Monday, January 18, 2016

The Shannara Chronicles — Have now watched more than I've read.

The Shannara Chronicles premiered on MTV the other week and I've had a lot of ambiguous feelings about the show so far. We're currently three episodes in with the fourth available online and about to air tomorrow. Shannara airs Tuesdays at 10PM EST on MTV. Review after the trailer:

First, it's been said that Terry Brooks as a world-builder is very much like my own style of world-building, and I don't necessarily think that's an unfair comparison (at least on my side of course). Post-apocalyptic, explaining other races through magic and science, I get it.

But Terry Brooks in the Shannara books always struck me more like Tolkien than anything else. (See my Lord of the Rings review for how I feel about that). Long-winded. Boring. Not for the ADHD.

So right off the bat before the first frame, I'm biased both for and against. Yes, I want to see my style of world-building be successful because many people can't deal with fantasy existing alongside science in the future and the more successful that sort of thing can be, the more successful that sort of thing can be. A rising tide raises all ships as it were. But please don't be boring.

It should be mentioned that the The Shannara Chronicles adapts the second book in Brooks' original trilogy, The Elfstones of Shannara. From what I could find, it does this because the first book is a bit too straightforward and lacks diversity (i.e. effectively zero female characters).

It's produced by Jon Favreau and has a bevy of young actors and actresses of varying quality, including Deathstroke, err, Manu Bennett as Allanon the Druid and Austin Butler as Wil Ohmsford.

The incredibly winsome Poppy Drayton is distractingly beautiful and an inconsistent actor throughout as an elf princess named Emberly, err, Amberle (fantasy names spelled stupidly is in full force throughout Shannara; to be fair though, sometimes characters do pronounce her name as Amberly instead of Emerbly). This usually prompts the reaction of every time she comes on screen in a scene I can't help but exclaim, "Wow," or "She's so pretty!"

Good casting choice for an elf princess physically at least. And her acting isn't terrible. Most of the acting in the show isn't terrible. Sometimes it's good, and usually it's OK. I haven't come across any "bad acting", but it's nothing that's going to astound you. Some scenes the actors will do well and some scenes the actors won't do so great. The blame I suppose rests with the director beyond anything else.

She looks good in still images, but when I say "distractingly beautiful", these images don't really do justice to her in motion. Some of the outfits they put her in you know they chose specifically because of how beautiful she is (which is stupid), but most of her action outfits seems almost normal for a fantasy setting. If anything, the scenes where they're not taking advantage of her looks are when she really distracts you. This is almost a negative for the series because I'm not joking when I say it pulls you out of the show.

Also distractingly beautiful is New Zealand. (Again with the similarities to Tolkien!)

They have yet to really skimp on their use of CG with the backgrounds and it is telling. You're regularly exclaiming at just how gorgeous everything looks. 

And yet, if there is a criticism I can level against the show above even the inconsistent acting, it would have to be that it is almost too glossy and too pretty. The third main character (after Wil Ohmsford and Amberle Elessedil) would have to be Eretria, a girl living outside normal society in a bandit society that freely preys on all others. You can tell that bathing in general isn't something that they would think of, but she's so done up every time you see her that it's distracting in a bad way. 

You can argue that this is a stylistic choice, and I do believe they did this purposefully, but it feels off. In Excalibur, it didn't feel off. In the trailer for the new Warcraft film, it doesn't feel off. But here it does. At least to me. I'm hoping as the show moves forward I'll care less. I'm also hoping that Wil and Eretria do not end up together, because that would be stupid at least as far as they're presented three episodes in. 

One place they did cut back was the CG of the demon at the end of Episode 2 (or end of the 2-hour premiere). CG for demons was fine in their introduction, CG for demons was fine for the same demon in Episode 3, but for a few minutes at the end of Episode 2 I thought I was watching a SyFy Channel movie from the 2000s. 

I can forgive bad CG in television shows (or at least bad compared to movies), but inconsistent CG is so glaring that it's hard to look past. If you don't have the visual effect budget for something, maybe try to find a way to have that without showing it instead of dropping the quality so much that it casts a pall on the entire premiere. 

Other than that, there seem to be some plot inconsistencies and character inconsistencies that I'm not sure were present in the source material or is a result of the adaptation. One is the speed of travel. In the first episode, Amberle travels from the elf capitol to her aunt's in the time it takes Allanon to travel from his wake-up location to the capitol to Wil to druid temple place to capitol to Amberle's aunt's. A map might help, even if it's blatantly obvious exposition solely for the audience's sake. 

Another weird thing is how does this world that's obviously had magic throughout modern history completely deny and ignore its existence? There's a great amount of emphasis placed on the elves not believing in magic anymore, even though it was 100% present within the last 30 years. (side note: elves appear to live about the same amount of time as humans do and all classic fantasy races (dwarves, gnomes, elves, trolls) are offshoots of humans from our time.)

Finally, I think fans of Sword of Shannara would probably be very surprised by Flick's attitude towards Shea, Wil's father. If the events in Sword are canon, then Shea saved the world with Flick's help. Even if the experience ended up messing up Shea significantly, Flick should be aware of how much good Shea did and what a great person he was in spite of the price he had to pay. You could argue that Flick is just resentful of how Shea ended up and doesn't want the same thing to happen to Wil, but there's none of this subtlety in his conversations with Wil, so I find it unlikely to say the least (unless it's yet another example of inconsistent acting). 

I'll continue watching the show in hopes that they're able to pull off the ending and maybe change a couple of things up that never sat well with m, although that raises the question on if they are going to go through the entire book in a single season and where would they go from there? 

Are you going to be watching Shannara this season? The first four episodes are online through MTV if you want to get caught up.

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