The Secretive, Extravagant, Bighearted World of The Rings of Power, The Most Expensive Show Ever Made

Tears are streaming down Ismael Cruz Córdova’s chiseled cheekbones. Somehow, hardly anyone notices. I’m at San Diego Comic-Con, halfway through 96 hours spent shadowing the cast and creators of The Rings of Power, Amazon’s highly anticipated Lord of the Rings prequel series. Tomorrow, franchise superfan Stephen Colbert will debut a trailer for the series to 6,500 screaming attendees, many wearing pointy wizard hats. But tonight, at a private dinner, journalists are getting an early preview of the video in a golden faux forest constructed by Amazon for the occasion.

After a day spent among the convention crowd in 80-degree heat, sweaty, sneaker-clad members of the press mingle with actors dressed in cocktail attire: Córdova has chosen a sharp suit with a black leather harness pulled tight across his chest. A 16-person choir and 25-piece orchestra—fronted by a violinist decked out in Middle-earth regalia—perform music from the series.

Morfydd Clark

Ismael Cruz Córdova

Markella Kavenagh

Cynthia Addai-Robinson

Charlie Vickers 

With ethereal features and perfect posture, Córdova is an ideal choice for a warrior elf named Arondir. The 35-year-old actor had warned me the day before that he teared up several times on the show’s New Zealand set and would likely do so again at Comic-Con. And though he’s heard the score before, the swelling strings add particular drama to the occasion, a lifetime in the making for Córdova, the first person of color to portray one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s elves onscreen. Though the stakes feel particularly high for the actor, he’s far from alone in his elation and anxiety. Nearly every person I encounter, from the cast to the showrunners to the executive producer, seems to teeter on the verge of some cathartic break.

After five years of development, The Rings of Power will finally premiere Sept. 2 on Amazon Prime Video. With a record-setting price tag of $1 billion, it will be the most expensive show ever made. No other series in the history of television has been this sprawling, this cinematic, this massive—or launched with such secrecy under such external pressure. “The jewels of the crown are the big tentpole shows that invite in the whole family,” says Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios. “And this is the crown jewel.”

Stephen Colbert with showrunners JD Payne, Patrick McKay and executive producer Lindsey Weber at 2022 Comic-Con International: San Diego

A billion dollars may sound like a rounding error for a massive company like Amazon, whose net sales hit $469.8 billion in 2021. But the success of The Rings of Power will also indicate whether the streaming bubble is about to burst. Streamers, particularly those that don’t run ads, must grow their subscriptions to thrive, so they’ve stocked their libraries with new spin-offs, sequels, and prequels to familiar franchises. (See: Disney+’s Star Wars and Marvel shows, HBO’s Game of Thrones and DC series, and Paramount+’s Star Trek universe.) Lord of the Rings is arguably the last piece of highly valuable intellectual property that had not yet been snatched up: Publishers often tout it as the fourth best-selling book in history, behind only the Bible, Mao’s Little Red Book, and the Koran. Jeff Bezos, a Tolkien aficionado, led the charge at Amazon to acquire the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for $250 million in 2017.

Read more from TIME Magazine HERE.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will premiere on Prime Video on September 2, 2022.

Published by Larry Fire

I write an eclectic pop culture blog called THE FIRE WIRE that features articles about books, comics, music, movies, television, gadgets, posters, toys & more!

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