Shannara is here, and here is what I think of the series which premiered on MTV at 10pm on January 5th 2016. Before I get started with my review, there are a few things newcomers to the series (people who may only be watching the series) should know:
MTV’s Shannara series is based off of the epic and mega hit Shannara series written by Terry Brooks. Some people new to the series may be confused as to which trilogy the show will cover (and yes there are many books in this epic series). It looks like it will start off with the original trilogy written by Terry Brooks in 1977, which is not necessarily the first books chronologically. There are several prequel books as well as sequels that take place hundreds of years in the past and future. The original trilogy consists of The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara in that order. As part of the swag given out by MTV at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con for Shannara, the book Elfstones of Shannara was given out to fans. This, I presume, is the book that the television series will focus on, but there are mentions of people and events that take place in The Sword of Shannara. I don’t think you need to read The Sword of Shannara if you want to follow the events of the show, except for the enjoyment of reading the book, and getting a little back history.
Second thing to know if you are someone who has not read the books is that this world is not a strange and different fantasy land like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, but is, in fact, set in the future on Earth after The Great Wars destroyed, and changed much of the landscape as we know it today.
I also want to mention that this show is produced by Jon Favreau (Iron Man series) who has done stellar work on the movie front. It has John Rhys-Davies (Gimli from Lord of the Rings) in it as well as some notable actors in it like James Remar who plays the character Cephelo and who is most notable as his role for playing Dexter’s dad in Dexter. There is Manu Bennett who plays Alannon in this, and played Azog in the Hobbit.
Now onto the review, and beware there are spoilers from here on out:
I will say that I started out with higher expectations for this series. Unlike some naysayers for MTV, I’ve seen what they did with a show like Teen Wolf, which is wildly popular and is actually a well done show. I also had higher expectations because of the fact that Jon Favreau was a producer for the show, and it was filmed in New Zealand, the home of Lord of the Rings. Not having read much of the series yet, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I really enjoyed this premiere. The cinematography was stunning, and the sets were amazing. I thought the acting was excellent, and I was moved by the storyline. Sure, there were differences from what I have been reading, but I think it still did a really good job in capturing the story. It is action packed and has a lot of heart. I thought the young actors and actresses of the show were impressive.
It started out with a race in which one of the main characters, Amberle, raced to become the first female Chosen, a select group of Elves who protect the Ellcrys. The Ellcrys is an ancient tree whom legend states is the only defense against the denizens of darkness, and their prison keeper. The role of the Chosen has traditionally only been given to young elven males before Amberle. This immediately made me sympathetic with her character as being that underdog who is fighting a tradition that excludes her, and it immediately made the audience want to root for her. That’s when I knew that there is some good screenwriting in this. The writers were able to make me root for the main character in such a short amount of time. This part never happened in the book, but I thought it was an interesting addition.
The introduction of Wil and the death of his mother was also a nice way to make the audience connect with his character in a short amount of time. Now, I know that this did not happen in the book (his mother died much earlier in his life), and that Shea Ohmsford was his grandfather in the book and not his father, but I think it added a human side to this story, and, in a way, it made me invested in his character because I wanted to know what was going to happen. Shea’s death as a forgotten drunk may rub some fans the wrong way, but I think it added an obstacle for Wil in that he struggles to come to term that his perception of his father being wrong, and that he has to face the growing power inside him as his father did. It added a dimension to Wil’s story that I think captured the audience’s attention.
There were definite differences from the book, but I still thought the show was well done. I think there was some differences in how the characters started their journeys, and the show fleshed out some parts hinted at like where Alannon was for thirty years (well thirty years for the show, fifty years for the book). For some of the book fans, this may not sit well with them, but if you look at this show as its own entity, I think most people would agree that it was well done and exciting addition to the fantasy genre on television right now. And I accept that with every adaptation there will be differences.
The premiere was exciting, fast paced, and it interlaced back stories and the emotional story arcs of all the characters. Dazzled by the beautiful cinematography, and intrigued by the characters and story lines, this is one show that I’m definitely going to keep watching. For such an epic book series, it’s easy to get confused on what is going on, especially if you are someone coming to it without reading the source material for the adaptation. Every good show should try and make the fans happy, but it should also strive to pull in new fans as well, and I think this series did a good job of that. Even though it introduced a lot of characters and story lines, it is still easy to follow.
I also liked the fact that, for the most part, the musical score was orchestral and epic with very little use of popular music in it. So many shows nowadays use what’s current and popular as their background music, but that would never work well with an epic fantasy because it would pull the audience right out of this fantasy world that they were in. This show did a good job of using a sweeping, epic orchestral score. Don’t get me wrong, there were some pop songs in it like the opening credits which is a song called Until we go down by Ruelle, but in general the soundtrack is well done, and apt for a fantasy genre show.
What I also liked is that it had the feel and look of Game of Thrones, but it wasn’t as violent and didn’t have as much adult content as Game of Thrones. The series was accessible for most of the family (the monsters and demons may still scare young children). I would say it is 15+ show. Overall, I thought this was a really good start to this series, and if you want to scratch that need of yours for fantasy while waiting for other shows like Game of Thrones to come back, this is definitely one you should check out.
And don’t let the fact that MTV has a part of this dissuade you. They did an excellent job with Teen Wolf, and a phenomenal job with this show. MTV has the first three episodes up to view on their website and through their app, and the first episode can be viewed for free from iTunes and google play store. I, personally, can’t wait to see what happens next.