tl;dr – As of two episodes in, I plan to watch to completion. Lots of opportunity here for storytelling and lore exploration. Better than the Hobbit trilogy, not up to the Jackson trilogy.
When I hear “exactly” in dialogue, it’s a red flag to me that the writer is ants-in-the-pants thirsty to do some exposition.
“How, EXACTLY, do you suggest we do that?”
And while I only noted one “exactly” in particular, it resonated throughout the dialogue which is almost entirely contemporized and makes no aspiration to the epic. Is this necessarily a shortcoming?
Eh, I dunno.
I feel that one thing which rendered LOTR “unfilmable” (Kubrik, others) for so long was, to borrow from Harrison Ford, that you could write those sort of lines but you just couldn’t read them. An evergreen joke about the series involves everyone breaking into song every other page which would either require a completely different production tack or make tone-setting nearly impossible (not to mention the run time).
It’s also a distinction between what the books and the movies do. The books describe a long, long time – sure, there are sing-alongs and storytelling, because the books are in some ways a travelogue. The books, as-is and what they are, would make a film more in-line with, say, a David Attenborough series than an action-packed blockbuster. The movies capture the emotional and physical (violent) high points – same goes, I think, for this new series.
Of course the series, and The Hobbit, and to a lesser extent the Jackson trilogy also tend to shy away from some of the book’s themes in favor of action elements. Someone once called LoTR “soft” meaning that the root of the story is about how this band of travelers care for each other and love each other all the more owing to the hardships they endure. The movies are increasingly about watching cool fantasy warriors hack the heads off CG monsters.
Performances thus far have been a little woody, but when most of our characters are elves I think that may be a style choice. Stoic, long-lived, still-waters-run-deep…elves. They emote with the corners of their eyes. Actors playing humans and dwarves have more room to move, and for the most part they do.
With the introduction of the Harfoots, especially in regards to “the Stranger”, I’m wary of seeing too much “just so” – as in, we’re going to see, like, all the Hobbit sayings and legends as they happened, so maybe an episode where Nori is fighting with her mother and yells out “You know, mom, not all who wander are lost!” and because this is a post-Marvel movie, her voice will get quieter and she’ll plead “can’t you understand?!?!” lest that thought or literally any other go unexpressed in dialogue.
Similarly, we’re well-advised to notice that some early name-mixing will eventually make it into the third age: the Proudfellows? The Brandyfoots? I suppose we’ll soon see the Bucklewines? The Sackburrows? Will one of the Harfoots fall into a hole and go “hey, this is cozy – we should live in these!” *wink at the camera*.
“The Stranger,” wild shot in the dark here, is one of the Maiar, but two episodes in I think it’s anyone’s guess as to who specifically. I’m thinking Aiwendil (Radagast) because his story is generally underdeveloped and there’s more room for the writers to work with, but mostly because vibes. Could just as easily be Olorin (Gandalf), or the tragic corrupted arc of Curumo (Sauruman) or even someone we’re not familiar with.
Summarily I have no complaints, and modest praise thus far. I will watch it until given a reason not to, and I’ll double down if for no other reason than to counter neckbeard nerd rage with encouragement and engagement.
I’d make one final note about the casting, and in particular the so-called controversy regarding casting People of Color – literally anyone who has a problem with it should go pound sand and die mad about it. So far as I’m concerned, that’s as much nuance and elaboration this conversation deserves.