TV Review: ‘The Shannara Chronicles’

Shannara Chronicles renewed

It’s almost too easy to list the qualities “The Shannara Chronicles” does not possess, originality chief among them. The TV show is based on a series of books by Terry Brooks, who in turn modeled his world closely on that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” saga. Elves, quests, magic objects and demons are all present and accounted for in this tale. No spoiler alert is needed to point out that the fate of the world hangs on the dangerous quest of an unlikely protagonist. But a television series doesn’t have to be unique to be worth watching, and fantasy fans hankering for a breezy (if low-budget) epic are likely to find things to enjoy in this energetic saga. The subset of TV viewers who liked to spend a lazy Saturday bingeing on the adventures of Xena or watching “Legend of the Seeker” may well enjoy what “The Shannara Chronicles” brings to the elvish council table.

Many networks continue to hop on the “Game of Thrones” bandwagon, but those who seek out “Shannara”  aiming to see an HBO-style budget are bound to be disappointed. Some of the show’s interiors are not much to write home about, and though the costumes are generally good examples of the expected medieval-meets-MTV aesthetic, one or two outfits are cringe-inducing. On location, however, “Shannara” often shines. It was shot in New Zealand, which has some of the most picturesque and evocative scenery in the world, and the show’s creative team uses the region well as it efficiently sketches out the story of an elf kingdom in danger, and the unlikely allies who are called upon to save it.

But pretty scenery on its own isn’t enough, and it can’t be denied that “Shannara Chronicles” is not exactly unpredictable; the plot recalls those of many fantasy sagas, not just the stories of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. That said, the show has a lively forward momentum, a sly sense of self-awareness (elf-awareness?) and strong casting in key roles. As if the source material weren’t a major enough link to the “LoTR” universe, two capable actors from Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films appear in “Shannara.”

John Rhys-Davies plays an elf king, and he’s a canny enough character actor to bring both gravitas and a light comedic touch to the role. And even if he does overdo things just a little, who can blame him? Wearing an elf crown almost requires an actor to go to a bold and colorful place. Like the most able members of this show’s solid cast, however, Rhys-Davies doesn’t stray into pomposity or overdose on melodrama. One of the most refreshing things about this earnest series is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which would have been a fatal move for an MTV program about pointy-eared elves. Another factor in “Shannara’s” favor: Its first season is only 10 episodes long, and for fantasy aficionados, the first four installments (including the two-hour premiere) should fly by fairly quickly.

Manu Bennett, who plays the show’s Aragorn equivalent, Allanon, displays the dry sense of humor familiar to fans of “Arrow” and “Spartacus,” as well as the fighting skills honed on those shows and in the “Hobbit” films. Questionable casting in this role would have likely sunk the entire enterprise, but Bennett is “Shannara’s” valuable and quietly charismatic anchor. He’s almost reason enough on his own for genre fans to give this mystical tale a whirl: He has fun with his priest-warrior role while mixing in the kind of seriousness that allows the viewer to buy into the life-or-death qualities of the central quest.

That endeavor involves the Elf princess Amberle, played with winning sincerity by newcomer Poppy Drayton. Austin Butler does yeoman’s work as Wil, a simple country boy who (no shocker here) finds out he must embrace a much greater destiny. James Remar has a ball as the sly leader of a thieving clan — who knew the dependable supporting actor would look this good in post-apocalyptic biker wear — and Butler and Bennett in particular navigate the show’s mix of humorous asides and heart-pounding danger with real skill. A few members of the supporting cast are interchangeable or eminently forgettable, and some lines of dialogue land like poorly forged tin on the anvil, but the cannier performances and some fairly impressive CGI hellscapes are often able to divert the viewer from the show’s weaker elements.

