Those familiar with "Hercules" and "Xena" will have memories of a lightning bolt, one that obliterates an image of a Mona Lisa-inspired sketching in the Renaissance Pictures timecard at the close of each episode. It capped off the boisterousness of each weekly foray perfectly, ending the spurt of clanking swords, mythical creatures, and exaggerated yet thoroughly sustaining performances with a loud splash of sound. Almost as a reminder, "Legend of the Seeker", another Renaissance Pictures production airing on ABC, harks back to those memories in grand fashion, bringing together a new weekly fantasy-based storm of magic, romance, and adventure that's equally as exhilarating as its influences.
Loosely based on Terry Goodkind's eleven "Sword of Truth" fantasy novels and with Sam Raimi heavily behind its production, "Legend of the Seeker" gravitates around a world divided into three lands -- Westlands, Midlands, and D'hara -- with a semi-translucent, radiating green border separating two of them to prevent magical elements from crossing over. In D'hara, a power-hungry emperor named Darken Rahl (Craig Parker) wishes to capture the neighboring lands into his tyrannical power by any means possible, be it magic or physical domination from his D'haran soldiers. But, of course, hope can be found through an age-old "prophecy" to counterbalance his power.
Kahlan (Bridget Regan), a powerful resistance fighter against Rahl called a "Confessor" (more on that later), stumbles through the magical wall with a little mystical assistance in search of a warrior-in-training, The Seeker, to fulfill his preordained mission in killing Darken Rahl. That's where we're dropped in the pilot episode of the Seeker, with Kahlan stumbling across the border by way of a magic loophole in search of the hero. The Seeker, however, happens to be an unaware son of a woodworker named Richard Cypher (Craig Horner), a young man destined to "save the world" yet missing a lot of the training he should've received over the years since his birth. Eventually, in the house of high-ranking magician Zeddicus (aka Zedd), the Confessor and Seeker meet -- and a grand jolt across author Goodkind's universe begins.
Extending beyond the novels with the blessings from the author (as long as character integrity is preserved) and filmed mostly on-set in New Zealand, "Legend of the Seeker" cobbles together influence from the past ten years of fantasy productions -- from Lord of the Rings and 300 to the heyday of Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless -- into a weekly epic romp of engaging action sequences, well-constructed fantasy, and a slight tossing of tongue-and-cheek humor for flavor. Following along with the grand-scaled adventure excites in a phenomenal fashion, even if the dynamics seem glaringly familiar. It's strikingly similar to what I'd expect watching Star Wars would be like if transposed to medieval times, what with a predestined and inexperienced kid hooking up with an ever-so-powerful woman draped in white and an old wizard guiding him along his pathway of learning -- all following a violent mishap with the barely-come-of-age man's family that sent him fleeing. Hell, he's even got a special sword passed down to him to give him the added power he needs as a Seeker. Along similar lines, many of the series' plot elements employ familiar secondary plot devices, including proverbial last-minute saves and multi-layered twists that look back to endless influences. Do all of these parallels matter? Not really.
All of the epic scaling of "Legend of the Seeker" justifies the familiarity of its structure and clockwork theatrics, especially once its keystone romance angle inks into the picture. Underneath The Seeker's colossal quest to rid the world of a paramount evil, it also takes the inevitable hero-heroine chemistry and plays to a star-crossed, "never meant to be together" story arch that's more heartening than juvenile. Richard and Kahlan's chemistry isn't whipped up just to give the audience a slapdash romantic pairing to swoon over. It adds an element of immediate, slightly syrupy romantic flare to their strife-riddled battles and balls-out heroics that come into play more than a handful of times, all while preserving the conflicting notions behind Richard's mission to slay Darken Rahl, Kahlan's "ability", and their passion that can never be shared. Moreover, their direct knowledge of this inability to be together creates many conflicts where they could ditch their mission and be together in this magic-infused realm, yet "Legend of the Seeker" cleverly keeps their heroic nobleness up to snuff by successfully tip-toeing along the line between schmaltz and integrity.
