Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) hunt orcs. Photo courtesy of Prime Video
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, premiering Friday on Prime Video, is a triumphant return to Middle-earth after the lackluster Hobbit movies. Yet, it also is a TV series, not just a long movie chopped into hour-long episodes.
Stories follow Young Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) on her quest to defeat Sauron and his orcs, when the rest of Middle-earth believes them vanquished. Future J.R.R. Tolkien books and their movie adaptations already have proven Galadriel right.
Young Elrond (Robert Aramayo) seeks backup from his dwarf friend, Durin (Owain Arthur). Elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and his forbidden human love, Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), set out to investigate what is poisoning the land.
A group of Harfoots, ancestors of Hobbits according to Tolkien lore, try to stay out of danger. Harfoot children Nori (Markella Kavenagh) and Poppy (Megan Richards) find The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) in the woods and try to help the giant.
The Rings of Power introduces epic battles at the front of the premiere episode. Elves sword-fight orcs in the rain, while dragons battle in flames overhead. A snow troll shows what kind of new Middle-earth creatures one might meet in the show.
However, the show can't be as action-packed as the movies, and it's not. The first two episodes are action-moderate, enough for a weekly adventure, but also leaving enough time to just live with the characters.
Still, it gets going quickly to lay out all the characters we're going to be following every week. The first two episodes balance subplots and attend to their characters, and do so as well as the movies balanced each character's separate quests.
The scripts maintain the Tolkien-esque dialogue, flowery enough to seem magical, but still decipherable English. An early highlight is a complaint about ice caves after sunset: "How long can human flesh endure where sunlight fears to tread?"
Clark also rolls her Rs when she talks about Sauron, which is consistent with the accents in the movies.
Elves, humans, dwarves, Harfoots and giants are different sizes, and the show conveys the disparity mostly through staging and perspective. A dwarf home is built with low-enough ceilings that an elf has to duck and still may hit his head on arches.
A map of Middle-earth helps convey a sense of geography, but what helps the most is that filming occurred in New Zealand, not on a green screen stage. The fantasy world looks real because they are in a physical place that happens to be the same one in which the movies filmed, too.
Even when the characters enter sets that are clearly extended digitally, like the dwarf caves, they've spent enough time on location that the viewer has a sense of place.
Episode 2 closes out with some exciting peril, too, so it's possible every hour will deliver some Middle-earth action. Even if it doesn't, Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has earned the right to take its time.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.