The Wheel of Time Season 1 Review - Amazon's Fantasy Show Stumbles Then Engrosses

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy was a remarkable achievement on many levels, helping to establish a new standard for fantasy storytelling on screen. But despite its artistry and huge worldwide success, it didn't inspire many other filmmakers to tackle other great works of fantasy literature. It was HBO's Game of Thrones a decade later that truly opened the floodgates for tales of dragons and magic--from The Witcher and Cursed to Shadow and Bone and His Dark Materials, the last few years have seen a wealth of episodic fantasy adaptations. Amazon's The Wheel of Time is the latest.

The series is based on Robert Jordan's sprawling 14-book saga, and Season 1 primarily adapts the first novel, 1990's The Eye of the World. There's a lot to unpack in Episode 1, both in terms of characters and Jordan's intricately-designed world. It focuses on five young people from the forgotten backwater town of Two Rivers--Rand, Mat, Nynaeve, Perrin, and Egwene--who are visited one day by the mysterious and powerful Moiraine. She's a member of the Aes Sedai, an order of women which possess magical abilities known as the One Power. Moiraine believes that one of the five is the "Dragon Reborn," the reincarnation of a powerful figure from history who can save the world from evil. But the villainous Dark One is also on their trail, leading to a chase across hundreds of miles to reach the safety of the White Tower, home of the Aes Sedai.

It's always a challenge for writers to adapt much loved but detailed works of fantasy fiction when it comes to how much information to drop in order for those who haven't read the books to get a sense of the world. Episode 1 of The Wheel of Time struggles to strike the right balance. This is an expensive show and the screen version of Jordan's world looks impressive and lived in (some dodgy CGI notwithstanding), but there's no escaping just how generic it all seems. From the small Shire-esque town and the talk of magic and dragons to creatures attacking by night and a desperate quest, this is Fantasy TV 101. Obviously, the source material was heavily indebted to Tolkien too, but with sketchily drawn characters and some questionable acting in the early scenes, it feels disappointingly clunky and generic.

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