The Shannara Chronicles “The Chosen, Parts 1 and 2” Review (Season 1 Episodes 1 & 2)

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When I first heard word of “The Shannara Chronicles,” I was a little dubious, not so much because of the source material, which hails from the great classic fantasy author Terry Brooks and actually pre-dates both the current glut of Y/A-driven fantasy stuff and “Game of Thrones” alike by decades, but rather because the show was being adapted by MTV, of all places. Advance word was not too favorable, so I steeled myself for the worst.

However, though it is hardly without its faults, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself largely enjoying the proceedings, critics be damned. Now, I’ll allow I haven’t read the entire series this is based on- which number over thirty books (!)- but I did read some of them in high school during my recurring fantasy phase, so I’m not a complete neophyte, either. That said, that was some time ago, so you’ll forgive me if I’m not able to entirely speak to how accurately the show stacks up to the books as I remember them.

I do seem to recall that the whole action-taking-place-on-Earth thing was not alluded to so early on in the series, but I can see where they might want to get that out of the way sooner than later, as the twist has been done before, notably in “Planet of the Apes.” However, that certainly didn’t stop them from including some of the more overtly “Lord of the Rings”-influenced elements, notably the whole “magic takes its toll” gambit, and the fact that the main evil cannot act on its own in a weakened state until certain things are achieved.

That said, those elements were indeed present in the books, which were absolutely influenced by Tolkien’s work, by Brooks’ own admission, so it’s not as if MTV were shoehorning them in. If anything, the most obvious element of that comes in the main casting, which features some MTV-friendly pretty young actors in the CW mold.

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Perhaps the best-known is star Austin Butler, who cut his teeth on Nickelodeon and Disney shows as a teen before moving onto to slightly more mature fare like “Life Unexpected,” “Switched at Birth” and, most recently, “The Carrie Diaries.” He plays Wil, a half-elf and the son of the legendary Shea Ohmsford, who played a part in defeating the demons that threatened to take over the so-called Four Lands, but died a shell of a man because of the aforementioned “magic takes its toll” thing.

Butler also had a brief recurring role on the CW show “Arrow,” from which his co-star Manu Bennett hails as well, having played the nefarious Deathstroke, aka Slade Wilson. Bennett also has a “LOTR” connection as well, having appeared in the “Hobbit” trilogy as Azog, as well as on “Spartacus,” which featured one of his other co-stars here, Aaron Jakubenko, who plays the King’s son, Ander. Bennett himself plays the last of the magical Druids, Allanon, who awakens from a long hibernation not having aged a day, despite having been alive some 350 years.

Allanon becomes a sort of mentor to Wil, having known his father back in the day. He also once had an illicit romance with the King’s sister, for which she was banished, as he was human and she an elf. Allanon only finds that out when he returns to the elf capital of Arborlon, having been asleep since that occurred and eventually catches up to find that she, of course, has aged accordingly in his absence and is none too happy with him for abandoning her. Alas, the reunion is short-lived as she is killed by a demonic Fury soon after.

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Meanwhile, the King’s granddaughter, Amberle (relative newcomer Poppy Drayton), has become one of the so-called “Chosen,” after running a “gauntlet” to win the position, which is made up of seven people in all, who are to tend to and guard the magical tree the Ellcrys, which is said to protect the demons defeated in the war and keep them entrapped in a realm known as the “Forbidding.” If the tree dies, then the demons will be released, with one returning for each leaf that falls from it.

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The King, Eventine, is played by the legendary John Rhys-Davies, another “LOTR” vet, known for playing Gimli in the original trilogy, among countless other classics, notably two of the “Indiana Jones” movies. The King is none-too-happy about Amberle sneaking into the gauntlet competition, which I don’t recall being in the books, though the Chosen in general did- but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about that.

When she touches the tree, however, she’s horrified to have a vision of demons being unleashed and her home being ransacked and everyone dying in the process. To make matters worse, she also sees herself later killing her own boyfriend, which causes her to flee the kingdom to search for her aunt for help on how to stop what’s coming, as well as protect her man in the process.

Alas, it comes to pass, as two leaves fall from the tree, with one spawning a shape-shifting demon that infiltrates the capital and does indeed lay waste to her boyfriend disguised as her. The demon is able to read one’s mind and take the form of whoever is foremost in someone’s thoughts, as she does when she appears to the first demon released, the Dagda Mor, a former Druid himself, corrupted by dark magic, not unlike Gollum/Smeagol, only WAY more intimidating. (The demon in question is currently hiding out at the capital, disguised as the King’s dog!)

The Dagda Mor is too weak to function in the real world, and must remain where he is until the tree falls and he can roam free. Until then, he shrouds himself using the magic of a crop of stone henges so that no one can find his exact location until he is returned to his full strength. The shape-shifter eventually kills all of the Chosen, except Amberle, who has already left before she arrives, which essentially leaves the tree relatively defenseless, save the soldiers assigned to guard it. It is clear, though, that the tree has started to rot and is literally bleeding to death.

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Both Amberle and Wil run afoul of Eretria, played by Spanish actress Ivana Baquero, the little girl from “Pan’s Labyrinth,” one of my all-time favorite movies. Time has been kind to little “Ofelia,” who has grown into a beautiful young woman who is as kick-ass as she is gorgeous. Eretria, a so-called “Rover,” gets the better of Wil and steals his magical elfin stones after drugging him, which she uses to barter her way out of an arranged marriage, by promising her father (James Remar, “Dexter,” “Grey’s Anatomy), she’ll find Wil and bring him back to her father.

Meanwhile, Amberle manages to get away from her after Eretria tries to pull the same drug trick on her and she rightly identifies her as the Rover she is. So, clearly these three are on a collision course with one another, although they never quite connect all at once within the first episode. Wil does manage to track down Amberle at her aunt’s, with the help of Allanon. When we last see them, they are both in danger of being attacked by the same Fury that kills her aunt. That was about it for the premiere, beyond Allanon finding the Codex, a book of magic which may hold the secrets to defeating the demons. Also, we know that Allanon and the Dagda Mor are both aware of each other’s return and the latter has the power to torment the former with nasty visions.

All in all, I’d have to say I really enjoyed the premiere, which featured surprisingly solid production values, a good cast, and a shocking amount of gore and even nudity, at least by MTV standards. Granted, they can only go so far with this, but they’re definitely pushing the limits of what they can get away with, even if they have nothing on the likes of “Game of Thrones.” Yes, granted, there’s a lot of CGI stuff going on here, but also a fair amount of practical effects and some undeniably fantastic locations, so it’s not all smoke and mirrors, as it were.

The end result is sort of like a combination of “LOTR,” “GOT” and “The 100,” and not necessarily in a bad way. Yes, it all feels relatively familiar and admittedly derivative in places, but its way better than one might expect from the network that typically traffics in the likes of “Teen Mom” and “Ridiculousness.” Also, with only ten episodes in the first season, it’s actually not a massive commitment overall, so I can live with that if the premiere is any indication of what’s to come.

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So, what did you think of the “The Shannara Chronicles” premiere? Are you a fan of the books? If so, did you feel it honored them? If not, did you enjoy it, anyway? What did you think of the main cast? Do you have a favorite character as of yet? (Mine would have to be Eretria, with Allanon as close second.) What would you like to see happen on the show in the first season? Do you think the show has a chance of attracting an outside audience that normally doesn’t watch typical MTV fare? Sound off on this and more down below in the comment section, and see you next week!