TV itself is something of a fantasy wonderland these days; there’s a show for almost every taste and predilection. It’s hard to imagine “Shannara” garnering a crossover audience beyond the fantasy realm, but it’s to the drama’s credit that it does not try to be all things to all viewers. What’s refreshing about this approachable saga is that it knows exactly what it is, and it sprints though its familiar paces with a game spirit.  

Sure, “Shannara,” which harks back to the golden age of syndicated genre fare, is a standard quest journey in which there are troll, gnomes, living trees and magic books, and characters say things like, “If Allanon is here, there are dark days ahead.” But there’s conviction in the show’s execution, which features galloping romps on horseback, suitably angry demons and other lines like, “My ancient Druid’s a little rusty, maybe you could fill me in?” The truth is, genre-loving families and fantasy fans who want to travel to another world but don’t want to fork over the admission to a multiplex (or a premium channel) could do worse than this. And speaking of those halflings from the Shire, this cheerfully cheap series, if nothing else, is less bloated and more streamlined than large chunks of those expensive and frequently mind-numbing “Hobbit” films.

TV Review: 'The Shannara Chronicles'

(Series; MTV, Tues. Jan. 5, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in New Zealand by MTV with Sonar Entertainment.

Crew

Executive producers, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Jonathan Liebesman, Jon Favreau, Eugene Stein, Stewart Till, Dan Farah, Terry Brooks; producers, Tim Scanlan, David Gardner, Tim Coddington, Jenna Glazier; director, Liebesman; writers, Gough, Millar; director of photography, Michael Bonvillain; production designer, Robert Gillies; costume designer, Jane Holland; editor, Peter Gvozdas; music, Felix Erskine, Lukas Burton; casting, Marc Hirschfeld, Geralyn Flood. 120 MIN 

Cast

Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton, Ivana Baquero, Manu Bennett, Aaron Jakubenko, James Remar, John Rhys-Davies

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  1. De says:

    I’ve watched 7 episodes and feel that it’s a pretty good take of the books in the fact that, yes there were elves and other races, there was a tree involved holding the demons at bay, and there were druids. Beyond that, it’s an adaptation, and free artistic license was taken. Which is normal when making a movie or TV series from a book.

    They couldn’t have cast Allanon better in my humble opinion, powerful, brooding, and a great subdues sense of dry humor. The rest, well, it’s an interesting mix whining teen angst and really strained attempts at playing characters.

    The story lines thru the first couple of shows were pretty good, but as I got to the middle of the show run the stories are starting to stretch the limits of tolerance.

    The show is based THOUSANDS of years in the future yet there is still a TON of intact junk left laying all over the place. The one episode had them going thru a toxic waste dump with 55 gallon barrels leaking some deadly ooze. Great eco statement, but come on, all of this stuff would have rotted hundreds of years after it was abandoned. Anyone with any knowledge of metal drums knows that if they’re left outside they rot away within 2-3 years.

    They fell into a school prom, THOUSANDS of years in the future. And the year book was still intact because it was “…one of those sealed off places..”. So sealed off they fell right thru the roof and the paper machete’ was still there? Please.

    I really think casting and costume needs to look elsewhere than 80’s rock videos for make-up and hair styles. The elf hunters were hilarious. They want to save money so they had a high school set up and direct those scenes?

    Now, that’s a lot of whining about the show, there are good parts, there are great parts, but over all I’d have to say that the bad parts far out number anything.

    Great for early teens, any hardcore fantasy fans are going to drop off rather quickly. Teens boys will love the little rover girls hormone levels and the costuming for the ladies. The young ladies and older will love Allanon. I’m glad there are only three episodes left and those will be watched just so I know how bod it gets and how it ends.

    p.s. The Shanarra books are not a take from Tolkien. Tokien had fantastic ideas about fantasty, but he was a terrible story teller. Try McKiernan’s Iron Tower Trilogy. Yes it’s a direct rip of JRR T. but it’s so much better.

