Tuesday, January 5, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Shannara Chronicles' - Amberle & Wil's Lives Change Once Demons Return to the Four Lands in 'Chosen'

MTV's The Shannara Chronicles - Episode 1.01 "Chosen"

Thousands of years after the fall of Humankind as we know it, the Four Lands is in grave danger. The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of an unlikely trio: an Elvin Princess, a Human Rover and a Half-Elf.

The Shannara Chronicles certainly doesn't waste any time getting into the action. The two episode premiere starts tense and only adds to it as time goes along. It's a thrilling way to tell a story. The action beats certainly dominate these premiere episodes. They are thrilling and are able to lift the show into an exciting piece of entertainment. The storytelling and character beats are a tad contrived and confusing in the early going. "Chosen" just throws the audience deep into this world and hopes that they can just accept everything that's happening as this world is violently changing. The audience is learning about this world during its destruction. Such violence does point out what is important in this universe - the Ellcrys tree. It's the one thing that must be protected at all costs because it holds back the powerful demons from destroying this world. The tree is dying and that's the basic foundation for the series as the heroes have to figure a way to keep the evil away from their land.

It is a tad confounding that this is a magical world that hasn't experienced magic in a long time. It's a world filled with elves, trolls and other magical creatures. And yet, it's a world where magic has become a myth. Magic helped rid this world of demons. Each generation passes down the legend of the Ellcrys tree. Each year begins with the selection of the Chosen in a race through the forrest blindfolded. It's a battle of wits instead of supernatural abilities. Sure, it's made pretty obvious that these contenders have some kind of metaphysical awareness of the world around them. They don't all just run into trees. But as far as tests go to determine who is special and who isn't, it isn't all that specific to the individual. A big deal is made that Princess Amberle is the first woman to compete in the race and then be one of the Chosen. But it's rather silly because there's nothing indicating why any of these seven individuals are special enough to protect the tree. They are just the kingdoms most able bodied warriors.

Of course, Amberle is special. She's receiving visions from the tree. Visions that depict a horrifying future for the Four Lands. She doesn't know how to react. So instead, she just flees in order to run away from the horrible things awaiting her in the castle. She runs to the one person who may be able to help her: her great aunt. But it's largely just important that she's away from the castle for the majority of this premiere. That allows the actual rulers of the kingdom - Amberle's grandfather, Eventine, and her two uncles, Ander and Arion - to actually become aware of the current state of the tree and the darkness approaching the land. The tree is dying and needs one of the Chosen to save it. That sets up the main mission of the season in a quick and swift action.

However, the narrative is then made a bit more complicated by the introduction of a number of supporting players - both good and bad. Most importantly is Wil, a half-elf whose mother has just died and who learns that his father was magical and not crazy. He initially plays as nothing more than comic relief and a pretty face to look out. Though he is soon given immense purpose by Allanon, a famed magical warrior from the decades ago war who has just been revived to deal with this new crisis. He declares that Wil is a shannara who is capable of becoming a great controller of magic. They are the ones who go out in search of a way to save the tree and protect the kingdom from the evil demons trapped inside it. They are the ones who need to find Amberle before she mets the grim fate that falls upon the rest of the Chosen.

The severity of the tension in this premiere is only capable of happening if a good villain is also introduced into the narrative. The show immediately provides that when the first leaf from the tree falls and unleashes the demon, Dagda Mor. Its quite an impressive debut mostly because of special effects and mood music. But he's still a terrifying sight because of the threat he poses to this land. He's not the only demon released in this premiere. He is quickly joined by the Changeling, who is a very skilled shapeshifter. That's how the other six members of the Chosen were killed so easily. That means the fate of this world is on Allanon and Wil being able to locate and protect Amberle. Dagda Mor isn't at his most powerful yet. The tree still has him in a weakened state. But as more and more leaves fall, the more powerful he'll become. Plus, the demons trapped inside are terrifying creatures who can easily kill the people of this land who don't have magical abilities.

In fact, it seems pretty dire in the end when a winged demon attacks while Wil is trying to convince Amberle to come back to the kingdom to save the tree. It breaks up the awkwardness of Wil running into Amberle while she's cleaning up at the nearby waterfall and the tense reunion between Allanon and his former elf lover. Neither of those scenes are all that great. But the tension is able to carry the show through those moments of awkwardness because the threat is very real and apparent. Amberle knows that something horrible is coming to this world. And now, it has arrived. It may have just killed her great aunt and all she has is her skills and Wil's very questionable protection. Allanon may be able to defeat this monster. But that's going to come at a great price. Something that should make the start of the next episode very tense.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chosen" was written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and directed by Jonathan Liebesman.
  • The brotherly dynamic between Ander and Arion is really forced. One is a partier who was willing to help Amberle train for the race to select the Chosen. The other is power hungry and a denier of magic who wants his father to stop thinking so foolishly. It's annoying because the audience already knows this character to be in the wrong since we've seen great displays of magic.
  • Eretria is another really annoying supporting character. She has run-ins with both Wil and Amberle which should suggest importance for later on. But she's a part of a band of thieves trying to survive in this world. She's just trying to earn her freedom.
  • It was startling to go from the action of Amberle's story in the beginning to Wil losing his mother and deciding to go on a quest. It wasn't until Allanon showed up that Wil had much purpose or intrigue at all.
  • Amberle's boyfriend was really foolish for not heeding her warning of her eventually killing him - which ultimately did happen later on. Though it was by the changeling disguised as Amberle and not really her.
  • Also, the changeling has now taken on the form of Eventine's dog which could be very devastating to the king very shortly.