Hypable saw the Shannara Chronicles series premiere during NYCC 2015, and now we’ve gathered our thoughts into a single review.
Yesterday, we shared our thoughts on how The Shannara Chronicles team honors the fans as much as the story. Two of us were in attendance, and it just so happens that one was a book fan and the other had never read the series. Check out our spoiler-free, joint review below.
Donya Abramo — A book fan
There’s always a certain amount of dread that hits you when the words “book-to-screen adaption” are uttered, especially when the book in question is so beloved from your childhood. Their successes vary, depending on who you speak to, but it’s become a nearly unavoidable knee-jerk reaction — most of us have been burned, and burned badly before. It’s not easy to shake that.
When it was announced that the second novel from Terry Brooks’ Shannara series was being adapted for television by MTV, I was all at once excited and cautious. Shannara was very close to my heart, along with a whole host of other fantasy novels from my childhood, and I couldn’t parse how I felt about the news.
As the cast and crew began assembling, with Terry Brooks remaining inextricably linked to the adaption, I inevitably began getting my hopes up. There was one thing I could never doubt during the lead up to seeing the two-hour premiere — everyone, from the ground up, was incredibly excited and humbled by their involvement in the series.
When there’s that much love and respect behind the scenes, it’s nigh on impossible for it not to translate directly to the screen – and that deep and enduring love that they all have for The Shannara Chronicles is palpable in every moment of the premiere episode.
There’s more to a faithful adaption than transplanting the written word directly to screen — there are certain elements of a story that often don’t translate well between mediums, and it is ultimately the job of the screenwriters and directors to recognize those and adjust accordingly, without losing what’s truly important. The heart. And The Shannara Chronicles has a lot of heart.
The Shannara Chronicles is incredibly faithful to its source material, and that is likely owed to the respect the creative team has for both the books and Terry Brooks himself. There are narrative changes, in some cases a slight reordering and combining of events to ensure that the story is cohesive and easy to follow for everyone, but these changes are done in the interests of making Shannara the best adaption it can possibly be.
In fact, look for a delightful team-up between two characters that don’t meet until slightly later in the Elfstones novel — one of the definite highlights of the premiere.
As with any story with such a rich and beautiful history behind it, there’s a certain amount of exposition required to build the world — which does, at times, slow the initial part of the premiere episode down. Once this exposition is out of the way, however, it becomes everything this Shannara fan could have ever hoped for from the adaption. The characters I fell in love with in Brooks’ novels are so wonderfully alive and exactly as I imagined them, in no small part due to the phenomenal and passionate cast.
The Shannara Chronicles premiere is gorgeous in huge measures, from the sweeping and breathtaking landscapes and sets, to the script and characters. It’s a triumph of high fantasy that I never quite realized was missing from my television schedule, and is pure unadulterated magic from start to finish. It’s equal parts drama, humor and tragedy, and a strong start out of the gate for what is sure to be an unbelievably wonderful and captivating season of television — and I cannot wait for everyone else to finally experience it for themselves come January.
Karen Rought — A non-book fan
Though I had never read the books, as soon as The Shannara Chronicles was announced, I was intrigued. A high fantasy adaptation coming to MTV, of all places? It definitely gets your attention. The first image I saw of the series had me impressed, and by the time I saw the trailer, I was sold.
When we saw the two-hour premiere in New York, I essentially didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I knew it was a story about elves — there was a king and a princess and someone who was half elf and half human. Other than that, I didn’t know anything about the plot or the relationships between the characters.
The opening shot of the premiere makes you pay attention. It throws you right into the action and the first problem our heroine faces, and it’s one that spans time and worlds, one that all women can relate to. When Amberle Elessedil has all the odds stacked against her, and nearly no one in her corner, she comes out on top.
From there, we do have to deal with a fair amount of exposition. Whenever you’re setting up a new world with different rules, this is necessary to some degree. It’s unfortunate the dialogue is so obviously acting as an information dump for the audience, but the good news is that once this is out of the way, the show continues to impress.
Television CGI is often forgiven for being somewhat obvious. It’s true that film gets a higher budget for such ventures, but Shannara has clearly invested wisely. With New Zealand backdrops, it’s hard to go wrong in terms of the landscape, and they’ve digitally created vistas that seamlessly blend into this background. It’s much easier to concentrate on the story when the graphics are not distracting you with their poor quality.
Having no idea what is coming for the characters, a true highlight was Wil, played by Austin Butler. His tragic and naive demeanor makes him both relatable and endearing — not to mention hilarious. While he certainly shines when it comes to the more intimate moments, the large-scale action sequences go to the women, who have no qualms about kicking everyone’s asses.
Pilots are often tricky creatures. You must pull in your audience, explain what’s going on, keep them hooked, and want them to tune in next week. That’s a tall order for any show, but Shannara has the added hurdle of premiering on MTV, which many people still look to for their reality TV show fix. Teen Wolf paved the way for the network’s venture into unscripted, fantasy television, and now Shannara is joining them on this journey. And what an asset they will be.
The world is rich and mesmerizing, the characters are instantly compelling, and enough mystery is set up from the beginning that you’ll want to stick around to see your questions answered. If at the end of the two-hour premiere’s giant cliffhanger you don’t want to tune in next week, you clearly have a stronger will than I do.