  2. Haley says:

    I still think that a lot of the acting is subpar. Not from everyone, but definitely from a few. I find the actor who plays Wil to be especially bad. Some of the dialogue is a little too modern and doesn’t work for the lore, for example, Amberle describes Allonan when she says “He’s a good guy”, and this kind of dialogue sticks out like a sore thumb in a world like this. Also, the weird, current music choices in some of the scenes are a little jarring at first. All in all, I agree that if you love fantasy, this could be the show for you. I may give it some more tries, but honestly, it was a little cringy in a few places.

    • Haley says:

      My apologies, not Allonan, her almost boyfriend at the beginning of season one. He’s so forgettable, I can’t think of his name.

  3. Jack says:

    Very disappointing adaptation of really good trilogy. Who was the writer to set it in the future. I presume that is when it is set with all the trappings from todays work lying room.

  4. Don says:

    Completely sucks. Characters and story line aren’t even close. Why did they bother. Who did they think they were producing this for? What a sad waste. 0 out of 10.

  5. Brooks fan says:

    Clearly this lady has not read Terry Brooks books but then it seems neither did the director of this series. I was really looking forward to this but have been very disappointed. The books are brilliant and really take the reader into another world they are worth so much better than this. I really don’t understand why there was changes made to the story line, it seems as though the director is just making it up as it goes along. The acting is wooden, the costumes are awful, i wont be watching any more of this rubbish.

  6. Fantasy Fan says:

    This series has quickly become an utter travesty. Yes it has good special FX and scenery but it is a total abortion when you consider the books that underpin the whole thing. Terry Brooks must have been financially desperate to sell his soul for such a monstrous rendition of his great trilogy. Episode 8 has thrown me over the edge. I have tried to like this and stay with it, but now we have people with guns, electricity and 2-spool film projectors playing Star Trek – Final Frontier. The overall hacking of the books is pitiful and to turn it into a teeny bopper “Twilight” type saga where everything focuses on silly teen romances (with the oh so predictable lesbian elements thrown in) is just sacrilege.

    Clueless, mindless teens will lap up their daily drivel and dosage of life conditioning from this without realising their sweet little heads are being purposely programmed by the powers that be.

    Meanwhile, the legacy, the rich history that are the written works of Terry Brooks, have effectively been spat on, trodden under foot and finally recycled as toilet paper. As I said, the man must have been utterly desperate.

    I dare not continue to watch further because one of THE greatest characters in all the fantasy genre, Garet Jax, is surely going to be given the same “Carry On Camping” style treatment.

    Films of the Shannara books could have been absolutely epic and sat alongside LOTR and others.

    It is a very sad day to see those chronicles butchered like this

  7. David Wallis says:

    Answer me this, please: if the Druid was sleeping for the past 300 years, how was he able to stand next to the king 30 years ago, battling demons, when the demons are supposed to be in the Forbidding for the last how many hundreds or even thousands of years?

  8. David Wallis says:

    Having read half of Brooks’ books, this series equally disappoints as being plodding if not borderline boring. Wooden characters despite some great attempts by the actors are characteristic of Brooks’ interesting plot lines, but he could not deliver timely, sharp development either in his books or this series. And what is the purpose of having a cliffhanger at the end when everyone who has read his books that Eretria will marry Wil and spawn a new generation, which will be the central characters of book two in the Shannara trilogy? If the “titillating” love scenes had been cut out, there would have been plenty of time to rescue Eretria, be present at their marriage, and kick-off a second monotonous season with two half-/quarter-/eighth Elf children wrestling mostly with their inner demons.

  9. Martine says:

    The acting was appalling. The girl power attitude from the elfs was beyond awful, and I absolutely loved the Hobbit films. This thing is so much worse then Twilight, you can’t even compare them. Its complete amateur hour. Its an insult to the books, and to the art of acting in general.

  10. dr1ttz says:

    Adaptations of books are rarely satisfying to the large populace and this proves to be no exception. Yet to one who is not biased towards a tale they have already known, it provides an enjoyable excursion into the realm of fantasy.

