It’s so much fun, isn’t it? Warner Bros. and Jeff Bezos are ruthlessly vying for our attention and our money like we’re the sexiest girl in school. Of course, Jeff, you can bring my books to class!
The televised head-to-head is as tactical as Cersei Lannister seizing the Iron Throne. The big-budget series premiered two weeks apart; both focused on beautiful platinum blonde people with British accents; they have large-scale battles and a gagillion of characters with silly names that we’ll all have trouble spelling.
They are also debuting at a very opportune time when there is a dearth of major movie releases. The next big franchise movie is ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,’ away in November. “Rings of Power” and “House of the Dragon” collide to quench our thirst for expensive fantasy.
But in terms of quality and, I guess, audience reaction after the 9 p.m. Thursday night premiere of “Rings,” the war is over. “Dragon” burns “Rings”.
Some in culturati will calmly tell you that these are two very different shows that cannot be compared. But I say save that measured hippie talk for your Southern California commune, dweebs! Let’s pit these guys against each other in a bloody battle to the death.
First, the main characters: Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) in “Dragon” and Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) in “Rings”.
The problem with elves like Galadriel is that they are mysterious, ethereal, and boring. When Cate Blanchett played her in Peter Jackson’s splendid “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, she was a grandiose intervenor who showed up here and there, scared us, and left. Fabulous. Now the younger version, starred in “Rings” on television by Clark, is a fierce warrior and gets most of the screen time, along with his baby elf companion Elrond. Turning an all-knowing sage into a scrappy fighter feels a lot like the days when George Lucas had Yoda do backflips in the “Star Wars” prequels. Why?
Rhaenyra, meanwhile, flies dragons and comes from a royal family that loves nothing more than incest. Audiences are currently wondering if her uncle wants to kill her or, well, you know. Between these two, there is no competition.
What about hardware? “Rings” is based on JRR Tolkien’s “appendixes” to “Lord of the Rings”. They amount to a dry Wikipedia entry of additional historical information about Middle-earth. They are practically unreadable. Creators Patrick McKay and John D. Payne inflated them, much like what Jackson recklessly did with his “Hobbit” movies, into a shapeless mass of overplayed elves, dwarves, and hobbits.
“Dragon,” meanwhile, is based on the novel “Fire & Blood” by George RR Martin. Martin not only writes books as if he had movies in mind, but he is also a talented screenwriter. He wrote fantastic episodes of “Thrones,” and this time he’s credited as the creator of the new HBO show. His layered and extremely dramatic stories flow naturally on screen.
And then there is the value of production. The “rings” cost $715 million (some say the price could reach 1 billion dollars), making it probably the most expensive television show of all time. I do not see it. The series lacks the elegance, detail and cinematic substance of the Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” films. Everything seems green screen. The special effects resemble those of a video game.
“House of the Dragon,” which costs about half the price, has solid, believable King’s Landing and Dragonstone sets that look every bit as good as “Game of Thrones.” The dragons are as exciting as the “Jurassic Park” T-Rex and the kings and princes don’t look foolish in their elaborate costumes and wigs (in “Rings” they look like they got lost on the way to a Renaissance fair).
How unfortunate for us ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans, who felt so thrilled when Tolkien’s masterpieces changed cinema forever and brought fantasy out of the ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ clubs and into the glorious light of mainstream popularity.
Now, Middle-earth has been reduced to being part of another oversized and poorly thought out television and film “universe”. “Rings” will certainly do well in the beginning thanks to a strong brand and a lot of marketing hype, but viewers will find it hard to focus on a show with no one to hang on to and a meandering story.
Daenerys may have lost her bid for the Iron Throne, but the Targaryens are winning the war from my couch.