Saturday, July 19, 2008

Elfstones of Shannara: The Movie

It has come to my attention that Mike Newell is attached to direct a movie of Elfstones of Shannara. While a part of me is excited, I am also feeling a considerable amount of dread. The Lord of the Rings movies were undeniably stellar adaptations. The Harry Potter movies have had varying degrees of success, though I would say all of them have been good. The Chronicles of Narnia movies have been pretty good adaptations. But Golden Compass was a disappointment, and in spite of smash success overseas, the chances for the sequels being made look pretty slim (which is a shame, since I think they would have made better movies than Golden Compass). Eragon was fairly dismal. And who even noticed the Dark is Rising? Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia--those are classics, the pinnacle of the genre. There's some safety in that status, that even if the movie is only so-so, it won't be so cheesy as to disgrace the book. What I would consider the second-tier fantasy--and I mean no offense with that designation; it's more a matter of fame than quality, as it is just a simple fact that the public does not view the Dark is Rising series in the same light as Harry Potter--does not have that luxury. A failed movie can affect the way that the books are remembered, because the books are less well known and established. I'm worried that my memories of one of my favorite novels from my young adult years will be forever tarnished by a weak, special effects-driven attempt at a movie.

I am pleased, at least, that they decided to start with Elfstones, Terry Brooks' second Shannara novel, after Sword of Shannara. Sword of Shannara is a respectable, epic tale, but it follows the LotR formula too closely: Allanon the Druid (Gandalf the wizard) finds Shea (Frodo) who needs to take the Sword of Shannara (the Ring) into the heart of the Northlands (Mordor) to the Skull Mountain (Mt. Doom) in order to defeat the Warlock Lord (Sauron). A party is assembled to accompany Shea on his task, including a Dwarf, some Elves, and even a man with a claim to the throne of the kingdom that borders the evil Northlands. There are even further parallels: when Shea uses the Elfstones, it alerts the dark flying minions of the Warlock Lord to his location, and there's even a scene where Allanon, battling one such demon, falls into a dark pit and is believed lost. But what'd'ya know, he comes back. An attempt at a SoS movie would be killed with bad buzz before filming even started. Elfstones has a much more original storyline.

It also has women. Lord of the Rings at least had Eowyn, but since she doesn't make an appearance until Two Towers, Jackson et al. had to enhance Arwen's role in Fellowship. Sword of Shannara has one--I repeat, one--woman in the entire 700+ page book. And she appears for enough pages to act as a token damsel in distress. I can just imagine Terry Brooks being lambasted for his utter lack of females in Sword, because every Shannara book since then has had a number of strong, butt-kicking women integral to the story. They're still generally not the protagonists, but it's better than nothing. Elfstones has the knife-slinging Eretria and the key player Amberle who even, it turns out, is important because she is a woman. It's generally helpful for a movie to have at least one or two important female characters for women viewers to identify with, as well as a bit of eye-candy for the male viewers (I'd say the same about having at least one or two important male characters for the male viewers to identify with, but really, two male characters in an otherwise female cast would, if it ever happened, get a chick flick designation and men wouldn't see it anyway... unless it was, you know, a different sort of a movie with only two men and lots of women).

I would call Elfstones of Shannara my favorite of the Shannara series. Amberle is one of my favorite characters in any book. I'm definitely rooting for the movie to succeed (if it does indeed get made--in preproduction, anything could happen). Perhaps Prince of Persia next year will give us an idea of what to expect: can Newell deliver on second-tier fantasy as well as the great Harry Potter?

> Update 12-2-09: Mike Newell is no longer attached to direct the film (I hadn't checked on it in a while, so I don't know when this happened). I am not sure of the state of the project, but will update if there is more news.
> I did a little ferreting around, and it seems that with no director and no script this project is currently in development hell. Ah well. I will update if I hear of any changes.

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