HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1
HTS Overall Score:77
It took how many years before Terry Brooks 26 book series to make it to TV? Well, being that “The Sword of Shannara” was penned in 1977 it’s about time. I will be the first to admit that I was leery when the announcement hit. So many fantasy shows have been tried in recent times thanks to the success of “Game of Thrones”, but so many have also failed miserably. Especially considering that the show was going to MTV and its general tween audience. Is “The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1” going to be the next “Game of Thrones? No, most definitely not, but that does not mean it is a failure either. Steeped in classic fantasy and a bit of stupid tween romance, “The Shannara Chronicles” is a fun fantasy adventure that luckily knows better than to try and fill out the series with episode after episode of filer material, but keeps to a simple plot, allowing for quite a bit of fun along the way.
The series creators realized early on that starting directly at the beginning was probably not a good idea. “The Sword of Shannara” is a difficult book to bring to film and I think they realized that when they decided to model the show after “The Elfstones of Shannara”, the second book in the series. Easily thought of as the best of the 26 book series, “Elfstones of Shannara” is the most relatable and most familiar of the series as it mimics “Lord of the Rings” in more ways than one (many people thought Terry Brooks actually lifted quite a bit of material from Tolkien when he penned the first trilogy, but the series has taken on a life of its own after that). We have an Elf, a human, a half elf, a druid (wizard) all on a quest to deliver the seed of a dying tree to its final resting place before a demon army is unleashed upon the earth. Sound familiar yet?
One of the film problems of the series (and its very mild in reality) is that being the second book of the series as the source material, we don’t get all of the backstory that “The Sword of Shannara” levied on the reader. So, as a bit of catch up, I’ll get the ball rolling. The world of the 4 Kingdoms is not a fantasy world, or even another world at all. It’s actually earth many thousands of years in the future. It seems that before the world as we know it there were only two races. The magical elves and the evil demons. Millennia ago the elves defeated the demons and banished them to another dimension and sealed them for eternity with a magical tree known as the Ellcrys. Soon an aberration formed, and that was man. Mankind grew up quickly and soon began to populate and fill the world. As man grew the elves became fewer and fewer, slipping into hiding so much so that humans forgot all about magic, elves and demons, writing them down as myth and lore. However, humankind reached a pinnacle and destroyed the earth with nuclear holocaust, leaving very few survivors. With the Earth in disarray the last human and elf survivors created the Druid’s council, a council of magi that blended magic and technology in hopes of becoming great once more. The nuclear holocaust also mutated some of the humans, and three other races were born. Naming them after the old mythological stories from mankind’s history they became known as gnomes, dwarves and trolls. Now the world is split into 4 kingdoms, with the trolls and gnomes in their kingdom, the elves in theirs, and the humans and dwarves making their way with their own lands.
Now, the world is at peril once more, as the Ellcrys, at the center of the Evlen kingdom, is starting to die little by little. Wondering what is going on, King Eventine Elessedil (John Rhys-Davies) inspects the tree only to be confronted by an old ally and friend. Allanon (Manu Bennett), the last of the druid council still living. Things are much graver than anticipated as the tees dying unleashes an old druid named Dagda Mor (Jed Brophy) who went to the demons side, and with him and army of demons that becomes more and more powerful as the tree loses power. With the whole world at stake there is only one way to save the 4 Kingdoms. The elven chosen ones are required to take the seed of the tree to mysterious magical birthing area and with that the tree will be reborn again, containing The Dagda Mor and all of his demonic followers. Knowing that he must stay behind and protect the tree, Allanon sends along the only elven chosen one left, the princess Amberle (Poppy Drayton), to complete the task. Amberle will not go alone though, as Allonon assigns a lonely half breed elf/human by the name of Will Ohmsford (Austin Butler), who holds an ancient bloodline in his veins, and a human rover named Eretria (Ivano Baquero).
“The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1” isn’t going to rival the greats like “Game of Thrones”, but it is a blast to watch one of my favorite fantasy novels come to life. Those of you who have read the books and are expecting it to 100% follow the novel may be disappointed, but it is still fun nonetheless. The fun is tempered a bit by the constrained nature of the show. “The Elfstones of Shannara” is a great book, but it is also quite large and with that in mind it’s hard to put everything into the 10 episode season. Things get compressed and events get changed around. For example Allanon never has the ability to go into his druid cave and heal like he does in the series. He has the ability to use his druid sleep, but that takes up decades of his life. The same with the staff that he gets from Bremen during his sleep, as it was also obtained quite differently. However, Manu does a good job at playing the famous mage, and it’s nice to see the heavily built New Zealander back in the spotlight again. I fell in love with the guy’s presence during “Spartacus” and loved him even more as Slade Wilson in “Arrow: Season 2”. The rest of the cast is a bit wooden, but its more than acceptable for MTV level actors. They’re nowhere as bad as the CW level of acting in recent years (despite the fun of “The Flash” and “Arrow”) and actually start to grow on you after a while. Sure there’s some stupid teen romance and some moronic dialog, but the fantasy level of the film is quite high, making it one of the more enjoyable new series that I have come across in the last year. Thankfully the season seemed to be popular enough as a second season has been commissioned by MTV, and I’m curious to see which book they use next, or if they’re just going to expand the characters that we know in this season (The “Shannara” series jumps around in time a lot, with very few books having the same characters in common besides Allanon).
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=72401[/img]Sadly “The Shannara Chronicles” doesn’t get the HD treatment despite being aired that way on MTV. It seems that more and more TV shows are getting the DVD only route and only the really popular material is getting the privilege of being released on Blu-ray. With that being said, the 1.78:1 framed DVDs look quite pleasing. The luscious New Zealand countryside is magnificent, with green sprawling hills, deep forests that show off blacks, browns and greens equally. The CGI can get a bit spotty at times due to the budget, but it’s not really that bad. Colors are well saturated and fine detail is exceptional except for the standard softness that DVD seems to have (I’m spoiled by Blu-ray that’s for sure). Black levels maintain a strong presence and show no signs of digital artifacting in any major way. Overall, it’s a great looking picture spread across 3 DVD-9s.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=72409[/img]The singular 5.1 Dolby Digital track does a good job at creating the fantasy universe within the 4 kingdoms. The front soundstage is alive with activity as the trio of young adventurers make their way through the woods, the rivers and all sorts of other activity filled lands. The clanging of swords ring with power and authority, while the rushing of magical energy courses through the mains. Surround activity is solid, with the chirping of birds, or thumping of booted feet adding a nice layer of ambiance to the series. The battles between Allanon and the Dagda Mor roar with thunderous LFE and there is more than enough low end in the rest of the series to satisfy fantasy fans. Dialog is crisp and clean, never seeming out of balance with the rest of the track in the least.
• Behind The Scenes
• Exploring New Zealand
• Terry Brooks Interview
• The Making of The Dagda Mor
“The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1” is an entertaining little series that totally took me by surprise. I make no intimations that it is somehow great television, but it certainly was FUN television for a lifelong fantasy nut. The characters left some to be desired, but the general replication of the 4 kingdoms, and the fun almost “Dragonlance” level of D&D fantasy is quite appealing (there’s actually a little wink and nod to that sort of mentality when Amberle finds a set of roleplaying multisided dice in an old human encampment). The audio and video is sadly not HD level, but they are quite good for a DVD and I certainly look forward to the next season. Recommended.
Starring: Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton Manu Bennett
Creator: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 MPEG2
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 411 Minutes
DVD Release Date: May 7th, 2016
Buy The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1 DVD on Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
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