The advertising was very persuasive. The cinematography on the advertisements blew me away. And Terry Brooks’ books had been favourites of mine as a teenager. I can remember reading Sword of Shannara in the library and then going out and buying Elfstones the moment that it was published (1982?).
But still there was lingering doubt. I still remember the appalling mess that was the 2004 mini series based upon A Wizard of Earthsea. Yes, even now I am physically cringing at that memory.
So what would this adaption of Brooks’ novels be like?
My friend Jorge saw the first couple of episodes before me.
“This is film quality,” he told me. “Like the Lord of the Rings movies.”
Well, that sounded hopeful.
“Have you read the books?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Trust me, this series is really great.”
(Note: I am paraphrasing Jorge to some extent as he said this last week and I can’t remember word for word.)
So I hopped onto iTunes and bought it for my AppleTV. My wife and I then snuggled together on the lounge and I clicked start.
OK, from this point on there may be spoilers. I will attempt to avoid anything too blatant, but I feel like warning you. I will therefore drop a little bit down the page so you still have a chance to avoid any revelations.
OK – you’ve decided to continue reading.
Initial thought for first five minutes was “Huh?”
You see, they (the elves) were having some sort of competition to decide which of them would become Chosen (Elf guardians of a magic tree). This was a very physical race through the forest that involved a lot of foul play. The first seven would be the Chosen. Problem is the actual title of the role – “The Chosen”. In the book they are called this because the magic tree actually chooses them. I guess that makes for boring television and having people kick and beat each other across a forest is a lot more entertaining.
Next problem I had in this episode (and its sequel) was that everyone except the Elven king seemed to have relationship issues. Y loves X but X is uncertain. A loved B but B left them and never returned. M seduces N so as to steal from them. And so on. And the melodrama of it all! Truly, the romantic plot is like “Game of Thrones” meets “Twilight”. Angst everywhere. Actually, this really ruined a lot of it for me as the original book has one love triangle and that is it. In this adaptation even the demons are at it! Like what?!? And any excuse to get the young beautiful people scantily clad (or naked) is obviously sought.
Ah yes, I forgot to mention. In this series they completely ignore the first book and start with Elfstones of Shannara. I guess that the Sword of Shannara was such an obviously plot copy of Lord of the Rings that they felt that they should ignore it. Sad really, because I like Sword despite its obvious derivative nature. Note: the series makers also start the series with events prior to the opening of the book. One very kind reviewer commented that this means no annoying flashbacks. Personally I enjoyed slow revelations. But this series doesn’t pander to subtleties.
Oh no – it is in the viewers’ faces the entire time. Very melodramatic. In a way this makes it very childish. Indeed no character really has gravitas. Even Allanon, who in the books is this brooding and unknowable figure (imagine Gandalf with a hood and a black beard), in the mini series has become a warrior-wizard-type character. Apparently having a deep voice and displaying few emotions is all it takes to portray old and wise.
Then there is the dialogue. It appears straight out of some young adult soap opera. And there are way too many petulant teenagers. Arrgghh!
And don’t get me started on the music. There is a fair bit of contemporary synthesiser type music. Not the classical music of Star Wars or Pirates of the Caribbean. Not the vaguely Celtic music of Lord of the Rings. No, this has very contemporary music that will age poorly over the decades.
So was there anything that I liked about it?
Well, the cinematography was damned hot. Yep – way too much CGI, but good anyway.
My conclusion is that if you have never read the novels and enjoy braindead but good looking characters, then this series is for you. But do yourself a favour and read the original novels before watching the series.
That’s all and feel free to disagree. After all, we each have different tastes and it is perfectly fine for you to like it.