Game of Thrones isn’t returning until the spring, so while we wait, why not venture into a new epic fantasy TV series that captures elements of these kinds of franchises, including Lord of the Rings and others. Elves, half-elves, destiny, adventures, demons … the list goes on. You know, the typical things you would expect from a project like this.
The Shannara Chronicles may be a big adventure fantasy drama like Rings, but it’s airing on MTV, so it also has elements that you would expect from an MTV show — but we’ll get into that later on.
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The Shannara Chronicles is based on the bestselling book series by Terry Brooks. And interestingly, the TV show will be based on the second book, The Elfstones of Shannara.
As I’ve done already, comparisons will be made to similar movies and TV shows, but whereas LOTR and GoT are set in completely fictional worlds, Shannara takes place in a future version of our own planet. Every so often, viewers will see hints of the old life, like a run-down helicopter or ship that have obviously been lying dormant for many years, and even a glimpse at the Space Needle that’s no longer upright. The downfall of our civilization is not explored in the first four episodes of season 1, but for those who have not read the books, hopefully it is brought up at some point.
So what is the show actually about? Shannara centers on Amberle, a young elf who becomes a member of the Chosen, a group that must protect an ancient tree called the Ellcrys. If they’re not able to, the Four Lands will come under siege from demons set on destroying them. Quite a big task to undertake, but Amberle receives help from the likes of a half-elf Wil, wise Allanon (the last living Druid) and others. She must also face her grandfather — who just so happens to be King Eventine — because he’s very unsure of letting her put herself in such danger. But she must, of course, because, well, it’s her destiny. When things start falling apart, it’s up to her to set out and make things right.
Speaking of destiny, Wil has his own personal quest going on at the same time, which involves some mysterious elf stones that have a connection to his family. He’s one of those reluctant hero types who must metaphorically wake up and realize what he must do.
A prominent figure they meet along the way is Eretria, someone who is always fun to see on screen for a variety of reasons, as I’ll explain. She’s a Rover, and she and her clan can be seen wandering the lands. They don’t have castles or living quarters; they seem to set up camp wherever is best. Eretria is mysterious and has her own fascinating backstory. She’s also highly skilled and knows how to get what she wants, through whatever means necessary. I’m very interested to see where her story leads and to see what kind of evolution she might take along the way.
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When it comes to the casting, they couldn’t have done a better job with hiring John Rhys-Davies (King Eventine), who we all remember as Gimli the dwarf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Rhys-Davies is a commanding presence as the King, and I love seeing him in a fantasy world again. But the Middle-Earth connections don’t end there. The actor behind Allanon, Manu Bennett, played Azog the Orc in the three Hobbit movies.
As far as the rest of the cast is concerned (and even some of the leads I’ve already talked about), the best way to describe this is by bringing up the network the show is airing on. The younger actors and actresses were obviously taken straight out of the typical MTV casting room. They all have to be good-looking, no matter what, it seems. I know this isn’t a movie like Lord of the Rings or a gritty show like Game of Thrones, but there are certain characters that would not look so flawless considering the environments they’re in, but this is MTV, so what are you going to do?
Despite that, Poppy Drayon (Amberle), Austin Butler (Wil) and Ivana Baquero (Eretria) step into their roles just fine, though a lot of the secondary characters don’t really have any distinguishable qualities and some are forgettable. We’ll see if that changes over the course of the series.
The people aren’t the only characters, and no, I’m not talking about the demons (visual effects are put to good use, by the way). The Shannara Chronicles was filmed in the best place you could possible film an epic fantasy — in New Zealand, a character in and of itself. Yet another Lord of the Rings comparison! This story is set in North America, though. The scenery and overall look of this series is beyond beautiful, and it makes Shannara look even more epic in scale than it already is. You can’t go wrong with filming in New Zealand.
You can see some of the locations in this preview video:
The Shannara Chronicles has a few flaws, but that’s to be expected. There are parts of it that are MTV-ified, as I’ve already talked about. None of these things that I’ve quibbled about detracted from my enjoyment of watching the show, though.
It’s a big series for MTV. Yes, the network already has a fantasy/mythology series in Teen Wolf, but Shannara still feels different because it’s not necessarily the kind of show I would expect to find on this network. But if you’re a fan of fantasy stories, you should definitely check out The Shannara Chronicles.
Are you going to watch The Shannara Chronicles? If you’ve read the books, what are you most looking forward to?
The Shannara Chronicles premieres Tuesday, January 5 at 10pm on MTV.
(Image and video courtesy of MTV)