The Lord of the Rings.  Vikings.  Game of Thrones.  If these shows define your expectation of cutting edge visuals for your favorite swords, armor, and fantasy property, you’re not alone.  In post-production for its new eight-episode series, The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, Prime Video revealed 23 teaser posters for presumably the series’ key characters.  Consistent with the idea of a “tease,” what has been billed as the most expensive series ever made has opted to home in on the details of characters’ props and costumes rather than faces.  But the result is spectacularly… unspectacular.  Costume fabrics and trims look more off-the-rack than the hand-stitched costumes and individually-hammered and fastened scalemail of Peter Jackson’s movies.  And it is immediately obvious Weta Workshop didn’t make the props for this new series–the intricacy of that studios’ artisanal mastery in forging metal swords, armor, and jewelry could not be confused with what is featured in these posters, which at first blush is more like Legend of the Seeker, Shannara Chronicles, or The Tudors.  So what did the studio spend its money on?

Not the cast, clearly.  Unlike the Tolkien movies, which tapped someone for each major role already well-known for one–or in the case of Christopher Lee and John Rhys-Davies–many genre works.  The most familiar cast member for Rings of Power we know of so far is Jessica Jones and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter actor Benjamin Walker–he’s playing a yet-to-be-released named character, but would seem to have the stature of a possible Sauron, or Sauron-in-the-making.  And as with nearly every new production, expect a few actors who played minor roles in Game of Thrones.  Is it possible these images aren’t the best representation of what lies ahead?  Sure, but the film’s marketing folks chose to highlight these images.  Compare the armor in these photos with that in Game of Thrones here, the Tolkien movies here, here, and here, and the Vikings here, or even Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance here, and it’s easy to spot the difference.  Note the printed fabrics, simple cloak patterns, and molded gauntlets.

Fabrics in these publicity photos feature more simple solids without detailed embellishments when compared to even the most minor dwarf from the six Tolkien movies.  Armor appears to be molded (are those molded rivets?) instead of hand-forged and pieced and the deep etched artwork is yet to be seen, along with the films’ trademark elaborate leather work.  Rings and other jewelry have the look of being designed by the same team, as opposed to reflecting the incredible individuality and lived-in look of the Middle-Earth races seen in the tens of thousands of props that made it into The Lord of the Rings and its successor film series, The Hobbit–and the many that were set decoration that didn’t make it onto the screen.  We also see dirt on the hands of some, combined with what appears to be brand-new, clean costumes without distressing or wear.  Curious!

Is it enough to say that this series features events long before the time of the films, or that this story is about a much poorer society, so the costumes and props should seem more primitive?  That doesn’t seem quite right, although it’s possibly what the production is aiming for.  But look at the detail on the ornate shield props and feathered costumes of the early society in the series Vikings.

Do the details matter?  They do to the actors–costumes and props bring out their characters.  Vikings actress Alyssa Sutherland said here a few years ago, they informed her performance.  “Working in these costumes–it’s so much easier to get into character when you have something on you that makes you feel so much a part of it….  Costumes are a really important part of your character and feeling you really are that person…. Everything–every detail, from the sets, the costumes, the hair and the make up, the props…  Absolutely everything has so much detail in it.  I’ve been on other sets and it feels a little bit like a set.”

But maybe more importantly detailed costumes and props quickly convey aspects of the world building for the audience, when the storytellers only have a few hours to develop a world and story.  Edith Head, probably the most famous costume designer of all time, once said, “What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage.  We create the illusion of changing the actors into what they are not.  We ask the public to believe that every time they see a performer on the screen, he’s become a different person.”

Here are the rest of the 23 character posters:

Ultimately it will be story that reflects whether fans take to the series or not.  As George Lucas once said, “A special effect is a tool, a means of telling a story.  A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”  This story will be almost entirely new, with very little pulled from Tolkien’s written creations.  Without the celebrated team behind the Tolkien movies, how will this expensive, only eight-episode series fare?  If the story is good, perhaps the art production will take a backseat.  This is after all only a first glimpse.  We’ll find out in September.  The first season of The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power arrives September 2, 2022, only on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming platform.

If you’re interested in the best genre costumes and props from TV and film, check out Game of Thrones: The Costumes, discussed here, Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–Inside the Epic Return to Thra, discussed here, Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen, discussed here, The Hobbit: Cloaks and Daggers, discussed here, Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy, discussed here, Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars, discussed here, and Star Trek Costumes, discussed here.

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg