It's about to be an exciting few months for fans of fantasy films.
After the launch of the "Game of Thrones" spinoff "House of the Dragon,"Amazon Prime is following up with "The Rings of Power."
Twenty years after director Peter Jackson successfully took the risk of filming J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" saga for the cinema, Middle-earth's wizards, elves, dwarfs, hobbits (rather, their ancestors) and hordes of murdering monster orcs are back on the screen.
Amazon Prime shelled out a billion US dollars for its original series on the renewed journey to Middle-earth, making "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" the most expensive series in TV and streaming history to date.
Five seasons planned
The series, which is set to have five seasons, tells a story that takes place long before the events of the "Lord of the Rings"and "Hobbit" trilogies.
It begins in the Second Age of Middle-earth, some 3,000 years before the hobbits Frodo and Sam and their companions set out for Mount Doom.
Tolkien fans know, of course, that some characters have very long lives, so familiar names like the elves Galadriel and Elrond as well as evil Sauron are part of the story as their younger selves.
"Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth," according to Amazon Prime.
"From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Numenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone."
That sounds exactly like what "Lord of the Rings" fans expect from a prequel.
The future of Middle-earth
The Second Age of Middle-earth begins peacefully enough. A supervillain named Morgoth has been defeated after a long war, and peace has returned to the realm. Elven warrior Galadriel, however, is wary of the peace — and it turns out she is not wrong. Morgoth had a servant who still wreaks havoc with a horde of vicious orcs: Sauron. Galadriel sets out to confront Sauron and to avenge her brother who was killed in the war.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Middle-earth, a meteorite hits, and turns out to be a stranger who then meets two girls from the small race of the Harfeet — the shaggy, somewhat wilder ancestors of the Hobbits. The cute Harfeet inevitably make you smile, and the eternal quarrel between elves and dwarfs also has comedic potential.
But there are plenty of spine-chilling moments, too. The earth opens, a village of humans is attacked, people disappear, cows give black milk, sea monsters swim in the sea and orcs gather for their evil deeds under Sauron's command.
The many characters are introduced by and by, which might detract from the pace of the first two episodes, but not from the fascination of watching them.
Amazon is said to have invested about half of the $1 billion budget in the first season alone.
The series is lavish; no expense was spared on the sets, the costumes are styled to the smallest detail and both the computer-generated and the real New Zealand landscapes are breathtaking. Some viewers might even find the computer-generated images too breathtaking, i.e. artificial.
The series features interesting new actors and actresses, including Morfydd Clark as the Elven queen Galadriel. In the films, she is played by Cate Blanchett. Robert Aramayo plays Elven statesman Elrond, a role Hugo Weaving had in the Jackson films.
Middle-earth is diverse
Unlike in the movies, however, the cast is diverse. In Jackson's Middle-earth, all the important roles were played by white people, but in the Amazon series, the fantasy world is populated by people of all skin colors.
Some fans who commented on the trailer on YouTube were outraged at the entire project, saying the legacy of Tolkien and Jackson are being trampled for the sake of commerce. One German-language comment read: "It says Lord of the Rings, but it could be any fantasy series in which the characters have been given the names from LOTR. I think Amazon didn't shoot this series for the fans (...), but for the masses."
Many critics who have already seen the first episodes are elated, however. "This is enormously enjoyable TV, a cinematic feast," according to The Guardian.
"Lord of the Rings" fans, fantasy enthusiasts and Middle-earth newcomers can find out for themselves. The series kicks off with a double episode on September 2 on Amazon Prime, followed by a new episode every week.
This article was originally written in German