Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Apocalyptic World of Terry Brooks: The Shannara Chronicles

I read The Sword of Shannara when it was first published.  I loved the book despite its obvious derivative roots in Lord of the Rings.  It was an epic fantasy in the 1970's when there was a dearth of fantasy to read.  Its language was vivid and not as cumbersome as Rings.  It was magic. Then came Elfstones of Shannara.  I bought it as soon as it hit the shelves.  I still recall as my wife and a former student sat in the living room of our house telling me to read faster as I sat in our front porch.  It was and would become my favorite book of all the Shannara series.  Since the advent of the Lord of the Rings movies, it was this series, many a fantasy fan wanted to see on the big screen.  There was hope and then came disappointment; then came hope and then came the announcement: Elfstones would be adapted as a television series.  We would skip the adaptation of its elder sibling, Sword because of its close relation to Rings. My favorite book would be first.  It would also be produced on MTV, and it would be renamed The Shannara Chronicles.

A fantasy series on MTV?  My first thought was not positive.  I was concerned for two reasons: MTV's record at quality entertainment is not where you want to hear your favorite book is about to appear. The other was what would they do to the book.  Would they remain faithful? Would they invest the money for true modern fantasy on film? Would they get too concentrated attracting a younger crowd? How was Terry Brooks with all this? If anyone knows the fun or lack of fun of adapting in Hollywood, it's probably Brooks.

Terry Brooks and Jon Favreau are two of the executive producers.  Brooks is giving a clear and guiding hand to the series but will not choke the life of a visual show. Jon Favreau, who also produced the Iron Man series, the Avengers series, and the new CGI version of Jungle Book, knows what a special effects show should look like.

Is the show absolutely faithful to the book? No. Does the show ignore the book or create a whole bunch of stuff that did not occur? No. Three episodes in, we are introduced to a character who is created solely for the show.  We do not yet know his purpose.  Allanon is not 7 feet tall wearing a deep cloak and carrying a walking staff.  He is played by bigger-than-life actor, Manu Bennet, who has a reputation for bringing his considerable physicality to every role whether it is Deathstroke in Arrow or Azog in The Hobbit  movie trilogy. He brings that same intensity to the role of the lone Druid of Paranor.  He is believable and intense. Shannara Chronicles is, so far, about 85 to 90 percent faithful. That's an excellent start.

Does the world of Shannara look like we dreamed it would? No.  It's not only different; it has its own vision.  Paranor is not some stone castle but an imposing, stone plateau.  What the show does is capture the post-apocalyptic world created by Brooks.  I know a few on Twitter and other review sites was upset that the world does not look the way we imagined it.  I blame the Brothers Hildebrandt for this vision.  They did the original art for the books and more than a few Lord of the Rings calendars.  They gave us a magical world but not really what was described by either Tolkien or Brooks.  The vision of The Shannara Chronicles is a solid one, and I will not condemn the series because it doesn't look like what my imagination and a couple of illustrators cooked up for me so many years ago.

While clearly aiming for a younger demographic, Shannara Chronicles also stays true to that vision created by Brooks.  Central character Wil Ohmsford, played by Astin Butler, is a wonderful character.  He is a naive young man on the verge of becoming hero and heir to the Shannara lineage.  His humor is also an excellent foil to the dour Allanon played by Bennet.  The other central characters are the Chosen Amberle Elessedil played by Poppy Drayton who also must grow to succeed in the quest and the Rover Eretria (Ivana Baquero) who wants to be so much more than a Gypsy-like thief.  The series actually lends itself for a younger viewer because, just like the books, it is also a story of growth and fulfilling destiny.  It is also something of a romance. Even minor characters are well drawn.  The one and only John Rhys-Davies who plays the Elven king Eventine Elessedil brings his formidable acting and experience to the series to create a wise and majestic ruler.

The effects, created in the same studios as those of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, are clean and believable.  From demons to the main villain The Dagda Mor played by Jed Brophy and the effects for the Ellcrys and The Forbidding are all good and fresh.  The danger for any series or movie is not just will it meet the fans' needs, but will it bring on something new and fresh for new fans.  Shannara Chronicles does so easily.

So how is Terry Brooks with the adaptation? He clearly loves it.  He understands what must be done to move the page to film.  He's done the opposite of film to page twice.  His approval was all many of us needed. Having seen the show now, we also know that his view is more than just being caught up in Hollywood hype.

I've spent some time thinking about the show and the first three episodes. I've talked about it with family and friends. The more I do this, the more I've come to like this show. It is, if it stays true, going to be a good one. Its start has been enjoyable with a great blend of action, humor, and drama. Is it going to meet everyone's visions and expectations? No. That is the risk of adapting a beloved book into a movie or series. At least, ten episodes are more likely to capture the details of the novel than a two or three-hour movie. If you are a fantasy lover give The Shannara Chronicles a shot.