Image credit: Cropped version of a screenshot taken at MTV.com by Inge Loots
Sometimes the most unexpected things turn up in the ‘Recommended for You’ list on Netflix. My newest find is The Shannara Chronicles. Terry Brooks’ novels were among the first fantasy novels I read after discovering The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in school.
Gimli in Elf Form
The cast consists of mostly young actors I’ve not heard of before. At one point, however, I found King Eventine Ellessedil looked very familiar. I recognized him by his voice. It was John Rhys-Davies, who also plays Gimli in The Lord of the Rings. But that isn’t the only connection with the books and the movies: the series was shot in New Zealand around Auckland. The indoor scenes were shot at Auckland Film Studios for MTV. That’s also where the series originally aired.
The season’s plot in short
The story starts with one of the main protagonists training for a run and from that point forward we meet the main characters and discover the setting. You kind of expect that this is the Shannara from the title, but no. Instead, season 1 tells the story of a magical tree, the Ellcrys. This is a sentient tree with a silver bark and crimson leaves. There is some sort of cult surrounding the tree.
When we cut to another land we meet Wil Ohmsford, a half-elf. His uncle describes his deceased brother as a drunk who lost his mind. Wil’s human mother is dying. His attempts to heal her fail and he blames himself for her death. Will always wears modern-looking beanies. Everybody who isn’t an elf seems to hate the Elvin races because of something that happened in the past.
A Land of Confusion
It’s isn’t immediately clear whether the story happens in our world or in a fictional world. When Wil is talking to his uncle Flick, they talk about the heirloom Wil possesses, a set of elf stones. Everything in the set looks medieval, but then a car door pops out.
The artifacts don’t make sense in a ‘fairy tale story’. They are modern, 20th century objects. Everything else has a distinct medieval vibe: healers, magic, horses as mode of transportation. The use of bow and arrows, the costumes. What are they doing there? Those who read the books know this is because the story is set in a post-apocalyptic version of our world, but nobody really explains this: you have to piece it together yourself.
Entertaining for what it is
When watching, you need to keep in mind this was produced for MTV with a target audience of teenagers and young adults. This accounts for some lack of depth, I think.
If you don’t mind clichés and tropes, I think you will enjoy the series for what it is. It is not the most compelling series out there, for the reasons stated above, but an entertaining distraction from daily life. Don’t expect anything like Stranger Things, Lost or Battlestar Galactica. Giving it a 3.5 out of 5 stars rating.