The Shannara Chronicles premieres on
Tuesday, Jan. 5 at 10/9 C on MTV.
The Shannara Chronicles comes from an impressive pedigree. Show runners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar started their fantasy/sci -fi production journey with Smallville and moved to feature films like Spider-Man 2, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and I am Number Four. They are also the brains behind Into the Badlands
, which just finished its season one finale. (Check it out if you like action!) The Shannara Chronicles by Terry Brooks started as a trilogy but has grown into one of the biggest fantasy franchises with around 30 works, combining novels, prequels, and graphic novels. In fact, Brooks has sold more fantasy books than any other still living author except JK Rowling. Rumor has it that the reason The Shannara Chronicles is debuting on MTV is that they were the only ones offering to let Brooks have final veto power and script consent. What isn't rumor? He is a fan of the TV series
and has seen every episode written. The story starts with the second book, called The Elfstones of Shannara. It was shot in New Zealand, like the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series, so the cinematography is gorgeous as well. MTV has spared no expense on this project and it shows. They are clearly planning to take advantage of Game of Thrones' popularity and the result is a well-crafted, if slightly slow, series designed to move MTV into a new strata of cable networks. This is unlike anything they have ever produced, including Teen Wolf.
Unlike most fantasy genre shows, The Shannara Chronicles takes place a thousand years after the Age of Man. A nuclear holocaust has changed the world but remnants like the Space Needle remain in ruins. The land is now run by elves, who won the War of the Races and have brought a sort of peace to the Four Lands. Man co-exists with elves, trolls, and gnomes now but not in a world of magic. In fact most feel magic died with the druids. Enter of course the last druid, Allanon. He is called back from a hibernation-like sleep by the Ellcrys, a tree that keeps the demons from the last war trapped and unable to wreak havoc on earth. However the Ellcrys is dying and with each leaf it sheds, another demon is freed. The only way to protect the Four Lands is for one of the Chosen to take a special seed to the blood fire and return it to the Ellcrys so that the Ellcrys can be reborn. If this sounds confusing, don't worry. It's all well-explained for people who have never heard of The Shannara Chronicles, much less have read them.
The hero's quest is shared by 4 characters. Wil Ohmsford is the traditional bumbling hero who learns that his whole family history is a lie. He's part elf and part human, but all he really wants out of life is to be a healer. His journey takes an abrupt change when he is recruited by Allanon. Of the quartet, Allanon is the wise leader (think Gandalf or Dumbledore) who has some secrets as well. Princess Amberle is granddaughter of the Elvin King, Eventine, and is brought into the saga by the Ellcrys itself. Earning her way into being one of The Chosen, she finds that she is given strange, frightening visions of the future. Rounding out the group is Eretria, a human Rover. Rovers are bandits who survive by their wits and thievery. Her introduction to the group is very rocky and as such, she is not part of their quest in the first 2 episodes and she has her own agenda running contrary to theirs.
~Every part of this show is well-crafted from the visuals to the set pieces. MTV is going all out on this.
~The females are capable heroes in their own right and not damsels in distress.
~The world-building is phenomenal.
~Characters are well-defined and their hero journey is set.
~The acting is good, especially from some of the leads that don't have much experience. John Rhys-Davies is, of course, stellar.
The Issues -
~The first two episodes are incredibly heavy on the mythology of the story.
~The pacing can be slow in parts, especially around the middle. Part of that is due to the fact that it is actually 2 episodes instead of one.
~Much of the story follows traditional fantasy tropes so there isn't a whole lot of surprise in the first two episodes. I expect that to change as they begin the actual quest.
~Wil is the comic relief but he sometimes comes off as more irritating
The Overall Effect
While somewhat slow to start, The Shannara Chronicles is an epic fantasy tale with strong characters and even better production values. If you are interested in hero journeys, I think you will love it. The clever use of human remnants creates a unique playground in which they can tell their story and the idea of elves not believing in magic is intriguing. It allows for the story to talk to today's audience without being over-handed. I was also surprised by how much I liked the characters of Amberle and Eretria. They are powerful in their own right and smart. That's a good start. Overall I think that The Shannara Chronicles could be everything MTV wants it to be - a chance to break out of their reputation and be a leader in basic cable. Their biggest challenge will be getting people to break out of their prejudices and try it because I think fantasy lovers will end up praising The Shannara Chronicles if they do. This one's going to rely on word of mouth.
Best Reason to Watch - the world building is stunning and rich
Best Action - Allanon vs. Dagda Mor
Best Behind the Scenes Work - the cinematography which is amazing
Best Entrance - Allanon
Best Genre Trope - magic always comes at a price so it can't be used wily nily
Best Reveal - Allanon tells Wil that his father…
Best Fountain of Youth - Allanon's 300 year nap
Best Negotiator / Best Save - Eretria
Worst Parent Ever - Cephelo
Biggest Idiot / Most in Need of Growing Up - Wil
Biggest Surprise - I'm not sure I have ever seen a show on MTV with breast and butt nudity and it has more gore than most too. MTV is definitely reaching for a broader audience with this show.
Biggest Fake Out - the opening
Biggest Twist - the family dog…
The "Sucks to be You" Award - Wil
"Aren't you curious about ancient humans? How they were able to build these incredible things?" "Look. They're dead; we're not. End of story."
"Do you have any respect for Elvin traditions?" "Only the ones with parties."
"I think it's better if the druid explains everything." "You’re here with a druid? I thought they were all dead." "This one just took a very long nap."
"I'm definitely sensing a lot of sweaty, elf boy hate."
"Oh, I'm an idiot." "You'll get no argument from me."
"Stop talking." "I can't. It's the only thing keeping my mind off the fact that we could be ripped apart by rampaging demons at any moment. No one should die like that."
"Tell that to your people when their fairy tales are ripping out their hearts."
"Think of your legacy. After everything that you have done for the Elvin people, do you really want to go down as the mad king who believes in demons?"
"This conversation would be much less awkward if you were dressed."
"Why does a dying tree require an army?"
"Why don't you just call it a book of magic? Is it a Druid requirement that everything has to sound so mysterious?"
Don't miss The Shannara Chronicles
on Jan. 5 at 10/9 C on MTV.
Screencaps by Getty Images
, and SpoilerTV