Fantasy television series always have a hard time proving themselves on television. For every Game of Thrones or Xena: Warrior Princess, there’s a Wizards and Warriors or Covington Cross. While television viewers are happy to welcome superheroes and aliens into their living rooms on weekly basis, elves, dwarves and trolls have had a tougher time of it, even with the blockbuster power of the Lord of the Rings films behind it.
There is world-building, races, and social structures to introduce, and sometimes, people aren’t willing to take that journey. All of these things require a solid vision, from the show’s creators and it needs to be invoked through production design, costuming, casting, all of that. It needs to find a delicate balance to bring a viewer into a new, but still recognisable world, with characters that are different from them, but still relatable.
The Shannara Chronicles has a good starting point and a world of source material in the form of novels penned by the legendary Terry Brooks. Using his characters, environs, and storylines as a launching point, MTV and Paramount bring the Four Lands to life, and you can delve into this adventure in the best way, delving into it at a leisurely pace or binge at your fancy, today with its release to Blu-Ray and DVD.
Before diving into the series though, it’s important to know a few things. The series showrunners, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar were the driving force behind Smallville, so obviously, there will be a lot of teen/twenty-something melodrama and angst thrown into the series. The second is that the series is produced by MTV, so you have to keep in mind who their audience is.
So yes, obviously the series plays up the relationships, and romance and broken hearts, and it’s all presented by a cast that looks like they stepped out of a Gap commercial. Well, except for those in heavy facial appliances.
The series follows a half-elf, Will (Austin Butler), an Elven princess, Amberle (Poppy Drayton) and a human rover, Eretria (Ivana Baquero) as they find themselves on a quest to save the world.
In a far flung future our civilisation has destroyed itself, our blood lines have split, and created elves, gnomes, dwarves and trolls. Magic is real.
At the centre of the Elven world is a tree, the Ellcrys, and for the first time in generations, it is is sick, dying, and as each red leaf falls to the ground, it unleashes yet another demon on the world. Fortunately, there is a plan, with our trio of heroes at its heart, and over the course of the ten episodes of the first season, action is taken, lives are lost, revelations are made, ploys and pawn are at work, and bonds of trust are broken and forged in equal measure.
Now, while the series lacks the cinematic look of GoT, the gorgeous backdrop of New Zealand is put to good use, and the remnants of humanity that show up every now and again ground it in a reality that tells us the world will go on after we’ve left it by destroying ourselves.
Sure, there are things that get missed, either from translating the book to the screen, or dramatic choices made by the showrunners, but overall, despite it’s smaller feeling, the series proves to be solid fun, and will draw me back for the second season.
The Season 1 collection, especially on Blu-Ray looks and sounds gorgeous. The quality of the image, and the use of sound works wonderfully. New Zealand looks gorgeous. The designs, the costumes and the sets are detailed (not always as lived in as I thought it would be) and layered, adding to the reality of the series.
The two disc set has a couple of short featurettes that take us behind the scenes, and we get a look at how the series has come together.
Some Brooks (hardcore) fans may not enjoy this adaptation, finding that it caters too much to the younger audience and playing to the things they may be interested in. My thing, however, is that this may be more suitable for viewers who liked Lord of the Rings, but don’t want the blood, gore and nudity that proliferates Game of Thrones.
And from there, maybe, just maybe, these same viewers will turn to the source material, as I just have, and want to explore more of the world Brooks envisioned.
The Shannara Chronicles Season 1 is available today on Blu-Ray and DVD from Paramount, today!