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Featured TV on DVD Review: The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1

June 6th, 2016

The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1 - Buy from Amazon: DVD
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The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1

The Shannara Chronicles is a TV series based on the fantasy book series by Terry Brooks. The series of books has been going for nearly 40 years and has quite a following. It is also co-created and written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who helped bring Smallville to the small screen. That's enough to be at least a little hopeful. Can the series live up to its pedigree? Or is it wasted potential?

The Show

The show begins with a woman who is both blindfolded and has her hands tied behind her back running through the woods while being chased by a man. She's not in danger. She's training. The woman is Amberle, the Princess of the Elven Kingdom. She also wants to be the first female to become a member of the Chosen. The Chosen are the protectors of the magic tree, Ellcrys, which is used to contain the demon armies. She manages to earn a place, but at the ceremony something terrible happens. She sees a vision of Ellcrys burnt down and covered in blood. This shakes her even more that you would suspect, because the war with the demons is considered mythology and folklore by most. When she receives another vision, one where she kills her boyfriend, she leaves.

Meanwhile, we meet Allanon, who is asleep in the snow. I'm instantly jealous. (As I type this it is nearly 10 pm and according to the thermostat, it's 27 degrees Celsius inside my apartment.) He's woken for the same reason Amberle. Likewise, Wil Ohmsford is about to be embroiled on a quest. His mother is dying, but before she passes, she gives Wil the Elfstones, magical relics that belonged to his father. Her dying words are, "Find the druid. Promise me." Wil's uncle, on the other hand, tells Wil to throw them away. Instead, he travels to Starlock in order to become a healer.

He doesn't get very far. Wil Ohmsford encounters a troll, only to be rescued by Eretria, a thief. At first he's grateful, until she drugs him and steals his Elfstones. When he wakes up, Allanon is there with a sword talking about magic and destiny. At first Wil wants nothing to do with destiny, but when Allanon shows him magic is real and that he has the potential to become a great magician, he's sold.

I've skipped over some of the secondary characters, like John Rhys-Davies, who plays the Elven King. (He's great, but doesn't get a whole lot to do.) In order to keep the review short enough and spoiler-free, we will have to end the setup there.

I have very mixed feelings about this show. While watching this show, I couldn't help but be reminded of John Carter. That movie was based on a series of novels that began 100 years before the movie came out. However, in those 100 years, the ideas from those novels have been used and reused countless times, so the film felt cliché. It's unfair, but not surprising. Likewise, the first of the books that this series is based on is nearly 40 years old. What might of seem fresh then seems borrowed today. The Shannara Chronicles borrows, or "borrows" elements from such sources of Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, not to mention a few post-apocalyptic Young Adult adaptations.

(One of the elements that most reminded me of Game of Thrones was in the pilot when the big bad guy summons a changeling. As soon as he said, 'Come to me changeling.' I thought to myself, "It's going to be a naked lady." I was right. I guess the show needed a little bit of light gratuitous nudity to start the show.)

There are many aspects of the show I really liked, including some of the acting. Poppy Drayton, Ivana Baquero, and Manu Bennett are excellent in the show, but their characters are more or less clichés. (A princess who wants to do more than just be royalty, a thief learning to escape her upbringing, a stoic mentor to the chosen one.) Furthermore, the dialogue can be cringe-worthy at times. It feels like it is aimed at a young-adult audience, which is no longer the age of the target audience, but a style that you find in too many bad Young Adult Adaptations. The locations do look amazing and the special effects are good for a TV show. I could see it being a fun TV distraction for fans of the genre who don't mind the familiar nature of the show or some of its more cheesy elements.

On a side note, the show takes place 1000s of years in the future after a great nuclear war. ... Oh my god, it's the land of Ooo. I just watched a live-action Adventure Time. Anyhoo, the show says it takes place 1000s of years in the future, but we still see a lot of buildings and even some rusted out vehicles. That's wouldn't happen in real life, but that's nitpicking. Call it a pet peeve.

The Extras

All of the extras are on the third disc. The longest is an 18-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, which looks at the making of the elf ears, the sets, special effects, etc. There is a five-minute look at Dagda Mor, the big bad guy. There is a very short featurette on Exploring New Zealand and a two-minute interview with Terry Brooks. I would have loved an audio commentary or two, but this selection of extras isn't too bad.

The Verdict

The Shannara Chronicles is one of those shows where it is hard to have a strong opinion one way or the other. Most of the cast is good and it looks good compared to most TV shows. However, Season 1 just feels too familiar to really stand out. It's perfectly acceptable. Likewise, the extras on the DVD are good, but not great. It's worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre and like the CW glossy shows like The Vampire Diaries, but I don't think you need to buy it.

Filed under: Video Review, Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, Ivana Baquero, Jed Brophy, John Rhys-Davies, Miles Millar, Alfred Gough, Manu Bennett, Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton