract whatever money remains to be milked from the popularity of those originals, but lately often rejected by the real fans and even by some of the critics employed by the corporate media.  In the case of TRoP, there was probably never any intention of faithfully adapting Tolkien; the project is said to have begun when Jeff Bezos demanded a show for Amazon Prime which would rival Game of Thrones, and his people bought the rights to parts of Tolkien's work for that purpose, despite the two sets of tales being utterly different in tone and intent.

Fan reaction to TRoP has been ferocious, with every trailer and PR video that Amazon releases being immediately analyzed and its efforts to manipulate the narrative exposed.  The broader public hasn't been too impressed either, with Amazon's videos quickly being "ratioed", meaning they get far more "dislikes" than "likes" on YouTube.

TRoP has cost about a billion dollars so far (the rights alone cost $250 million), and Amazon has deployed its money and power on a massive scale across the corporate media universe to control the narrative and protect its huge investment, offering "influencers" all-expenses-paid international trips to meet showrunners or see trailers.  Sauron is adept at seducing the hearts of weak men.  Many critics' takes on such big-money projects are affected by concerns about future "access" which could be lost if they offend the powerful.  Dedicated fans, of course, are unswayed by such extranea.  Because part of TRoP's reflection of "the world of today" has included racially-diverse casting (and no, that doesn't make any sense in a mythos based on ancient Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian folklore, any more than it would make sense to cast white actors as natives of Wakanda or Mulan's China), apologists have taken to insinuating that anybody who doesn't like the show is motivated by racism -- a vile gimmick which naturally angers its targets and makes them all the more determined to push back.

It would be difficult to distill out the essence of the fan reaction in a reasonable time, but this video from July is a good example:

Now that TRoP is out, reviews are appearing, and some of them are glorious.  Don't miss Christopher Stevens at The Daily Mail:  "No turkey, however bloated and stupid, could ever be big enough to convey the mesmerising awfulness..... The cliche-laden script, the dire acting, the leaden pace, the sheer inconsistency and confusion as it lurches between styles -- where do we start?"  He has a lot more to say.

YouTuber "Disparu" looks at the issue of reviews more generally:

And I can't resist highlighting this comment:

Will it be a flop?  Hard-core Tolkien fans have already made their views clear, but the reaction of the broader global public, far less familiar with the mythos or concerned about its integrity, is harder to predict.  In the long run, though, it doesn't really matter.  TRoP is basically a big-money woke marketing project, laced with and defined by the cultural fads and tropes of the present moment, and will be dated almost immediately.  Tolkien's timeless novels will go on, capturing the imagination of generation after generation into the future, as they have since he wrote them.


Anonymous NickM said...

Well, I am a Tolkienista and have been for 35 years... Yes, I've read The Silmarillion and all that... I spend time on Stack Exchange's Tolkien stuff. Yeah, I really wanna go on a quest wielding an Elvish blade forged in Gondolin. I haven't seen TRoP yet (I think it premiers tonight in the UK) but I had some foreboding about it being shite. I think your comment about sums up my darkest fears. The "diverse" casting is merely bait isn't it? It is a ruse because it enables any criticism to be deflected into racism. It is not dissimilar from the persecution of JK Rowling. I mean she didn't say anything offensive and was actually standing up for lesbians who, like, a women who want sexual relations with er... women.

The first movie I ever saw in the cinema was the original Star Wars in '77. I loved it. Then, alas, when I saw the prequels I actually felt part of my youth had been stolen because it forced me to rethink my feelings about the first movies. I had forgiven Lucas too much (think Ewoks and a Galactic Empire brought down by a tribe of stone-age teddy bears). Anyway, after seeing the train-wreck that was the prequels ("Clone Wars begun they have") I re-thought Star Wars and OK Han Solo is cool but that's about it. Odd isn't it? It's not so much that I got older or wiser but Lucas basically kicked the basement out of the whole structure.

I think Jackson et. al. made a pretty good fist of LoTR (especially casting - I mean Ian McKellen just is Gandalf and Cate Blanchett is Galadriel...).

I'm just going to make one little further point. I get the impression TRoP stretches CGI a bit far. Now, I don't have a problem per-se with Lenny Henry as a Harfoot because he's black but I do wonder about the casting there because he's 6'3". Around the start of Jackson's "Fellowship" you see Elijah Wood's Frodo riding in Gandalf's cart. That was done with clever camera angles and such traditional wizardry. Elijah Wood is 5'6" which makes that easier. Lenny Henry is going to have to shrunk by computer. Hmm...

PS. Have you ever seen Jackson's breakthrough movie - "Heavenly Creatures"? It's rather good. It is also a breakthrough role for CGI and Kate Winslett - and yes she is in the nip quite a lot. I'm not sure if I've ever seen her in a movie where she doesn't get her kit off. Is it some bizarre rider in her contract?

