The Shannara Chronicles
Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton, Ivana Baquero, Daniel Macpherson
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…reasonably compelling, if unsurprising…
There is a peculiar dichotomy to fantasy fiction. If by name it suggests a limitless scope for imaginative invention, its pitfall in too many examples is that it binds itself to the tropes of its own genre too rigidly. Rather than stretching its own capacity, it is prone instead to slavishly repeat its own inbred repertoire of invented pro-nouns, elvish caricatures, and mythic demons
The Shannara Chronicles, a new series produced by MTV and based on the novels by Terry Brooks, epitomises this problem to a fault as a virtual catalogue of fantasy genre clichés, a show in which a jargon talking race of future Elves must fight to conquer an awakening army of demons formerly warded off by an ancient but now dying tree.
For generations, The Chosen have been charged with protecting the Ellcrys Tree in order that it will continue its mystical function. The problem is that over time, these young upstarts have lost faith and come to view the tree as merely folkloric. Bad idea. The tree starts to decay, and a three-thousand year old Druid devil imprisoned by its branches wakes up, summons his hellish army, and begins to wreak havoc.
Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton) is one of the newly Chosen. Feared and fleeing from her destiny, she must be recovered to the kingdom by Wil (Austin Butler), a naïve half breed whose father was a great magician, and Allanon (Manu Bennett), a druid newly woken from several decades sleep.
In narrative terms the show is reasonably compelling, if unsurprising. The tried and true nature of its arc would be more tolerable if its themes and characters were fleshed out further beyond its stock standard ad hoc. Instead, its vague allusions to Christianity – the confounding of myth with faith – function primarily to serve the action rather than to enhance the subject.
Meanwhile the actors do their best with cumbersome, over expository dialogue, filled with self-specific jargon and LA accents; and contemporary music ups the teen angst several fold.
The Shannara Chronicles is entertaining, if violent, fantasy that will probably endear itself to young adults and genre enthusiasts. Whereas Game of Thrones crossover appeal is its ability to render its goings-on with Shakespearean gravitas, The Shannara Chronicles suffers by contrast from its inability to reach beyond its own self-imposed restrictions. Fantasy by its nature should be imaginatively boundless; by a stringent reliance on worn out archetypes, The Shannara Chronicles chokes out its own potential.
The Shannara Chronicles airs 7:30pm, Saturdays on SyFy.