With the success of recent fantasy book to movie adaptations like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, it makes sense that any studio would jump at the chance to translate Terry Brook’s world of Shannara for the screen. As a fan of his work, I was very excited to hear that his great library of books would be getting the chance to shine as its own television series. I would not, however, have ever guessed which network would pick it up; MTV.
The channel I grew up on as a place to watch music videos and raunchy dating shows, has taken quite a few turns in recent years, but taking on the Tolkien-like world and storylines of Shannara is never a place I could have foreseen. That being the case, I went into my viewing of The Shannara Chronicles with a great deal of apprehension and skepticism. I had a great deal of concern that such a great opportunity to have a classic fantasy story represented on television may have been wasted or decimated, but I had to see for myself.
First of all, for those of you unfamiliar with the storylines of Terry Brooks’s world, Shannara consists of a great deal of stories that take place far into our future. The world as we know it has ended, and a new one of magic, elves, gnomes, druids and orcs has taken shape. The elves have reemerged from generations of hiding and the other races have evolved from what was left of the human race. Humans still exist but in greatly reduced numbers. As in all great fantasy adventures, members of each race must band together to collect various objects of power and defeat the forces of evil. Now on to the show itself.
Visually The Shannara Chronicles does a nice job making the world and characters come to life. It may not beat the effects of a blockbuster movie, but it does a good enough job to draw the viewer in and not distract them with some poor costume or cookie cutter set piece. I enjoyed seeing beautiful views of the Elven city and the landscape of what used to be North America.
The acting was actually quite good as well. While most of the cast consists of new, beautiful and young actors, a few fantasy veterans (John Rhys-Davies and Manu Bennett) take the screen as major characters and help bring some acting cred to the cast. The young cast does a fairly nice job, although they tend to look a little too pretty all of the time. They also occasionally came off as a bit hokey; trying to convince the viewer how serious they or the situation was.
The seriousness of the show was the biggest problem I had. They left no room for a joke or lighthearted moment between characters and just kept a heavyweighted feeling throughout. It felt like they were trying too hard to be like the other big fantasy show of the time, Game of Thrones, and failed. The characters and storyline did not warrant that treatment. Great epic movies and stories still need time for the characters and the viewer to relax and laugh a bit.
Overall The Shannara Chronicles is what my high school English teacher called “brain candy.” It was fun to watch and a good time consumer for an evening of mindless television watching. It’s not going to drastically change the landscape of television or convert a fantasy hater into a lover, but I would recommend it as something fun to watch to fill in the summer lull before the fall premiere season.