The Ellcrys is dying and demons are returning. If they do, we’re all screwed. Now it’s up to a badass druid, an elven princess and a half-elf to save the world in the Shannara Chronicles!
Created By: Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
Air Date: Currently Airing on Tuesdays
The Shannara Chronicles is based on a novel series that I’ve always wanted to read. Terry Brook’s fantasy series is one that I always see in bookstores but never buy—mostly because when I shop I do so with a purpose, as in I go in to buy something specific and get out. So when the TV series was announced I became intrigued immediately, particularly when they said it wouldn’t be like Game of Thrones, but more like Firefly, capable of dark subjects but also lightheartedness, something that HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s books severely lacks.
The series starts when Amberle (Poppy Drayton), the Elven princess, joins the formerly male-only contest to decide the next to join the Chosen, an order dedicated to protect the sacred tree Ellcrys. But as they’re celebrating, Amberle touches the tree and receives a vision of the coming of demons and soon the Ellcrys begins to die. At the same time, in a cave far away from the elves’ domain, the last Druid, Allanon, awakens from stasis, knowing that dark days are ahead. Finally, in another part of the world, the Half-Elf Will has just lost his mother. He sets out to become a healer only for his journey to become infinitely more complicated, as Allanon finds him first and reveals he’s the last heir to a powerful bloodline and it’s his responsibility to help see the quest through.
As I haven’t read the novels, I can’t tell if the adaptation is good or not, but I’m entertained so far. The Elves have their usual splendor but in a new move compared to other representations of the fantasy race, they’re actually relatable. They’re very human, in fact, and have worries, and loves and regrets just like we all do, and in this I think the series does something very different from others. Many fantasy series make magical races inhuman to keep the mystery, the mystique of the unknown. The Chronicles of Shannara has an entire world to build, and so the people in it are understandable, even if their customs differ.
But what I like the most so far is the world. This isn’t your average fantasy world, this isn’t Middle Earth of Golarion or Azeroth. This is our world, this is earth, but in a future so distant that magic came back along with demons and other creatures. There are remnants of humanity’s civilisations everywhere, from broken down helicopters to broken highways covered in weed. Nature retook most of the world of The Shannara Chronicles and technology went way back, almost medieval though the clothing is quite modern, a nice juxtaposition.
Sets are amazing and I love how they only use a minimal amount of CGI, preferring to have actual physical sets. It makes scenes in forests with monuments that much better, as it adds realism and credence to this fantastic world. There are some dodgy CGI moments though, particularly with the effect-heavy demons. They’re not too bad except for when they do close-ups. One of the flaws with CGI is the closer you look the faker it looks. I do like that the big bad demon Dagda Mor doesn’t use CGI but scary as hell makeup.
In terms of performances the best has to be Manu Bennett, the professional badass. He dominates every scene, the gravitas of his character making him the de facto leader when it comes to “the quest.” Amberle and Will’s actors, Poppy Drayton and Austin Butler, also deliver good performances, though I lean more on Poppy as the better actor. Austin’s acting while overall quite nice, has some uneven scenes in the first couple of episodes—I have seen four so far, hence why this is a first look. Lastly, to round up the main cast is Ivana Baquero as Eretria, the only human in the party and my favourite. There’s enough mischief in her eyes that I can believe she’s the party rogue but in her scenes, Baquero also shows the character’s vulnerability in a way that still makes her look very strong.
Secondary character performances on the other hand are a mixed bag. John-Rhys Davies is top of the line as always. He plays the King of the Elves and Amberle’s grandfather. His sons on the other hand are rather forgettable, as is the leader of the Human ‘bandits’ aka Rovers (James Remar). I have seen Remar deliver convincing characters in the past, but here he’s not even threatening as a villain.
The plot so far has a nice pace and something new happens every episode. By the end of the first one, we already see the demon leader, and by the second we know much more about the world. The third and fourth episodes deliver on character growth, the start of the quest and party’s status quo. With a season of only ten episodes, they can’t waste time muddling about and I’m happy to see that not only are they moving the plot along but also the characterisation. The main party evolves, they form friendships and relationships and they use pivotal story scenes for not only exposition but to also explore the characters’ motivations and personalities. I’m quite happy with it to be honest. The plot itself is a “Save the World” quest, the type of story that is all about the journey and not much the mission.
But with six episodes left, I hope The Chronicles of Shannara keeps the quality and also keeps doing things that will separate them from other fantasy series on television, particularly HBO’s own mammoth of a production, at least to ensure the series’ survival.
Once the season ends, you can expect a full season review.
4/5 – Exceptional
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