02 September, 2022 05:33  
Anonymous spirilis said...

I saw it coming just last night before watching Stallone tell the story of the two wolves stalking mankind. I enjoyed the critics and he was clear of his point of view. What's not clear about "woke vandalizations of our beloved stories". Pity someone bought them for a quarter bil, not ours nomore.
I'll probably binge it later. My favorite piece is a Vargus print with a Kipling quote "It's pretty, but is it art?".

02 September, 2022 08:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Majel Barrett, last great steward of the Trek kingdom, died in 2008; when George Lucas debased the One trilogy and sold it to the mindless corporate in 2012; when James Cameron handed the Terminator reins to lesser men, came a darkness of cultural mythos.

You must love and respect the work as a living thing, or you ignore and deny all that gave it life and made it a thing in the first place. The fealty to gold over that love is something that cannot be hidden, and the fruit that it bore in maiden bloom, and its bounty that so tempts the avaricious, withers. Is it any surprise that the progeny of these "properties" appeal almost exclusively to indiscriminate fourteen year-olds?

02 September, 2022 09:52  
Blogger Green Eagle said...


It's a TV show. Don't like it? Go watch Reacher, or Commissario Montalbano.

The original was written by a man who was the world's leading scholar of medieval legends of his time, and is the greatest allegory of the World Wars and the decline of the English aristocracy ever written. This new show is written by TV writers.

The only thing wrong here is people wasting a second of their energy being upset about a commercial product. Don't like it? Don't watch it. There are plenty of other ways to spend your time.

02 September, 2022 10:10  
Blogger Leanna said...

I have to say it was somewhat good but time will tell. I was let down by House of the Dragon already why not this too?

02 September, 2022 10:20  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: It will be interesting to see how viewers react. I won't be among them -- I don't even have a TV -- but I think this kind of cultural vandalism is significant, especially since it's become so pervasive.

I'm not much of a fan of Star Wars -- in my opinion it started the decline of American science-fiction movies by blurring the line between science fiction and fantasy -- but I've seen plenty of how the recent incarnations have trashed the premise of the original. I know it's very popular and the fans, at least, deserved better.

I know the Jackson movies are a bit controversial among Tolkien fans, but I think he did a spectacular job. It's never possible to be 100% true to a novel, but they're classics in their own right.

Even if the CGI is perfect, that's a big part of the problem with SF movies these days -- mountains of money spent on special effects, but storytelling left as an afterthought.

Never seen Heavenly Creatures. I'll look into it.

Spirilis: They can buy the rights to do an adaptation, but everyone retains the right to point out if it's a bad adaptation or a distortion of the intent of the original. In the legal sense the rights are for the Tolkien estate to sell, but in a cultural sense it belongs to the world.

Anon: It has been infuriating to see, to name a favorite of my own, the Alien concept trashed by godawful prequels and the "Alien vs Predator" stuff. At least the original movies are still there, unaffected, as Tolkien's novels are. Star Wars fans hardly even have that -- the first film, I understand, is now available almost exclusively in a version larded up with extra special effects, with the real original very difficult to find.

Green: This has come up before. Stop trying to tell me what is and is not worthwhile for me to write about. I've always posted about things like books and movies; this blog is for whatever interests me. You do your thing, I'll do mine.

Leanna: We shall see, I guess. I've seen TRoP compared to House of the Dragon. TRoP may seem less bad if you're not as familiar with the novels, but even I can see that this is not what Tolkien had in mind.

02 September, 2022 12:45  
Anonymous NickM said...

I have just watched the first episode of TRoP and I'm flabbergasted. The dialogue is abysmal. The worst (and it's up against some stiff competition) is Celebrimbor's forging of the rings as a "new project" like he's gonna put something on Facebook. The plot makes no sense and Elrond looks like a bad '80s pop-star.

Green Eagle: Tolkien is on record as saying he despised allegory in all forms.

02 September, 2022 13:15  
Blogger Lady M said...

Having read the Simarillion after the hobbit and before the trilogy at the age of 16 and declaring myself a follower of Eru Iluvatar, I hold these tales very near and dear to my heart. Sound like Amazon is just making a mess from talking with my daughter, hearing a review on NPR yesterday and now reading your blog. So many wonderful stories they could have adapted.

02 September, 2022 13:34  
Blogger Mary said...

Saw the original trilogy and it is superb. I wouldn’t waste my time on his newcomer…

02 September, 2022 19:48  
Blogger Mike said...

I've never gotten into characters from any movie or TV show. That's why I never wear t-shirts with logos on them if I'm not prepared to talk about whatever the logo is. I liked the original Star Trek TV shows (as bad as they look now) so my daughter got me a Star Trek t-shirt. I made the mistake of wearing it to a store one time and was hit with an onslaught of questions from a true treky. I had no idea what he was talking about.

