MTV Didn’t Screw Up ‘The Shannara Chronicles’ [Review]

Wil (Austin Butler), Amberle (Poppy Drayton), Eretria (Ivana Baquero)

Before I begin, a disclaimer: I have not read any of Terry Brooks’ Shannara books. It’s one of those series that I’ve been “meaning to read” forever, but I’ve yet to actually do so. Because of that, I have no idea how well The Shannara Chronicles hews to the books. So, the following thoughts are from a Shannara newbie.

When The Shannara Chronicles was announced, there was this weird mix of hope and fear: “Yay, someone’s making Shannara! Wait, it’s going to be on MTV? That can’t be good”.

I can see where people were coming from. How would a channel like MTV handle a story that had to have the look of high fantasy on a basic cable show budget? Would it be little more than a watered down Game Of Thrones or LOTR for teens? (Of course, many have criticized Shanarra for being a watered down LOTR in the first place.)

Okay, let’s be honest—this show is definitely geared towards teens. There’s romance. It’s full of attractive young people. But, if you can get past all that, you might find that MTV actually delivered fantasy that’s worth watching.

Shannara is the sort of show a 15-year old me would have loved to see on TV. Especially on MTV because it feels more…inclusive. Does that make sense? If MTV is where the cool kids hung out, then Shannara would have given me a sense of being part of a that hang out. I mean fantasy is new territory for MTV, but it’s always been my territory.

Shannara works because it’s 100% committed to creating a world both long-time fantasy fans and new fans can enjoy. To that end, the show’s creators have made some interesting tweaks. Shannara isn’t filled with fancy accents. Even John Rhys-Davies as Eventine Elessedil (who, BTW, looks great) and Manu Bennet’s Allanon are using their own accents instead of affecting one for the show. It also lets its young leads speak like, well, real people. Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler) calls his mother “Mom”, Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton) may be royalty, but she speaks regularly.

The show has, in essence, done the translating for us, putting whatever speech they use into a modern format. It’s a little odd at first, but it’s kind of refreshing once you get used to it.

The show also seems to have a good sense of what it can and can’t do given their budget. The costume work, the sets, the creatures, and special effects are all created with an eye for detail. Maybe they can’t work in the lavish way larger productions can, but they make sure embellishments are there in the right places. It certainly doesn’t look like a show that was made on a shoestring budget.

Most of all, you get the feeling that everyone’s taking this seriously and that they want it to be as realistic and immersive as the world Terry Brooks imagined.

Again, many fans may be worried that Shannara will end up being MTV’s haphazard cash grab for fans of Game Of Thrones or Lord Of The Rings, but the show has heart and it cares about the details. Like Amberle, it’s working hard to prove itself and it wins you over in time. Brooks himself has given his stamp of approval according to an interview with the New York Daily News:

“When I wrote that book I was telling a story about three young people caught up in a non-traditional love story. None of the things were there that you would find in most fantasy-themed love stories,” says Brooks.

“Given that, I felt like it was completely fine for (the producers) to expand on that. The heart of the story is the relationship between those three and the question of what they’re willing to sacrifice,” he says.

“As it turns out that brooding element is integral to the story — they want to keep their audience and their audience is young. Frankly, I took this story to MTV because I wanted to recapture that young audience. Young readers don’t know me the way they used to so this was a logical jump and a logical place for ‘Shannara’ to land,” says Brooks.

There were other changes made during the adaptation process that Brooks believes help move the story along.

“There are deviations from the books,” says Brooks. “But deviations are OK — all I told them (producers) was, ‘just don’t screw over the story.’ ”

The makers of the show, “were very respectful of that,” says Brooks. “Every time I had an objection we worked it through and they pretty much went along with what I suggested was necessary — it was overall a very satisfying experience.”

For myself, after watching the first four episodes, I’m going to recommend it. It isn’t perfect (which may or may not be largely due to the source material) but if you like good fantasy stories full of creatures and magic, I think you’ll enjoy it.

The Shannara Chronicles premieres January 5 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on MTV

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