Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Shannara Chronicles - Chosen

I still remember when MTV played music videos. So watching a sci-fi series like The Shannara Chronicles seemed more than a little out of place. However, at least for someone that hasn't read Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara Trilogy, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. I had expected something similar to the more modestly produced Legend of the Seeker series, but MTV appears to have spared no reasonable expense on the show's production values.

Based on Brooks' books, our story begins in two separate storylines which will finally merge at the end of the two-part series opener entitled "Chosen." In the world of the far future where elves, dwarves, and other various creatures co-exist with humans, an Elven tree has kept the darkness at bay for generations so that the war between the people of the Four Lands and the demonic creatures banished from the realm has lead people to view their history as nothing more than a myth. However, when the tree gets sick and its leaves begins to fall the magic that holds the demons at bay begins to weaken. And that is where our story begins.

"Chosen" introduces us to willful Elven Princess Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton) who defies convention to become the first female to earn the role of one of the Chosen (the group tasked with protecting the magical tree of legend). We follow Amberle's success to win the right to become one of the Chosen, her struggle to deal with visions of a frightful future, and her fleeing the kingdom from what she dreads will come to pass. At the same time the episode introduces us to Half-Elf Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler) who sets off from home following his mother's death with a bag of his father's magic rocks which are stolen from him by a thief named Eretria (Ivana Baquero). The single thread that connects both storylines is the Druid Allanon (Manu Bennett) who awakes from slumber first to warn King Eventine Elessedil (John Rhys-Davies) of the danger and then seek out Wil who will have an important role to play.

Fantasy novels can get quite dense fairly quickly especially when creating an entire world around magical creatures, elves, demons, and druids. "Chosen" does a fairly good job of introducing the various elements of the world to newbies to Brooks' stories without burying the audience in the minutiae. MTV goes for a very CW approach in casting young good-looking leads. I was more impressed with Drayton in the two-part premiere, but that may only be because of how much more interesting her character is to begin with. I wouldn't have ever thought of Manu Bennett (Arrow's Deathstroke) as a Druid, but the casting works in the show's favor (even the plot skips past the subplot involving the love of his life incredibly quickly).

There are certainly areas where the show can improve. The pacing seemed a bit off in places and the show hasn't quite sold me on Eretria or why I should care about the thief or her family of Rovers (or for that matter any other member of Amberle's family, either). But, if the princess' vision are to be believed, there's plenty of death and carnage just over the horizon which should help weed out some of these superfluous characters. The one place where the limits of the show's budget do show a bit is in the CGI of the demons themselves which are better in darker-lit scenes than in broad daylight. Still, most of these issues are fairly minor and I'm curious to see where the show goes from here. One way to judge a TV-series or movie based on a novel is whether or not it makes you curious enough to pick up the source material. Two hours in, The Shannara Chronicles has piqued my interest.

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