Wednesday, January 06, 2016

A Sad Chronicle

As a fan of Terry Brooks' books -- albeit one whose level of enthusiasm has waned a lot over the years -- I took an interest when, a while back, it was announced that his Shannara book series had been optioned for a television show. And I felt great trepidation when I heard that should would air on MTV. Was there any world in which a high fantasy show could be good on a network that makes the CW look like PBS?

Not this world, as I learned when I sat down last night to watch the two-hour premiere. The first half anyway; it was so painfully bad that I bailed after the first hour. Where to start in chronicling Chronicles' many flaws?

The writing. The single wise decision made in drafting this television series was to start it by adapting Terry Brooks' second novel instead of the first. To this day, The Elfstones of Shannara remains of his best books. It's perhaps a touch dated and not flawless, and even great books undergo some degree of alteration when making the jump to film or television. But here, the writers kept perhaps 5% of the book's original content. The character names were the same, as was the overall premise of a magical tree's death threatening to unleash a horde of demons on the world. But not one scene from the novel was depicted in the first hour of the show.

This might have been forgivable if any of what did appear in the show was any good. Yet the dialogue was simply awful. From one line to the next, characters flipped between an awkward attempt at high fantasy formality and even an more awkward millennial teen moodiness. It was like Terry Brooks fan fiction or something. And the actors, generally a super young and oh-so-pretty bunch, simply didn't have the chops to muscle it anywhere near credibility.

The visuals were uninspired. Instead of designing any true new look or feel to the costumes, sets, or visual effects, the series cribbed nearly everything from Peter Jackson's Tolkien films. An occasional rundown piece of technology was awkwardly dropped in to remind us that Brooks' world is actually our own after some future apocalypse, but doing that hardly resulted in a distinct setting -- it just looked like a pretty bow stuck on a badly wrapped present.

And the music! When we weren't being driven out of the moment by lame attempts at emo pop songs, we were suffering through a score that played every single scene as if it were the climactic moment of a blockbuster movie. Either the composer felt this was a big break, or was desperately trying to compensate for emotion that otherwise wasn't present in the show.

As I said, my like of Terry Brooks has been slipping over the years -- both as his books became repetitive, and more sophisticated works were being published in the fantasy genre (that he helped make viable decades ago). The fact that he approved of any of this deals another major blow to his reputation in my mind. The Shannara Chronicles is a disaster without redeeming quality, an unmitigated F. Do. Not. Watch.

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