The Shannara Chronicles Season One
Series that delve into the realms of fantasy can often be forgiven for relying on familiar tropes. If the story and characters are worth the audience's investment, the familiar tropes that often beleaguer the genre can be over looked as necessary to the overall plot. Unfortunately the first season of Shannara Chronicles' is marred by scattered plot points, jarring pacing, and unconvincing performances to such a degree that the series resembles more of soap opera parody splashed with elements of fantasy.
Adapted from the novels by Terry Brooks, Shannara commits the cardinal sin of dumbing down the narrative in its targeting of a teen centric audience. The Shannara novels are some of the most popular fantasy works since the Lord of the Rings, often drawing favorable comparisons to the latter; not that you would know why after watching Shannara's first season. Terry Brooks is an idol of mine. His books opened the door to fantasy for me, inspiring me to pursue writing. Having read the books in my formative years in school, I was excited to finally see one of my favorite works adapted to live action.
Spread across ten episodes, the crux of the story frames the adventures of a pair of elves, the plucky headstrong Princess Amberle(Poppy Drayton) and a naïve farmboy named Will(Austin Butler) who also happens to be half-elf, though the series doesn't provide sufficient details as to why that is important. Through different circumstances they are tasked with preventing the magical tree Ellrys from withering and dying and unleashing a horde of demons upon the four lands. Joining them is the beguiling bandit Eretria(Ivana Baquero), and a powerful Druid named Allanon. Together they venture on a quest to thwart the evil Dagda Mor(Jed Brophy) from bringing ruin upon the world. To do this Will must accept his heritage and harness the magic of powerful artifacts known as Elfstones, just as his father did several hundred years prior.
From the start The Shannara Chronicles seems to have the makings for a classic fantasy. The budget MTV Supplies is appropriately substantial, allowing for exquisite costumes and meticulously crafted sets. Filming in New Zealand provides ample eye-candy of picturesque shots of lush valleys and mountains set against an opaque sky that render Brooks' fantasy world perfectly.
Unfortunately, for all its superficial strengths anchoring its first season, The Shannara Chronicles finds itself on the wrong side of the scale. Despite a proven premise for success, watching the series becomes exhausting as the episodes plod along with so much narration you get the feeling you might as well just read the book.
Aside from the inimitable Manu Bennett putting his best foot forward to up the show's credibility with an imposing performance, the rest of the cast appear more suited to posing for fashion shoots than anchoring a television series. The script doesn't help matters, peppering in bland dialogue expositing several important events that the series just glides over. Bennet picks up the slack for the majority of the scenes but his character archetype almost demands he play second banana to the millennials.
This not to say the show doesn't have its merits. MTV's significant budget is significant in crafting convincingly life-like creatures that are both terrifying, pushing the boundaries of small screen television. The story, though recycled from other fantasy works is compelling enough to be effectively immersive. The ruins of civilization long since passed and the production design employed in bringing the world of Shannara to life is one of The Shannara Chronicle's more interesting aspects that will hopefully be explored in future seasons.
Unfortunately, as much as it struggles to measure up, The Shannara Chronicles is no Game of Thrones. While it does an adequate job of nailing the bleak overtones and grim qualities, the sappy romantic elements and cheesy acting mar an otherwise adequate fantasy romp. If the series can cut back on the hokey dialogue and vacant acting and learn to take itself a bit more seriously, the show might just rise above its unremarkable first outing to become something resembling good.
As one might expect, the Shannara Chronicles sports a beautiful transfer presented in anamorphic widescreen that is on par with HD programing. The texture is strong and the colors are crisp throughout. The darker scenes are a bit more saturated and clarity can prove to be an issue but overall the presentation is excellent.
The only available track is English 5.1. English subtitles can also be accessed for the hearing impaired.
The Bluray includes four extra features that appear to be identical to the DVD. Behind the Scenes is exactly what the title suggests, discussing the thought process behind the costumes and the special effects. Exploring New Zealand and the Making of the Dagda Mor are too brief to be substantial, running just above six minutes combined. Even the interview with Terry Brooks, which I was most excited for is insubstantial at just under two minutes. These could have easily been edited into the longer making-of feature. Inside the case is a booklet detailing brief synopsizes of the characters.
Having followed the books, I was intrigued at how The Shannara Chronicles would translate into another medium. Sadly The writers opted to forsake the elements that made the novels so enjoyable, changing the characters to fit the mold of what the ideal teenage audience MTV was no doubt looking for. Regardless if I or anyone else who read the books were the target audience, the extraneous pacing and stilted acting hampers what could have been a solid fantasy series. It should be noted that the series does shed some of its growing pains as it progresses, but ultimately clunky dialogue, unappealing leads, and generic story prevent it from rising above guilty pleasure status.