‘House of the Dragon’ destroys ‘Rings of Power.’
For months, eager viewers have been anticipating the Battle of the Streaming Epics between HBO’s “House of the Dragon” and Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”
Isn’t it a lot of fun? Warner Bros. and Jeff Bezos compete for our attention and money like we’re the most beautiful girl in school. Sure thing, Jeff, you can bring my books to class!
The TV conversation is as calculated as Cersei Lannister grabbing the Iron Throne. The big-budget series debuted within two weeks of each other; both focused on beautiful platinum blond people with British accents; they have large-scale battles and a slew of characters with names we’ll all struggle to pronounce.
They’re also making their debut during a period when major film releases are scarce. The next big franchise film is “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which comes out in November. “Rings of Power” and “House of the Dragon” are competing to satisfy our thirst for high-priced fantasy.
But the war is over in terms of sheer quality and, I suspect, audience reaction after Thursday night’s 9 p.m. premiere of “Rings.” “Rings” is scorched by “Dragon.”
Some culturati will calmly tell you that these two shows are very different and cannot be compared. But, dweebs, save your measured hippie talk for your Southern California commune! Let’s pit these two against each other in a bloody deathmatch.
First, the main characters: on “Dragon,” Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) and on “Rings,” Galadriel (Morfydd Clark).
The problem with Galadriel and other elves is that they are mysterious, ethereal, and boring. In Peter Jackson’s magnificent “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, Cate Blanchett played her as a grandiose intervener who showed up here and there, creeped us out, and then left. Fabulous. The younger version, played by Clark in “Rings” on TV, is a fierce warrior who gets the majority of the screen time, along with fellow baby elf Elrond. Making a wise, all-knowing being into a scrappy fighter is akin to George Lucas making Yoda do backflips in the “Star Wars” prequels. Why?
Rhaenyra, on the other hand, flies dragons and comes from a royal family obsessed with incest. Audiences are currently wondering if her uncle intends to murder her or, you know, whatever. There is no contest between these two.
What about the content? “Rings” is based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” “Appendices.” They amount to a dry Wikipedia entry of complementary historical information about Middle Earth. They are almost unreadable. Creators Patrick McKay and John D. Payne have inflated them into a formless blob of overacting elves, dwarves, and hobbits, much like Peter Jackson did with his “Hobbit” films.
Meanwhile, “Dragon” is based on George R.R. Martin’s novel “Fire & Blood.” Martin is not only a skilled screenwriter, but he also writes books like he has movies in his head. He wrote some fantastic “Thrones” episodes, and now he’s credited as a creator on the new HBO show. His layered, intensely dramatic stories are a natural fit for the big screen.
Then there’s the issue of production value. “Rings” is said to have cost $715 million (some say it could be as much as $1 billion), making it the most expensive TV show ever. I simply don’t see it. The series lacks the elegance, detail, and cinematic substance of the “Lord of the Rings” films, which won Academy Awards. Everything appears to be green-screened. The special effects are reminiscent of video games.
“House of the Dragon,” which costs roughly half as much, has solid, believable sets for King’s Landing and Dragonstone that look just as good as those in “Game of Thrones.” The dragons are as exciting as the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park,” and the kings and princes don’t look silly in their elaborate costumes and wigs (in “Rings,” they appear to have gotten lost on their way to a Renaissance Faire).
What a shame for us “Lord of the Rings” fans, who were overjoyed when Tolkien’s masterpieces changed cinema forever, bringing fantasy out of the “Dungeons and Dragons” clubs and into the glorious light of mainstream popularity.