    I genuinely enjoyed watching the series so far for what it is: A lightweight fantasy tale focusing more on rising action and climactic endings then deep plot lines or multifaceted characters. Is it an A+? No, but that does not mean it is without merit. And at the end of the day, it’s still better then Twilight..

  11. P. Stein says:

    Lightweight – most suitable for hormonal teenie boppers trying to come to grips with teenage angst. A real groaner if a viewer was expecting/hoping for anything substantial.

  12. john doe says:

    there is nothing about this show that is good. The books were fantastic and the show does not even come close. I hate it. I think they do Terry Brooks an injustice.

  13. Stacy says:

    I have enjoyed the show even the changes made. I love it

  14. sean patton says:

    I am so disappointed in this. The books were great. This series is making a joke of the books. I can’t believe Terry brooks signed off on some of these changes.

  15. Lia says:

    First off, I can’t handle reading a review of the show by someone who hasn’t read the books. No idea what you’re talking about. Second, Mtv has RUINED Elfstones. They’ve over sexualized everything, to the point of ridiculousness. The actors are horrid. Everything about the show makes me cringe, except for the scenery. Even the theme song was poorly chosen. I hate everything about the show. If any of you want to enjoy a REAL adventure, with feeling… READ THE BOOKS. They are amazing. This show does them no justice. Allannon was ruined. He was the most noteable and epic characters in Shannara history. I hope that other Brooks readers out there are just as enraged as I am. I vote they don’t make a second season. Even as a show just on its own, even if I hadn’t read the books, the show isn’t good. It’s awful.

  16. Atleasticanread says:

    Such a stupid bitch, I can’t believe they fucking pay this stupid hack. I’m sorry miss Ryan but you should try thinking and doing some actual research before you start writing about things you obviously know nothing about. Terry Brooks did not model his books after the Lord of the Rings books. Which you might know if you actually read the book series. Tolkien did not invent elves, plus there is always a hero undertaking a dangerous quest to save the world. Almost every book I have read has had a hero/heroine undertaking a dangerous quest. Which you might know if you actually read something once in a while. I fucking hate you so much.

  17. Ryan says:

    I watched the first 5 minutes, and while I’d like to give it a chance, I really struggled with the way they spoke. Using words like, “Hey” and “Guys” and “You bet”. Does anyone else think the writers could’ve done better, or is this how the books are written, too? Just seems to me that it’s a totally different world, and just as you wouldn’t have Jane Austin’s characters use those words, or Peter Jackson’s LoTR try to use modern slang, neither would an elven society.

  18. jmacq@hotmail.com says:

    As others have noted, it’s Gandalf, not Aragorn that Allanon represents, though it could be fair to say that he’s a bit of a melding of the two.

    There is a character that, if the overall character arcs hold true to the books, makes a much better “Aragorn” parallel, but to reveal the identity would be a spoiler.

    Though if you’ve been watching the show and think about it a bit, it’ll probably be fairly easy to guess.

  19. Rachael says:

    The Shannara Chronicles is a breathe of fresh air! Way Way better creatively and more beautiful than the boring silly shows like Arrow, the Flash and Once upon a Time! So what if it’s like Lord of The Rings! People loved those movies soo why the heck wouldn’t we want to see more like that!! We are soo tired of whiny vampires whose characters can’t move beyond inflicting revenge in the most disgusting way, cheesy super hero stories and costumes and the redundancy of plot with the Disney characters- that show needs a huge overhaul, they missed the opportunity to really utilize the atmosphere and costumes fantasy require! Although we could do without what looks like adolescent (actors looks so young) sex. You don’t need to show sex scenes in this genre it’s so unnecessary!