02 September, 2022 20:53  
Anonymous NickM said...

Lady M,
You read the Sil before LoTR! Wowsers. I have never heard of anyone doing that. And yes, there is a lot of good stuff they could have adapted. Or they could have gone original. But the dialogue... At some point someone comes out with a curse, "You smell of rotten leaves!". I couldn't help but compare with the GoTs line, "There's no cure for being a cunt". Has anyone told Putin or Trump that absolute truth?

I am currently watching Star Trek ToS on Netflix and they have cleaned it up magnifcently. I find it quite interesting socially. Some of the attitudes have dated somewhat such as Kirk being a Pan-Galactic babe-magnet and some of the female clothing is - well I like it. But I guess it was quite progressive in having Uhuru and Chekov and Sulu. I also love quite how spikey McCoy and Spock are with each other.

03 September, 2022 04:29  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

Nicki, I read The Lord of the Rings before the whole thing was ever published in the United States, on the recommendation of a professor who had been a student of Tolkien's, so I have been into it for a long time. I know what Tolkien said about allegory, but if you cannot see the massively allegorical quality in this work, by someone who lived through the Battle of the Somme, you are really averting your eyes.

Infidel, sorry, I think you missed my point, for which I am sure I am totally to blame. After 37 years working in film and TV production, I know how TV shows are made, and with all the things we have to worry about in this country, I just feel bad that people should add to their anxiety because of a something made on a budget and a schedule that makes it essentially impossible to avoid regrets about the result. When you have to do something that, say, an architect or novelist would work on for a year, and get it done in three days, it makes it inevitable that a good part of your working life is spent regretting all the things you should have thought of, but didn't.

03 September, 2022 10:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: Sounds like about what the YouTube assessments lead me to expect. Maybe Celebrimbor should be posting on Facebook -- that reflects the world of today too. In fairness, Hugo Weaving's and Cate Blanchett's versions of the characters (and everyone, really) are one hell of an act to follow.

I see the MSM is still kowtowing to Amazon, dismissing criticism of the show as a "racist backlash".

Lady M: I first read the novels earlier this year (better late than never) and found them mesmerizing. For the money Amazon spent, they could have hired top-quality showrunners and put the project under the control of people who really knew and respected Tolkien's work, and maybe created something worthy, like Jackson's films. Instead, they've trashed it. I don't see why anyone who appreciates Tolkien would spend their money or time on it.

Mary: Wise move. Read a good novel or something instead.

Mike: The special effects in the original Star Trek were a bit crude by today's standards, and of course the storylines ranged from superb to downright ridiculous. It was the characters and the relationships between them that made it so good. To accomplish that, you need to focus on writing and storytelling and not flashy visuals.

Green: I must say I don't see the allegory. Surely an allegory of World War I would focus on the incompetence and arrogance of the upper-class officers who threw away the lives of millions of working-class soldiers in meaningless battles, in a war which was itself pretty much pointless? Tolkien's battles are just the opposite, with the ruling class fighting and dying alongside ordinary soldiers, and the stakes being real and very high. It has occurred to me that Sauron and his lust for conquest might have been somewhat inspired by Hitler (who was in power when Tolkien wrote the books), but even there, it would be a real stretch to call it an allegory.

OK, thanks for the clarification. I certainly don't feel anxiety about this, and I don't think anybody else does. But mass culture is important, and the trend of mega-corporations using their money to take control of it and turn it into a wasteland of tired multi-million-dollar woke-garbage hack special-effects blockbusters, completely trashing what made the earlier originals what they were, is a legitimate issue of concern. It's not a matter of money or even time. Amazon and its ilk have oceans of money and plenty of time. It's a matter of the destruction of culture by subordinating it to ideology and faddism and the lust of entrenched wealth to further enrich itself.

03 September, 2022 21:53  
Anonymous NickM said...

JRRT didn't actually fight in the Battle of the Somme. He got trench fever and was hospitalised back in Blighty. Possibly the closest to allegory in LoTR is the Frodo/Sam relationship which is based somewhat on the relationship between officers and their batmen. Which in a way brings the whole class thing into focus because it isn't just Lords and Ladies fighting and dying along with the common folk but you have immortal folk risking their lives. It is only mentioned in the appendices but the elves of Mirkwood fought a Hell of a battle. As did the men of Dale/Esgaroth alongside the Dwarves of Erebor. Now that might have been worth a movie/TV show - the other struggles that the LoTR only really mentions in passing. I think the last stand of King Brand and Dain Ironfoot would make quite a scene.

04 September, 2022 02:22  
Anonymous NickM said...

My vague understanding is Jeff Bezos saw GoT and said, "I want one of those!" and it was made so! He only had to pay the Tolkien estate $250m for the rights but Bezos finds that's like you or me buying a Coke just because. The whole caper reminds me of the more absurd vanity projects of the likes of Saudi Arabia or the idiocy of the football World Cup being hosted in Qatar.

