The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1 DVD/Blu-Ray Review
We’re big fans of when modern networks are daring enough to adapt old, established genre material. Therefore, MTV should be commended for taking Terry Brooks’ fantasy series and creating a modern show for younger audiences.
Full disclosure: All of the views and opinions in this review are that of our own but we were sent a copy of The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1 boxset for free, for the purpose of this review.
Terry Brooks himself was, of course, involved in this process. In fact, back when Shannara was announced we recall him promising that he had retained enough creative control within this deal so that the show wouldn’t diverge too much from the books, which was a clear dig at George R. R. Martin selling his soul to HBO for the adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Before we dive into this review, it should be noted that we have not read Terry Brooks’ books, but we do hold a firm knowledge of fantasy literature on the whole.
MTV are known for their teen approach to shows (this is their demographic, after all). Yet whilst pandering to a teen audience, MTV often creates superb and smart shows that are just as easily enjoyed by adults (Teen Wolf, Scream, Awkward). Another staple of MTV is short seasons, which we feel is a very sensible approach. Shorter seasons rule out any filler content, due to the limited time that the writers have in which to tell the story that they want to tell.
One thing that we feel gets overlooked a lot in television is the opening theme for shows. MTV proved their capability in this by providing an excellent opening theme for Teen Wolf, which was so great that it really made the show stand out as something exceptional on television.
MTV have certainly accomplished the same level of greatness with the opening theme for The Shannara Chronicles. Although much shorter than Teen Wolf‘s theme, The Shannara Chronicle‘s is punchy, memorable and so enjoyable that you actually look forward to the opening credits, upon starting each new episode. Besides being memorable, the show’s opening sequence sets up the lore and the history of the Four Lands and the races that inhabit it, this could easily be overlooked by most viewers but we felt it was a brilliant addition.
We thank the show runner who chose Ruelle’s ‘Until We Go Down’ to open this show, we simply love them for it.
On the subject of show runners, there is one very familiar name among the large list of Executive Producers for this show, and that is Hollywood director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Jungle Book). We can’t speak to Favreau’s specific input on the show, because that remains unclear, but we can say that he holds clear talents as a Hollywood director (we loved The Jungle Book), which undoubtedly would have played a part here in such things as the grand feel of the show.
To set up any successful show, you also need a great cast, and we feel that the choices here are excellent (bearing in mind that we haven’t read the books and that we therefore cannot speak to the choice of casting against the characters in the books). Austin Butler cast as Wil Ohmsford a half-elf/half-human, is a renowned heartthrob actor in the young Hollywood scene (we liked him in The Carrie Diaries, for example, and he is also in Kevin Smith’s upcoming film Yoga Hosers), so it’s a smart choice to bring in someone who is so popular with female audiences.
Ivana Baquero cast as Eretria a human, is just as well-known a star as Butler albeit more on Spanish shores. Over here she made her name for her brilliant turn in Pan’s Labyrinth. But that was back in 2006 and she was a young girl then. To see her here, fully grown and even more confident an actress, is wonderful.
For a great cast, opting for some “unknowns” is also essential (just look how many stars were born from Teen Wolf). For this, the show runners cast Poppy Drayton as Amberle Elessedil, the Elven Princess (Drayton does have a moderate-sized CV, but she is certainly far less recognisable that Butler and Baquero). As often happens, Drayton (the “unknown”) proves to be the best of the casting, with her feeling the most naturally suited to fantasy, of the three leads.
Of the the three lead characters Amberle (Poppy Drayton) is undoubtedly our favourite. Although she holds a little of that Princess superiority about her, she’s far less rogue than Eretria and feels more grounded. The two combined is an even better scenario, and the show runners clearly know this from the kind of scenes that they place the two characters in together.
The quality of the show itself is always good and always watchable, but it never truly hits any great heights. In a culture that is drenched in superb television, shows need to strive harder than ever to stand out among the crowd, and we just don’t feel that Season 1 managed this. That being said, the show was renewed for a second season, which we are happy about, so there is always time to elevate the quality from a good show to an excellent show.
Where the show falls down is a little is its poor villains – a lot of them look like they were summoned up directly from the pits of Mordor (the Tolkien comparisons to Brooks’ series even back when he wrote his series should not go unmentioned) but none of them play out as any interesting villain that we’d love to see return. That being said, we have seen far worse villains in modern fantasy of late though (Warcraft: The Beginning) and the core trio mostly make up for any failings here.
There is one key spoiler in the latter half of the season (shown via the use of the original Star Trek series no less), we won’t mention details of here, except to say that it’s a key world-building component that is taken straight from the books and it’s one that – although done before elsewhere – does make the show stand out a little, in a positive way, for this bold choice.
We like this show, on the whole, and we recommend that you make the effort to see it, especially if you’re a fan of the fantasy genre. With a little honing in Season 2, this could be a fantasy venture that excels.
In terms of the of the actual DVD and Blu-ray boxsets, it’s sad to say there isn’t a special feature in sight at all. This is certainly odd given that most boxsets these days will have a featurette or two or even a gag reel included with them. We certainly would of loved to have seen how they created the fictional landscapes, structures and demons of the Four Lands or even a featurette from Terry Brooks oabout adapting his characters from the page to the small screen.
The boxset itself contains three discs with each disc containing three of the 9 episodes, while in reality there are 10 episodes, the first two are combined into a feature length show.
Season one of The Shannara Chronicles is available on 3-disc DVD and Blu-Ray now.
Image Credits: Studio Canal