Amazon Studios' adaptation of Robert Jordan's fantasy epic has moments of greatness but struggles to balance the weight of the source material.
While eyes are still firmly affixed on what Amazon Studios will do with its big-budget TV adaptation of The Lord of the Rings in 2022, the production company has another fantasy show on its slate, an adaptation of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. The show is set to hit the streaming service, Amazon Prime Video, later this week, and I've been able to get a head start on what will be on offer to get the gist of how this series will stack up.
If you haven't read the series, which spans a monster 14 volumes, this tale is regarded as one of the greatest fantasy book series of all-time, with various novels debuting at the top of the New York Best Seller List. It's set in a magical world, packed with humans, beasts and other creatures, and follows a group of young individuals as they work to contain a powerful evil entity in order to stop the world from falling into darkness. The plot itself is far more complex than this brief summary, as you'd probably expect, but the general premise, and what the show is based around, can be loosely brought back to this.
The lore of the story also extends thousands of years prior to where the show kicks off, meaning there really is a lot of narrative to chew through and understand, and quite frankly, the show can be a little difficult to follow. From the first minute, you are thrown into the fantasy world and expected to just get up to speed with the cast, their motivations, how they fit into the world. It's a similar situation to learning to swim, except instead of being eased into figuring it out, you've been air-dropped into the Pacific Ocean with nothing but a foam pool noodle to keep you afloat.
There's a huge amount of the plot that I don't understand at all. The intricate details that bring life to the story and the characters often get swept under the rug in favour of advancing the overlying narrative. Why exactly are the Aes Sedai (the magic wielders) split into a variety of factions? What drives the Children of Light to such cruelty? Who really is Rosamund Pike's Moiraine Damodred and why is she so invested in keeping the five young men and women away from her fellow magic casters? While a lot of the story is explained to at least a minor degree, after watching the show, I'm left with a lot more questions than when I started, and it's a little frustrating to deal with.
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Plot aside, there are a few other areas that left me a little miffed. While the casting for the most part works, I found the acting, particularly the magic casting scenes, to feel a little off. For example, when Pike is shown conjuring power to cast magical abilities, she does a strange dance that reflects those wacky waving inflatable tube guys you see at car dealerships. It feels odd to watch and just doesn't quite seem as though it fits in the brutal world that has been adapted.
With this being said, The Wheel of Time still has that aura of high-quality to it. This is a show that is well supported and funded by Amazon, and is largely quite entertaining to watch. The set design, the costumes, the CGI, it's all top-notch, which is why it's quite disappointing that it's a little confusing to follow. This is a show that could do with taking a breather here and there, just to make sure that the viewer isn't overloaded with fantasy jargon and teased prophecies. In my eyes, that's what sets this adaptation of Wheel of Time from what Peter Jackson served up with The Lord of the Rings movies, which are still to this day, excellent.
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The point is, The Wheel of Time is an enjoyable show to watch that is simply hampered by the weight of the source material. With 14 novels worth of content to chew through, you get the idea that the production companies don't intend to run for a monster 14 seasons, and because of this, a lot of the finer details get left on the wayside. There's still plenty going on that will entertain, but if you were hoping for a show of the calibre of Game of Thrones (prior to Season 8), then this isn't really what Amazon's The Wheel of Time serves up.