Comic-Con got a new blast of magic during the first San Diego appearance of MTV’s ambitious fantasy series, The Shannara Chronicles. The panel—moderated by Damian Holbrook—introduced the characters and world of the highly anticipated new fantasy series (which you definitely shouldn’t confuse with Game of Thrones) to the fans in the crowd, almost all of whom had read the books.
The 10-episode series is based on Brooks’ early ‘80s fantasy book series, with the original trilogy’s second book — The Elfstones of Shannara — serving as the jump-off point for the TV adaptation. The story, set in the Four Lands, follows the quest of a troupe of heroes to create a magical Ellcrys tree to replace the dying one that protected the Elven nation from invading Demon forces.
At the Comic-Con panel, Brooks was joined by executive producers Al Gough and Miles Millar, as well as show stars Poppy Drayton, Austin Butler, Ivana Baquero, John Rhys Davies, and Manu Bennett. Here’s what the group conjured up:
Shannara is beautiful: An exclusive first look at the trailer promised a slew of gorgeous visuals—on MTV, no less!—and a sweeping score worthy of a summer blockbuster. Between palaces, villages, and a fair share of lush forests and vast deserts, the trailer also snuck a look at the full Ellcrys (plus its burning leaves) and a peek at the red-eyed Demons. There were also plenty of glimpses of Wil and Amberle in serious peril—presumably one of many instances of trouble against the backdrop of New Zealand.
Patience paid off: Time was the big factor not only in casting the show, but in getting it on the air in the first place. Brooks had been approached over the years to adapt Shannara into a movie, but those deals waxed and waned over time; when Millar and Gough signed on, Brooks was convinced. “I don’t know how this ever could have been a movie — it’s too broad and expansive,” said Gough. “To try to have done it as a movie — even three movies — would have been hard… I know Shannara is fantasy and it’s obviously set in our future, but I always think Terry’s world that he’s created is more akin to Star Wars and has that sort of adventure.” With television now promising enough production value to fulfill prestige genres like Shannara’s, Gough and Millar knew a TV approach would serve it well: “I think the medium caught up with the book.”
Approval from the king: Rhys-Davies (who plays Elven king Eventine) gave his royal stamp of approval to the entire project in a touching speech that drew huge applause from the crowd. Praising the cast’s “youth and beauty…that has real talent as well,” Rhys-Davies said he was overwhelmed with the “magnificent” trailer. “After you’ve done an awful lot of old shows—quite big ones like Shogun, or Lord of the Rings or Raiders of the Lost Ark—you get the smell of the great ones,” he told the crowd. “Right from the first meeting, I said, there’s something about this one that I think is going to make it into an astonishingly important and wonderful series… If this show doesn’t succeed, I don’t know what will.”
Superman vs. Shannara: Gough and Millar have experience shepherding familiar characters to the screen — the same MTV exec who purchased Shannara also bought their original Smallville pitch in 2000. “When you take on something like this, whether it’s Superman or Shannara, you always know that people have… an image in their head, and you try to remain as faithful as you can to the spirit and what people expect,” said Gough. To the point of casting, Brooks added, “I never went into this with a specific idea of who the characters should be or even that much what they should look like…There wasn’t anybody in this cast that I felt was wrong. I think that must be fairly astonishing, but not once did I feel like there was a misstep with the choices.”
A plan for sequels: The books in the Shannara trilogy often feature descendants of the same families, and one fan posed the question of wehther the creators plan to approach any future seasons as an anthology (with characters playing their own descendants or others, a la American Horror Story). The question sent Millar, Gough, and Brooks into a quick hushed frenzy. Brooks shook his head. “That’s an excellent question but we’re not going to reveal that yet,” said Gough, amused.
The fans were thrilled: One little girl asked the cast whether they did their due diligence and read Elfstones. “I listened to the audiobooks,” said Drayton. “But that still counts!” Bennett and Butler said they’d read the books on their Kindles, and Bennett then invited the girl up onstage for a group photo with the whole cast. Another fan began crying while expressing his appreciation for the books’ role in his childhood, which prompted a visibly emotional reaction from Butler and Brooks. One last audience member approached the mic and didn’t even ask a question: “Al and Miles, please don’t screw this up.”
The Middle-Earth connection: The link between Shannara and Middle-Earth is more than just metaphorical—it’s right there in the show’s design. Manu Bennett, who appeared in The Hobbit trilogy as Azog and plays the last surviving druid in Shannara, praised the New Zealand practitioners who built the show. “I’ve worked with these people going back to Xena days,” he recalled. “Dressmakers, costume department, lighting, set…they were all doing Xena and Hercules and they went on to do The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and then Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit…for all of those people that have now had to leave Peter Jackson’s six movies behind, here comes Shannara and it’s the same people who are making this incredible visual.”
A shout-out to Legolas: When Holbrook asked the cast whether everyone in Shannara is attractive, Rhys-Davies commanded the stage once again with a declaration: “I would like to address this to a certain elf that I worked with on a different show…from dwarf to elf-king! Eat your heart out, Orlando Bloom.” (Naturally, the crowd went wild.)
MTV announced that the Shannara Chronicles will debut in January 2016. Watch the first trailer below.
Check out the cast in an interview with EW here.
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