04 September, 2022 02:28  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

Infidel: "mass culture is important" It certainly is. However, as someone who shares in the blame for the atrocity which is modern dramatic TV, I would say this: "Mass" certainly, but I have grave reservations about attaching the world "culture" to the great bulk of it, any more than I would attach that term to any purely commercial product.

As for the allegorical nature of The Lord of the Rings, to speak briefly, the Shire is a model of pre-World War 1 English society (in an idealized form,) as Mordor is of the world of the Nazis. The rebirth of Sauron to attempt another assault on the world is a parallel to World War II arising out of the ashes of World War I, and the departure of the elves represents the withering of the English aristocracy after World War I. I could go much farther here, but I think that, at least, is obvious.

04 September, 2022 11:41  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: It's possible to make a good show, or a bad one, about anything. A great piece of literature could be adapted into a crap show or something very simple and basic could be adapted into a great one. It's a matter of whether the focus is on good writing and characterization vs special effects and beating the audience over the head with cultural/political messages.

That's what I heard about Bezos too. That's the problem with this. It didn't start from the premise of good storytelling. It started with a rich greedy asshole telling his minions to churn out something to make him more money, and everything else followed from that.

Green: Whatever. I use "mass culture" or "popular culture" because it's a short and generally-understandable term for what I'm talking about, usually clarified further by context.

04 September, 2022 17:55  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

C (deleted): I didn't post your comment because it was insulting in tone.

My post about Ghost in the Shell addressed your point:

"What Johansson is portraying is an artificial body into which the brain of a Japanese person has been transplanted, which would not necessarily resemble that person's original human appearance (Mamoru Oshii, the director of an earlier anime film of the story, made the same point). Since the Major's implanted false memories include being a member of a family who arrived in Japan as refugees from elsewhere, it would make sense to give her artificial body a non-Japanese appearance to fit the memory."

So there is a good reason why the character (or robot body of the character) Johansson was portraying would have been non-Japanese in appearance. There is no equivalent reason to justify the race-swapped characters in TRoP. If we were talking about a story based on ancient Japanese mythology, then casting a white actor would indeed be incongruous, but that wasn't the case with Ghost in the Shell.

05 September, 2022 01:23  
Anonymous NickM said...

I'm not even sure it was about Bezos wanting to make more money as much as a power-trip to show how much money he has on a pure vanity project and in a bizarre sense wanting to claim the Rings of Power for himself. He's not gonna do a cameo as an incarnation of Sauron is he? Oh, that would be so far beyond parody I'd fear for the integrity of spacetime itself. We'd need a Musk to ride to our rescue. I can imagine the final battle on Mount Doom, "Oi! Bezos, your Paypal account is suspended..." And can we bring Gates into this in a suporting role? "Have you tried turning The Ring off and on again?" "Oh, it's Ring XP is it? - we ceased offering tech support on that in the First Age would you like to upgrade to Ring 11?" and for a bit of diversity a Russian oligarch and Mohammed bin Salman of Shoddy Absurdia.

05 September, 2022 05:10  
Anonymous NickM said...

It just occurred to me... I don't think anyone has ever adapted Ursula K Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness". It's brilliant and yes it does deal with gender issues but in a smart way which never felt like lecturing to me. And when I read it I regarded myself as much more right-wing than I am now. It is SF dealing with ambisexuality because that is how the Gethens biologically are. And the stuff with Genly Ai and Estraven making an epic trek across the ice is utterly gripping.

In 2013, the Portland Playhouse and Hand2Mouth Theatre produced a stage adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness in Portland, Oregon. (source: wikipedia)

05 September, 2022 05:24  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

He's not gonna do a cameo as an incarnation of Sauron is he?

That would be too obvious, and frankly redundant.

Amazon could have chosen something to adapt which would have better fitted what they wanted to do -- or, with the money being spent, they could have hired a good writer to come up with a completely original fantasy world with exactly whatever characteristics they wanted. Since they chose to adapt Tolkien, their work must be judged primarily on how well it reflected Tolkien's intent.

I wonder if Bezos has intimations of mortality. If he has any self-awareness at all, he must know that in a few centuries he will be completely forgotten, while Tolkien and his work will still be as well-known as today. Perhaps he's going for a bit of vicarious immortality by scribbling graffiti on the better man's achievement.

05 September, 2022 09:00  
Anonymous CAS said...

Peter Jackson would be a hard act for anyone to follow but this sounds particularly awful. Too bad. Thanks for the warning.

09 September, 2022 16:48  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It sounds, if anything, even worse than expected. This Sunday's link round-up will link to a couple of reviews by a real fan who knows what he's talking about.

09 September, 2022 20:27  

Post a Comment

<< Home