The massive sacred tree, the Ellcrys, holds at bay a horde of demons. As the tree begins to die, the opening to The Forbidden, the place where the demons are imprisoned is opened and the demons begin to escape. The elf princess, Amberle (Poppy Drayton of Downton Abbey), the half elf Wil (Austin Butler, of Arrow and Switched at Birth), the druid Allanon (Manu Bennet of Arrow and Xena) and a human girl called Eretria (Ivana Baquero, the girl from Pan's Labyrinth now all grown up), must go on a quest to save the Ellcrys and their world.
The Shannara Chronicles is based on the Sword of Shannara series of fantasy novels by Terry Brooks. The first season roughly follows the plot of the novel The Elfstones of Shannara. TV shows based on fantasy novels are still relatively few and far between, so as a fantasy fan I was keen to see this series, and really wanted to like it. However, based on the first two episodes, my feelings are mixed. It's obviously shot in New Zealand, and many of the costumes look like they're off a discount rack from a stall at a mediaeval fair, giving it all a Xena Warrior Princess vibe (sadly minus Lucy Lawless). The acting is uneven and the writing also varies in quality.
Princess Amberle, in an outfit she picked up at Bras n' Things. Screen cap, via Netflix.
The accents are all over the place, with the Elven king and his grandsons being of clearly different nationalities. The druid Allanon (Manu Bennett) has such a broad Kiwi accent I kept mentally adding "maaaate" or "bro" to all his overly dramatic pronouncements. Wil, the half elf looks like a blonde skater kid, complete with beanie (to hide his pointed ears) and I keep expecting him to go "whoaa..." or "duuuude" like Keanu Reeves in the Bill and Ted films.
The druid, Allanon, who followed the twelve steps to recovery from elf stone abuse. Screen cap, via Netflix.
However, there are a few things I can say in the show's favour. It's easy to cheer for Amberle as she flies in the face of hundreds of years of Elven tradition to run the gauntlet to become one of the Chosen (those who care for the Ellcrys), being the first girl ever to attempt it. I also thought it was a nice touch that when she appears at the celebration at the party, her knees are still bruised and grazed from the race.
The knees of a champion.
Ivana Baquero as Eritrea. Screen cap, via Netflix.
Also, the dodginess of some of the costumes aside, The Shannara Chronicles is pretty to look at. I know it's CGI but I love the sweeping vistas of overgrown ruins that hint at ancient human civilisations. And the pixie dust tree- sorry, the Ellcrys- is quite aesthetically pleasing for a device designed to ward off demons. There are some half decent characters to empathise with, and the looming threat of demons to move the plot along. Here's hoping subsequent episodes feature some more magic, and Amberle showing off the fencing skills foreshadowed in part 1.