Can MTV really pull off the insane challenge of adapting Terry Brooks’ Shannara books for television? Check out the first teaser trailer, and hear about the panel we just watched at San Diego Comic Con— and decide for yourself!
Here’s the trailer we just watched at SDCC, which certainly teases a lot of beautiful imagery, big battles, elf magic, and the wonderful New Zealand landscapes:
Shannara Chronicles takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, thousands of years in the future, in which there’s magic and elves and princesses, and druids and stuff. And King Eventine senses that the world is falling apart, and the only hope is a young man named Will, who is half elf. It’s basically a crazy Lord of the Rings-style fantasy epic, set in the ruins of our world.
Producers Al Gough and Miles Millar (Smallville) talked about trying to create something that has never been seen on television before. Gough said they aimed to make something “that is groundbreaking. When you look at what we’ve achieved in terms of the visuals, this is a show that nobody has ever seen before.”
Gough explained that he and Millar were originally set to make a TV show of a different Brooks property called Magic Kingdom For Sale. And then he read Elfstones of Shannara on vacation, and was blown away. “Oftentimes, you read a fantasy book and there are 2000 pages—and 800 pages are the story—but in Elfstones, the story kicks off on page one.”
Now is the right time for a Shannara TV show because “the medium has caught up with the book,” adds Millar. “With Terry’s work, you see how many people have ripped [Terry] off over the ages.” It was crucial to have Brooks himself involved intimately in the process, because “when [you] don’t have the author invovled, that’s when things are going to go to hell.”
The panel included the five main castmembers of the show, each of whom talked a bit about their characters.
Manu Bennett (Arrow) plays Allanon, a wise druid. Even though Bennett isn’t seven feet tall, “he has an incredible screen presence,” said Brooks. “You cannot take your eyes off him.”
Ivana Baquero plays Eretria, a human from the “wrong side of the tracks” who survives by her wits. She’s “the outcast of the group,” said Brooks. “She has to bring a tough quality to her role, and she’s very good at that. She smoulders on the screen. She really looks like she could get what she wants, in the way she moves.”
Austin Butler plays Will Ohmsford, a half-elf who tries to hide his elf ears. “He’s actually quite funny in a number of scenes,” said Brooks.
Poppy Drayton plays Amberle Elessedil, an elf princess. She projects “vulnerability and strength,” said Brooks. At one point, Drayton got a stick in her eye—she was “eye-kebabbed”—and kept acting. Butler joked that he thought she was just such a great actor, she was able to make her eye bleed on command.
John Rhys Davies (everything you love) plays King Eventine, and he brings a “Shakespearean quality” to the role, said Brooks. Davies told the crowd, “I am convinced [Shannara] is going to make for an important and astonishingly wonderful series.”
Bennett said this show benefited a lot from the expertise at costume and prop making in his native New Zealand, where he’s known these craftspeople since he was on Xena Warrior Princess. “The skill level of people to make fantasy stuff in New Zealand is incredibly high. You won’t find this anywhere else in the world.”
Normally, the first cut of a TV pilot is terrible, said Millar. But “when we saw the first cut of this—we sat down for the first two hours of the show, and it was incredible, spine tingling.”
Brooks explained why they adapted the second book in the series, instead of the first, to launch this TV show: “Elfstones has a much broader scope in plotting. It has strong female characters, and I felt strongly that the network and writers would want to have strong female characters. I also felt that the love triangle, that is an unorthodox kind of love triangle, would be attractive to the network and audience. [And] I hate to say this, but I also think it’s a better book [than the first one]... That gave me a strong push in deciding what ot do with it.”
They’re never going to be able to compete with Peter Jackson’s huge Lord of the Rings movies, said Millar, but they worked hard to be true to the books and put more emphasis on the characters. They had to dial back some of the huge battle scenes from the book, but they were able to build up the characters even more. Luckily, the ending of the book made for a spectacular finish to the season, that was also emotionally fulfilling.
One major question from the audience: Since the following books in the Shannara series take place years later, with different characters, how will the show handle this? Will season two be a whole new cast? Or will the same actors play the descendants of their characters? Gough said that’s a great question, but they won’t answer it yet.
A small child asked Rhys Davies if he was “from Sliders,” and he said, “Yes, I’m just slipping in for a moment or two in this universe, and then I’m off again.” He added: “A child is safe the moment they can read a book and understand and enter into that world of the imagination, and any divisions between different types of literature are really all arbitrary. It is whatever it takes to get a child into reading and visiting that alternate space and time—and that’s the marvel of books. and I’m so glad that we’re turning thse books into something that’s visual as well. fantastic.”
And MTV just announced that The Shannara Chronicles will premiere in January 2016.
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