The Rings of Power is the most expensive TV show ever made, and it shows. The level of craftsmanship is stunning, with large and intricate sets being constructed for short scenes. Details on props like Feanor’s hammer – the very tool used to craft the Silmarillions – gave its heritage away to fans before Elrond and Celebrimbor name dropped its former owner. Charles Edwards (Celebrimbor) and Ben Walker (Gil-galad) gushed over the minutiae in our interview with them, but there’s plenty more still to come as Galadriel looks set to venture to Númenor in episode three, which premieres on Friday.
“When you see the island itself, you're going to see what man is capable of,” Trystan Gravelle, who plays Pharazôn, tells me – adding the caveat that these men, Númenorians, are more like supermen. “I don't think you've quite seen that in the Third Age. The Second Age really is a golden age for Men.”
“You watch the first two episodes [with] the cameras sweeping across the map of Middle-earth, you're seeing all these vastly different landscapes, and there’s still going to be more,” adds Cynthia Addai-Robinson, who plays Queen Regent Míriel. “It's amazing, because in the first few episodes, you learn and see so much. And what I love is that a few key characters, as well as the audience, are introduced to Númenor simultaneously.
“I remember when we got a chance to watch the episodes, the way the cameras swept across the landscape, I remember the music swelled and the cameras sort of smooshed in and it's really stunning. Númenor is supposed to represent a society that's at the height of its wealth, its prosperity, and its power. And you see that and you get that and it's one of the worlds that I think you really feel truly transported to.”
The splendour of Númenor has already been teased in trailers, with great Argonath-like statues rising out of mountains and stunning tri-sailed boats making port. While some of the wide shots are likely computer-generated, like those of Eregion and Lindon seem to be, many of the sets were crafted by hand, real places that the actors could stand in and explore. That seems obvious, especially as the series is constantly compared to the practical effects-heavy Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens trilogy of Rings films, but these days such a reliance on practical sets is surprisingly rare.
That’s in part due to the expense – CG artists have recently refused to work with Marvel due to stressful conditions and unreasonable deadlines – but the most expensive show on earth is showing that it isn’t cutting corners. When money’s no object, you can craft the best sets and create the best props.
“When you walk through the streets of Númenor, it ‘s as big as some town centres here in the UK,” explains Gravelle. “It's incredible, the scope and the craftsmanship that has gone into it, and the skill and the dedication and the love as well. It's been a labour of love for everybody involved – crew as well.”
Lloyd Owen, who plays Elendil, was equally surprised and amazed when he walked onto set. “I expected with this job that it would be standing in front of a green screen, and it was the opposite,” he says. “They made everything; it was a four or five month build for Númenor. When we first went on that set, it was absolutely stunning. That level of detail, the history they built into the walls, you have a little leap of imagination for the actor, with the costumes and being on that set.
“The set of the city of Númenor is incredible. And then the physical geography, which is a lot of New Zealand, is also stunning, too. So it's a visual feast, and then there's the fantastic internal politics of the island and what's going on, so with that backdrop of beauty and then the real difficulty within personal and political [life] is a really good recipe.”
New Zealand is now synonymous with Middle-earth, again thanks to the ‘00s film trilogy. The opening episodes have similar aerial shots of glacial mountains and vast plains, giving a sense of familiarity for Tolkien fans who have seen the films.
Ema Horvath plays Eärien, Elendil’s daughter and new character for the show, and was equally awestruck at seeing New Zealand as viewers are when they see it on screen, but also highlights the people of New Zealand as being a key part of her time working in the country. “It looks like another planet, that country,” she says. “And the crew, I’m really gonna miss them. They were the highlight of working there.”
Addai-Robinson agrees. “There's something about the land itself, there's something very spiritual, there's something energetic, like you really pull from the landscape, even when you're not filming on that land,” she explains. “It's just a place that really has this sort of energy. I know, that's very ‘woo woo’, but that's always how I felt there.
“And [there are] the most incredible people who really welcomed us and took care of us, and are very much a part of what you're gonna see on screen when you see these episodes. It’s a true collaboration with all of the talented people in New Zealand and we're proud to present it in this way.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiered on Prime Video on September 2 and continues weekly.
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