  20. Love it love it want some more of it Shannara Chronicles!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. Jeremy says:

    Allanon is Shannara’s Gandalf equivalent, have you even read any of Lord of the Rings or the Shannara series? You really shouldn’t critique that of which you have no knowledge. Demons do not play a role in LOTR and elves and dwarves etc are common for anyone who has ever read this genre and/or played dungeons and dragons. Critics should be criticized as well because your critique is terrible.

  22. If a network truly wanted a unique storyline they would try to license the rights for Michael Moorecock’s Eternal Champion. Good and Evil are governed by Law. Chaos on the other hand… well, not so much.

  23. Sally Yeatts says:

    As a fan of Terry Brooks who has ready quite a few of his books, I find it foolish to equate his stories to Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings series. These are completely different stories. Fantasy is a great escape and I do like what they have done in this series for TV. Knowing the book there are quite a few deviations and changes, but I do believe as Terry Brooks indicated, it does follow the spirit of the story. I watch for interesting story line and conversation, action between the actors, and I do not check the sewing on the costumes or check for alignment of the furniture on the set. Personally, what I have seen I have enjoyed. Again – this is not Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings – you should know subject of books before comparing as they are each different from the other. I enjoy fantasy and see each as separate stories told by different storytellers. I was really jazzed to see “Shannara Chronicles” for TV! I look forward to seeing remaining episodes.

  24. Peter B says:

    The show is really disappointing, for sure. But even more disappointing are those who continually draw comparisons between Shannara and Lord of the Rings. Those who do so clearly have never read either series and are just parroting someone else.

  25. trex603 says:

    Shannara is actually a pretty good show! I’m excited to see how everything pans out! Unfortunately this show isn’t on a station that allows nudity because these girls are hot! Not to mention some of the gentlemen!

  26. Jaime Vendera says:

    Regardless of Maureen not having read the books, I feel her review is poor. While I am not a huge fan of all the changes made to the show as opposed to how they unfold in the book, the show has as much graphic quality as budget films like Hunger Games. And of course it is not predictable. It is not Lord of the Rings. Maybe his first book lent to Tolkien, but this book and the rest are great reads that stand on their own. This is not a Sheena type tv show. Maureen, if you’re not a fan, that is fine, but as a critic, please do not read some other critic’s post and follow the norm. Watch with an open mind and critique it as such.

  27. Eventine says:

    Lay off, Maureen. Obviously most of you have read the books and are taking offense. She probably didn’t read Books’ novels. Given that, she is making comparisons to that which she knows. I laughed as well when she made the comparison to Aragorn, but given her probably context just relax. I really want to like the show and after the first hour found myself enjoying it and remembering reading the books 30 years ago. Her review is spot on; the production quality is cheap and the style does evoke Legend of Hercules and Xena from the 90’s. The shows are good, but made with a wink. To use a tired cliche, the show is what it is. It doesn’t have an HBO or LoTR budget and has been made on what it has. The result is a good show based on a beloved series. Almost all fantastical novels are going to parallel each other. We enjoy them for the storyteller’s gift. In this case we are lucky to have Terry Brooks. Enjoy the show!

  28. Robert says:

    Enter your comment There is no show out that has orignality. There hasn’t been a subject that hasn’t been done. As for Terry Brooks basing his world closely to Tolkien’s middle earth. He was probably inspired by Tolkien’s work, as all good writers are inspired by other literary works, or real life experience

  29. gill says:

    “winning sincerity” of Poppy Drayton? You have to be joking Maureen. She’s dreadful! She has the exact same pensive expression in EVERY scene. Maybe it’s a function of poor directing, but of all the actors she’s the worst.

  30. John Rumple says:

    What this review reveals is that Maureen didn’t take the time to actually read the source material from which this adaptation is made. She seems completely oblivious to the contribution Terry Brooks has made to fantasy over the past 30 (THIRTY!) years – and why his stories of subtle magic actually resonate with readers. Shoddy and lazy journalism at a minimum because she’s abdicated commenting on the deeper story this series is telling with only four episodes to evaluate.

