I read the Terry Brooks Shannara books way, way back in the dark and misty age of my teenage years.
I can remember little about them apart from a lingering preference for carrying marbles in my pocket and clutching them in times of strife hoping for elfstone-like powers.
So, out of all the fine fantasy that is out there, I think dramatising this was an odd choice.
Shannara always was little more than Tolkein fan fiction, and while there is nothing wrong with that, why not just watch The Lord Of The Rings on repeat?
The producers would have been much better served launching into Scott Lynch’s genius Gentleman Bastards series or Joe Abercrombie’s definitive grimdark First Law world (please please please).
Not enough magic in them for the special effects fans? Then how about VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic series – all those other Londons would be mindblowing.
But they didn’t, ‘they’ went for tired and tested tropes – elves, magic swords, an ingenue farmboy who is actually the son of a great magician, some sort of tricky quest, demons plotting to take over the world because, y’know, they are angry and evil and it’s something to do while they wait for the piercing shop to open.
This could have worked, if it wasn’t for the similarly tired and tested script and staging and costumes and… everything really.
The demons had voice changing machines so they all sounded like something off the Exorcist. Human baddies could be sussed by their bad hair decisions – pink stripes, unlikely up-dos, random scalp shavings.
Female characters had figure hugging outfits, long loose hair and bare arms, no matter how much fighting they were doing or how many scratchy forests they had to battle through. And they all look the same. I never managed to tell the difference between the two leading women, apart from when I could see the pointy ears on one of them (elf princess).
And the elf blokes all seemed to be princes and all looked the same. I can’t even say how many princes there were, and I watched the whole damned series. At least three of them got killed, none of them had hair that moved an inch and all of them wore super-tight elven t-shirts to show off what buff elves they were.
You know what it was like? A 1960’s American serial, when the Yanks did it all so much better and more slickly than we did (apart from The Avengers, obvs. And Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). And The Prisoner) Think Rawhide or Batman or Lost on Space or Bonanza or Gilligan’s Island – cliffhanger endings, reprobate reoccurring characters, unsmudged make-up and terrible dialogue. Really terrible dialogue, like ‘Let’s go save a tree!’ ‘Are you hurt?’ ‘It’s just a scratch’. ‘So-and-so – Wait!’ ‘Why should we trust you?’ ‘What choice do you have?’ ‘We’re gonna make it’ and ‘Er, guys…’.
This was distracting, amusing TV but an opportunity wasted. If you want a compelling, original story involving a giant, dying tree, then read The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams – I’m devouring it right now and have started rationing my reading time as I don’t want it to finish.
It has blood-drinking elf-types, green-fire blasting witches, beetles that eat you from the inside out, weird and hideous monsters, well-rounded female characters and giant bats. Imagine that on screen.
Things I think about when I press open seams
- When they say ‘trole’ they mean troll. Took me two episodes to realise this.
- If it is thousands of years since a nuclear holocaust wiped out our world, how come there is still air in the balloons the elf and the other one stumble across in that ballroom?
- Why doesn’t the blond half-elf whistle for that elf he saved (Pluck?) and his big bird when he gets in a jam?
- What was with the hoe-down party and the big hats? I really lost the thread of it all in that episode.
- The horses. They appear and disappear every time someone has to hide in a secret cave or underground tunnel. Who feeds them? Are they ok?
- Is Eritrea a country or a person?
- The San Francisco sign turning into ‘Safehold’. I quite liked that. It was all a bit Planet of the Apesy but I liked it.