Most of the success swinging from "Legend of the Seeker" hinges on the potency behind Craig Horner and Bridget Regan's chemistry, a blend of charisma and impressive dramatic projection as our two heroes, as well as the superb charm from Bruce Spence as Zeddicus Zorander. Horner more plays to the charismatic end of things, as his strapping good looks and gravitas behind Richard are winning enough to keep us pulling for his drive. However, the real shocker here is Bridget Regan's endlessly deep and entrancing turn as Kahlan, a complex character with a heavy heart and subtler magnetism in tow. Her slight physical acting and powerful poise -- not to mention a rather impressive presence on the battlefield -- help to construct her into a thriving entity in the fantasy genre.
After watching Kahlan perform her powers on a soldier during the first episode of "Legend of the Seeker", the full extent behind her power as a "Confessor" comes to light -- and it adds a healthy dash of compellingly deep tones to the series. Essentially, her ability robs a man of free will and transforms him into a slave fueled only by love for the Confessor that touched him, a power that carries over to the few other confessors across the three territories in Goodkind's universe. With that, the writers have manipulated that power to incorporate some rather clever and, dare I say it, insightful patches of reflection. It brings up compelling dynamics within Richard and Kahlan's adventure-riddled trek across the Midlands, including the notion of turning a large fellowship of people into peaceful, all-loving citizens that only serve the whims of their confessor. Is it an act of peace, an act of narcissism on the part of the confessor, or a dabbling at playing God? Within the magic of "Legend of the Seeker", many other sharp elements are brought to light that add a surprising human depth to the rambunctious mix of magic, swords, and evil plotting from Darken Rahl -- including the ability to paint (yes, paint, like on a canvas) one's own world away from the chaos of D'haran evil and live in it for eternity.
What comes as a surprise is exactly how dark "Legend of the Seeker" can be, as it certainly plays to a more adult crowd with some of its imagery. Instead of puffing up the adventure with an overabundance of humor and joviality, it balances its lighter tones with some rather dark elements. First that comes to mind are the Mord'Sith, a group of dominatrix-like magical punishers that break the spirits of their captors and, essentially, violently bend the captor's mentality towards that of servitude. It'd be one thing if they strayed away from the punishment, but the photography and set design make an effort to keep these images violent and piercing to a degree that dulls many of the lighthearted tones in other episodes. Other similar melancholy elements are used -- like the greed of a child mind-reader, the use of magic to remove memories of a murder and place them in another's head, and the encompassing draw of omnipotence in the hands of an otherwise peaceful human -- that keep the series' tone edgy.
It's an exciting show without all the core action, but the magnificence within some rather superb special effects, production design and battle choreography -- all photographed brilliantly -- certainly inject a sense of enthralling entertainment behind its energy. Blasts of wizards fire, mythical creatures, and potent stuntwork absolutely gleam with polish within "Legend of the Seeker" making it shine like most large-budget fantasy epic films. The mêlée action doesn't exactly start out that way, though; the first ten or so episodes have some serious issues with slow-motion in the fight sequences. Almost every other blade swipe and stab look like a everlasting frame from 300, a dynamic used to add tension in the battle sequences through a deliberate pace in the action. Instead of being effective, the scenes grow tiresome on the nerves in the same fashion as Zack Snyder's film. It's obvious that the creators recognized this, as the action speeds up and mostly loses the sludge-worthy motion throughout the second half of the season. True respect can be dished to the choreography team at this point, because the combat in its frantic, blitzed tone are far, far more riveting to watch.
"Legend of the Seeker" isn't without its misfires -- a few episodes that fall a bit flat from formula or patchy tonal rhythm, as well as a glaringly obvious yet meagerly clever "clip show" -- but the execution of its overlying good vs. evil story arch, thrilling subplots within the individual episodes, and the consistent stream of exhilarating action and whimsical romantic fantasy never skips a single beat in delivering what it sets out to do: entertain, and how. It reminds one of good times had in soaking in the prevalent adventures of Renaissance Productions' '90s heyday, only with updates in all departments that were appropriately handled in their previous concoctions. Moreover, "Legend of the Seeker" finds a balance between the darkness present within its many deep, dark recesses and its lighthearted love story that sprawls out across the spectrum without seeming too ambitious or false in its drives -- all cumulating into a primly exciting slice of fantasy action.
