The main thing wrong with The Shannara Chronicles is its main character, Princess Amberle Elessedil, Poppy Drayton. Yes, I know she’s supposed to be a teenager thrown into an adult role in the midst of chaos, but here’s the deal. Amberle/Poppy makes me feel like I’m watching one of those teen-sits with my granddaughter. Faces and bodies to die for, but no true grit.
Emotions hardly dare mar that perfect and beautiful face, revealing themselves only as a brief wrinkling between the eyes. Her best performance was the race in the first episode. And anyone who says a small woman/girl can’t play tough and make you believe it, has never seen Scarlett Johansson in action. Grit and beauty galore.
Then there’s her character. Maybe she is supposed to be conflicted. But when there is good script writing, the conflicted character still has a base line that viewers can depend on. Amberle, the character, is supposed to have royal grit and integrity, and, as her grandfather the King says, selfless. She comes across as a teenager getting ready to go to the mall, but takes a detour to fight a demon. This little girl’s thin arms are barely big enough to pick up daddy’s credit card, much less wield a sword. She is a mere slip of a girl, as the old writers used to say, but because Poppy does not have the grit, it’s the difference between an “in the pocket” hip hop dancer and a ballerina.
The supporting cast character, Eretrea (Ivana Baquero), a human girl raised in the wild by rovers, has more grit, and more character definition. She looks like she could fight her way out of a situation or two.
The best two male characters are Wil Olmsford, the half elf, played by Austin Butler, and Allanon, the druid, played by Manu Bennett. I have read The Shannara novels by Terry Brooks, and Butler is the epitome of Wil. He could have been snatched straight off the page as the dazed and bumbling village boy tossed headfirst into ominous events beyond his kin. Allanon, the druid, was a perfect match for actor Manu Bennett. His look, sound, stance, movement, keep him steady and strong in his role and keeps me right there in the moment with him. He IS the druid.
The Shannara Chronicles has a great supporting cast. John Rhys-Davies as King Evantine Elessedil, adds a measure of authenticity to the entire series with his staunch and professional acting experience. He is always recognizable and dependable, not to mention he brings life and energy to every character he plays, rendering them unforgettable. Remember him as Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark and as the dwarf Gimli in Lord of the Rings. His unique look and voice has made him a natural for Biblical characters over the years, also.
Feared by his family for his death visions, Bandon (Marcus Vanco) is found chained to a barn wall and gagged with a leather mask. Shy and skittish, Bandon is taken under the wing of the druid, who feels the boy can aid them in their quest. Vanco is rather new in the thespian world, but I’m already impressed. He makes his character intriguing right from the start and always stands out in a scene. He’s a pleasure to watch.
Cephalo played by James Remar is another strong character, a real nasty rover and “father” of Eretrea, a child he bought as a slave and raised in the wild.
Another who carries her part of Tania, Commander of the Guard off very well is Emilia Burns. Though her role is not front and center, she comes across as a professional who cares that her character is always in character. She does not blend into the background and contributes to the integrity of the plot.
The sons of King Eventine are hard for me to tell apart, but their characters are polar opposites. Arion is heir to the Elvin throne and sits ready to pounce when his father abdicates. He is competitive and quarrelsome and slimy, and his father is having serious second thoughts about his suitability to reign.
On the other hand there is the younger brother Ander, who is charming, good-natured, a little wild and free. He cares for people but nothing for the throne. The problem is, these two characters look too much alike and until Arion starts bitchin’ I can’t tell them apart. My husband and sister say they have no problem, so it must be just me. So there you are.
Filmed in New Zealand, the backdrop is often extraordinary and the special effects pretty good. My husband is impressed with the language the writers have come up with for the demons. That’s cool.
We’ve watched all four episodes (actually the first and second were all in one), and plan to continue watching and hope they keep the good stuff good and improve the rest. Many such series grow in character as they age and most actors worth their salt grow with them. Writers, however, are the soul of a series. Some start out on the mountain top and at some point just take a flying leap into nothing. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen to The Shannara Chronicles.