The Legend of Judge Gordon Sullivan won't be televised until he can work in some verdant New Zealand hills.
Hope has a warrior.
Through the dim mist of my youth, I can recall a time when fantasy was synonymous with "fringe." Public perception dictated that fantasy elements were good for young children, lonely adolescents looking to escape harsh reality, and adults who'd never quite abandoned adolescence. Then, special effects caught up with many authors' imaginations, and Hollywood needed more fuel to throw on the summer blockbuster fires, and fantasy rose to the challenge. The massive juggernauts of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises appeared to bring spectacular fantasy to the big screen in an enormously profitably manner. Suddenly, book series that had been languishing on back shelves or lost in development hell were being green-lit left and right in the hopes of capturing the newly important fantasy market. Enter Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, developed by Sam Raimi and his partner Rob Tapert into a weekly television series, Legend of the Seeker. This weekly series allows for a slow unfolding of a broad fantasy world filled with magic and swordplay, but new viewers might not be so keen on the generic feel of the show. In either case, this DVD release should give viewers old and new a chance to get into the world of Legend of the Seeker: The Complete First Season.
Facts of the Case
In a vaguely medieval world there are three provinces. One (D'Hara) is ruled by the evil Darken Rahl (Craig Parker, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), and he desires to take over the Midlands with his tyrannical rule. The protectors of the Midlands are called Confessors, and one of them (Bridget Regan, Sex and the City) ventures to the third territory, the Westlands, to find a wizard (Bruce Spence, Australia) and a seeker (Craig Horner, See No Evil) who are prophesied to defeat Darken Rahl.
All twenty-two episodes of the first season are included on five discs:
Legend of the Seeker is one of those shows where its great strength is also its greatest weakness. With the full might of Disney behind its high-fantasy concept, not to mention the prominent use of New Zealand landscapes as a backdrop, Legend of the Seeker has a tendency to feel a bit generic. As a film fan, it's hard not to watch the show and go "Oh, that chase looks like Lord of the Rings, or that slow-mo part looks like 300."
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Combining a series of familiar genre tropes into a single unified work can make for some excellent popcorn entertainment, and, on that level, Legend of the Seeker succeeds without being spectacular. In fact, because the audience is unlikely to struggle with the story elements, the admittedly impressive special effects get to take center stage. The story, while not the most original, allows for many action-oriented moments, and the setting gives the production designers ample opportunity to showcase both the natural environment of New Zealand, as well as the costumes and props created for the show.
This DVD set is also an excellent showcase for the talent behind the show. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer beautifully renders the world of Legend of the Seeker from the small details of costume to the sweeping shots of the countryside. The look of the show, especially its somewhat muted color palette, will keep this from being a reference disc, but fans are sure to be pleased. Based on the audio here, it's no surprise that Legend of the Seeker won an award for its score. Most television shows get by on a little bit of theme music, some contemporary pop, or no music at all, but Legend matches the sweeping visuals with an impressive use of music that is cinematic in scope. That scope is reproduced well on the surround track provided with this release.
Extras include a number of deleted scenes, and audio commentaries on selected episodes. For featurettes we get the typical behind-the-scenes documentary that does a lot to show of New Zealand's landscape, as well as a conversation with Terry Goodkind, the author of the source novels for Legend of the Seeker.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I said before, the familiarity of Legend of the Seeker might be its downfall. With all the well-worn elements, experienced fantasy fans might find the show yawn-worthy. Even if the show is otherwise engaging, the cribbed parts are likely to stand out more, making watching somewhat difficult for those with vast stores of cinematic knowledge. Plus I think there are enough rabid fans out there whole will be too ticked off at having their favorite film moments stolen that they won't be able to enjoy the rest of the show. Even for those who don't get their knickers in a twist, the generic, been-there-done-that feel won't engender much loyalty for the show.
It's always a little tough to judge shows in their first season, and Legend of the Seeker is no exception. There's enough going on here (and in the source novels) to provide the show with enough material to keep going. Only time will tell if that material can be sufficiently differentiated from the scores of fantasy films that have so far provided fodder for the show. For now, Legend of the Seeker is probably worth a rental to most fantasy fans, if only to catch another glimpse of New Zealand's verdant hills. The killer audiovisual presentation and decent extras certainly don't hurt, either.
For now, Legend of the Seeker is not guilty.
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