Presented from Disney in a standard, clear tray-layered keepcase across five discs, "Legend of the Seeker": The Complete First Season comes adorned with fanciful artwork replicated on a shiny slipcover with a few raised elements -- like text and Richard's body. Inside, a few advertisements and an ad for the second season of "Seeker" can be found, along with artwork on the inside that includes an Episode Listing. It's a streamlined, thin packaging that's been attractively and mindfully designed, which spells out a winner both for those who enjoy the series and those conserving space in their collections.
Video and Audio:
It's a bit of a surprise that Disney elected not to present an attractive show like "Legend of the Seeker" in high-definition for at-home viewing, but the quality of every one of the 22 episodes presented on this 5-disc set won't make you dwell on that fact. Each one, presented in widescreen format and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, does a spectacular job in presenting the lavish production design and computer-generated effects scattered throughout the series, with a wealth of intricate detail, impressive range of motion for the battle sequences, and surprisingly tangible presence about it. The color scheme exhibits a world of bright colors, including blistering greens and lavish, warm reds and oranges as it progresses, yet most of the attitude for Richard and Kahlan's trek is kept somewhat muted and controlled -- something that these transfers remain aware of perpetually. A few moments echibit weaker contrast than expected and digital grain can grow a bit heavy; however, since each disc contains between 170-210 minutes of material, "Legend of the Seeker" is a visual knockout.
Each episode comes adorned with a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio option, all of which fall a few steps behind its visual treatment -- possibly due to space contraints. Most of the dialogue sounds exceptionally natural, conveying the emotionality behind the sequences and the ambiance within them. The musical elements are also handled richly, fluttering with pipes and synth crescendos to a boisterous and enchanting degree. It's in the clanking of blades and a few of the more robust effects that this sound function isn't as dynamic as expected. The metallic blasts of noise are deadened a bit more than expected, though it's only to moderate, unobtrusive degrees, while sequences that should convey a higher-throttled lower-frequency robustness fall a little limp. Overall, however, "Legend of the Seeker" pours its charisma out through the sound options. Though it lists only French and Spanish subtitles, English SDH subs are also available on the disc -- all of which are optional.
Forging the Sword: Creating a Legend (16:23, 16x9):
Combining interviews with behind-the-scenes footage and snippets from the show, "Forging the Sword" takes a standard approach in revealing some of the secrets behind the camera on "Legend of the Seeker". It discusses the process in running a worldwide casting call in order to find thick-accented Craig Horner as Richard, Bridget Regan's aptitude as an action heroine and a dramatic force, as well as the inspiration behind Zeddicus and his connection to the tone in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. It also showcases some before and after shots of the sets during construction, healthy amounts of green-screen footage, and overall reflection from the crew members in adhering to the tone of the books when tip-toeing away from a direct replication of Terry Goodkind's content.
Words of Truth: A Conversation with Terry Goodkind (13:35, 16x9):
Author Terry Goodkind is a fascinating individual, a guy who appreciates life, art, and nature to extraordinary degrees. His interview reflects on his conception of "The Sword of Truth" novels while building a house, discusses some of his favorite cover artwork for his novels, and takes us through his writing process while curving through the wooded area around his home. His wife also adds bits to the interview as well.
Also included are a range of eight Deleted Scenes (16x9), all presented in like-minded quality to that of the visual transfers from the show itself, as well as a few Previews/Sneak Peeks -- including exciting sneak-peeks at the new 10 Things I Hate About You and Up Blu-rays.
"Legend of the Seeker" takes Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" novels and expounds them into a broader, more serialized universe, creating a fantastical action/adventure epic series with tons of exhilarating, fun energy . With formidable heroes Richard and Khalan and a cleverly built sagely wizard in Zedd, it takes a story of predestination and worldly savior weight and transforms it into a well-balanced yarn -- along with infusing it with healthy dashes of well-minded romance, dark themes, and a sense of formidable human energy. But, at its core, it's out to entertain with its barrage of blaring magic, swirling swords, and dastardly plots from overlord Darken Rahl, and it does so in modern, updated fashion with a familiar panache to that of Renaissance Pictures' other widely-lauded fantasy series. You'll find plenty to get excited abut in "Legend of the Seeker" if the likes of "Hercules and Xena" tickled your fancy, while lovers of fantasy tales in general should discover something worth the time in this loose adaptation of a best-selling series of novels. Highly Recommended.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site