Monday, October 26, 2009

DVD Review: Legend of the Seeker: The Complete First Season (5 DVD's)

Impassioned TV adaptation of Terry Goodkind's sword and sorcery epic

Pop the first Legend of the Seeker DVD into the player and do a double-take: is this a sequence of Lord of the Rings we'd forgotten about? Right off the bat there's the majestic New Zealand landscape (doubling as the Midlands in this case, not Middle Earth) and a horse race eerily reminiscent of Arwen fleeing the Black Riders. Then the heroine splashes through a shallow fjord and erupts in blinding flashes of light. There's even a co-executive producer named Stephen Tolkin [sic]. OK, weird.

In some ways Legend of the Seeker is like an American mashup of elements and themes from the Lord of the Rings, but it really is a different animal, less ambitious in scope and more focused. We still have good and evil battling it out (to avoid, you know, the total enslavement of humanity and all), otherworldly choral music, wizards, heroes eating apples in mossy glades, runic writing, massive CG armies, scary critters, and so forth.

But Legend of the Seeker takes itself somewhat less seriously. Like Star Wars, characters have names with thinly-veiled meanings (Richard Cypher) or that sound outlandish to the English ear (Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander). In the commentary track, leading man Craig Horner describes our first encounter with his character as “Baywatch in a forest” and yeah, he's not that far off. The horse chase has mounds of heaving bosomry a-plenty. I can just imagine the teenage boys watching those late-night reruns... At the same time we have anachronisms like pseudo-chess matches, medieval European armour and Latin magic incantations à la Harry Potter. But who cares? It's all jolly good fun and fills a much needed void in the world of sword and sorcery tales.

You would think that a 25-million selling 11-book epic like Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth would be a hit regardless of how it was brought to the screen. But the excellent cast and production team ensure that we won't be finding Legend of the Seeker in ye olde bargain bin anytime soon.

Listening to the production/cast commentary is almost as much fun as the episodes themselves. Everyone seems to be having an unbelievable good time, genuinely enjoying what they are doing, and reveling in the finished product. It's a good sign.

The casting is bang-on. Bridget Regan has the perfect combination of freckly femininity and fiery warrior charms as Kahlan Amnell. It's not an easy mix to achieve. Bruce Spence simply eats up the scenery as Zedd, a wizard who acts like a hippie version of Gandalf. Craig Parker's Darken Rahl is a delight to watch, managing to make the evil look as deceptive as it should.

The bonus feature conversation with author Terry Goodkind sheds interesting light into what makes the books tick. As mentioned in the documentaries, The Sword of Truth is unique because a couple shares the leading role rather than having only a man or only a woman in the spotlight. This provides a nice tension and relationship between the primary characters and drives the story.

Goodkind is a fascinating author and his insights into art, life and writing are surprisingly refreshing. Especially wonderful are the parallels he draws between race car driving and creating novels. He put his heart and soul into the books and thus imbued them with a moral and philosophical resonance that most fantasy tales generally lack, skillfully weaving meditations on free will and the intrinsic worth of life into the saga.

The bone I have to pick with ABC here is the useless previews tacked onto the disc one via autoplay. When I buy a season of a favourite show, I am well aware that other TV shows also have collections available. I do not need to skip through a preview of Desperate Housewives before getting to the hacking and the slashing. I would pay extra money for a version with such previews removed. They're totally unnecessary and aggravating. Disney investors, take note of this revenue-enhancing opportunity. Hopefully the increased availability of TV seasons on iTunes will keep the pressure on DVD manufacturers to remove the irksome auto-play previews. Keep 'em in the “Sneak Peeks” menu for goodness sake...

Adapting long fantasy tales into a television show can be a mixed blessing. On the downside, budgets are more restrained. But the upside more than compensates: the television format enables characters to be developed slowly and stories to unfold gradually, rather than being compressed into bite-sized movies. The full-season DVD experience mimics the original source rather well: just like a reader can curl up with a Goodkind book and stick with it for as long as they want, coming back to it whenever they want, the viewer can stop and start the DVD's at their leisure. As we hear in the commentary: “It's much more fun without the commercials”. Amen to that.

Street Date: 10/13/09
MSRP: $45.99

Adam Paige

Senior Reviewer

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