  31. E.M.H. says:

    This review reads like a whole lot of damming the show with faint praise.

  32. jcalberta says:

    Production qualities are high .. but acting skills and writing are awful. Most of the cast seems to chosen for their looks rather than talent. But even then there is a lack of Star Power in this thing. Too bad.

  33. Jovan says:

    Allanon equals Aragorn? Well, if we are comparing Shannara’s characters with characters from LotR, you need to remember that Terry Brooks depicted Allanon as a very tall man much taller than elves. He is a druid who gathers a team. Magician who gathers a team… Wizard who gathers a team and is taller than main characters (actually, he is normal-sized, but you get the point). Aragorn could be both Shea and his grandson, Wil.Shea and Flick are more Frodo and Sam, the chosen one and one who follows him. I’m glad they skipped that book, too much look a like LotR.
    One thing we can say for sure. LotR came first, but the world of Shannara is more detailed.

  34. ben says:

    Also how is this world based on Tolkiens ? One is a fantasy world and one is earth. Dwarves, Gnomes and Trolls are all mutations of man caused by how they survived the apocalypse. Elves were always here and have always been part of Mythology. Then we have a demon army that was locked away by the elves thousands of years ago before the birth of man. A magical barrier to another dimension which is symbolised by the tree. The tree is merely a representation of the barrier and it dies as the spell fails. Admittedly their leader is actually an elf corrupted by dark magic but still the similarity’s with LOTR are bit far fetched other than the fact they are both fantasy fiction, which requires certain elements. Hero’s, Wizards, Magic and Elves. The same thing could be levelled and 90 percent of all fantasy fiction books yet makes still makes for good entertainment. Why not stick to a review of is the show actually well done ? or is it enjoyable ? well made ?

  35. ben says:

    If your going to compare Tolkien and Shannara characters maybe you should read the books. Wizard Gandalf is comparable to the Druid Allanon. Aragorn was last of his line and heir so he would be comparable to Wil Ohmsford last of the Shannara Line. Isn’t a little research a requirement for you job ? that would explain the poor review then.

  36. Peter B says:

    Yep, the reviewers hating it means I’ll enjoy it. Especially those who think its the ‘same’ story as Lord of the Rings. A comment that clearly indicates that the reviewer has read neither series.

  37. Tony says:

    Wow, this has to be one of the worst reviews I’ve ever read. Enough with the LotR comparisons please.

    • gisellepenrose@yahoo.com says:

      this is a very interesting movie. Thank God i dont like to rerad reviews and farnkly this reviews suck

  38. John Lyons says:

    Has anyone read this poorly written review. It is one of the worst flowing reviews I have ever read. Obvious they gave this to someone unimportant. WOW Variety. Very disappointed. And obviously this woman knows nothing about fantasy not cares about it.

  39. Manny says:

    Finally these great Terry Brooks books come to life. It has been too long.

  40. Sean says:

    Allison would be the series Gandalf equivalent. Garret Jacks would be the closest to Aragorn, but Jacks isn’t in the second book he’s in the third. The first book was far too derivative, but the second was a very exciting read. I’m very much looking forward to this series.

  41. jakewatt says:

    The elephant in the room is that the whole Shannara fantasy series was launched with a book called The Sword of Shannara … which borderline plagiarised The Lord of The Rings, something author Terry Brooks has obviously never acknowledged. Clearly, MTV are aware of this, which is why this TV show is starting with the second book in the series.

    • Siobhain says:

      There are no females in Sword of Shannara. I believe that is why it was skipped.

    • Jeremy York says:

      except the sword of shannara is nothing like the lord of the rings… The only thing they have in common are the elves…that it. there story is completely different…You must have never read the fucking thing

    • John Lyons says:

      The choice was Terry’s. Not MTV’s. And Terry has said many times Sword has many parallels with Tolkien. Of course Tolkien ripped off Jules Verne. But that’s another story.

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