FSR TV chief critic Valerie Ettenhofer says it’s hard to engage in Amazon’s new high fantasy series thanks to its mediocre CGI and overloaded mythology.
By Valerie EttenhoferPublished November 16, 2021
Welcome to Up Next, a column that gives you an overview of the latest TVs. This week we review the Amazonian series La Roue du Temps.
Amazon’s highly anticipated show The wheel of time begins with a heavy exposure discharge. Robert jordanThe 14-volume high fantasy book series is complex, to say the least. This is the type we may have once called “infilmable” before Game Of Thrones came and conquered this term.
The adaptation opens with a magician named Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) trying to simplify the expansive mythology of the series. She speaks in fragmented and vague language. “The man who broke the world,” she intones, “and him whom they named Dragon.”
She speaks of a reincarnated leader who must be found. In typical prophecy fashion, it is not clear whether this person will save the world or ruin it. As her voiceover progresses, Moiraine adorns herself with rings, gloves and a majestic blue cape. For fans of the novels, this can be an important moment. For everyone else, it’s a show debut without melody and poetry that you’d expect to make a big first impression.
The first season of The wheel of time talks about Moiraine’s quest to find five young adults, each of whom could be the latest incarnation of the world’s most powerful magician. Carpet (Barney harris), Egwene (Madden madden), Rand (Josha stradowski), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) and Nynaeve (Zoe Robin) are a bunch of protagonists who don’t get descriptors because they are largely indistinguishable at this point. Some of them love each other. Some of them are more naughty than others. Like a typical hero, most of them seem eager to go on new life-changing adventures without asking too many questions.
Based on the six episodes available for review, The wheel of time does not seem inherently unfilmable. It just could have been better filmed. The mythology is muddled, the rhythm is off, and the CGI and practical effects are inconsistent. The filmmakers put Pike, the biggest star attached to the project, with the worst of everything. This awkward opening is not his only explanatory monologue.
The magic of Moiraine involves the manipulation of energy, including the wind. On screen, it looks like the low-quality effects are working, not vivid and visually uninteresting. When a potential villain later introduces tendrils of whispered black magic, they are much more striking. Unfortunately, this new visual quality just makes the less appealing effects stand out even more.
A lot of The wheel of time is like that; bright spots of potential wasted by creative choices that make it difficult to fully engage in the show. There are some extremely silly looking beasts called Trollocs, but there is also an endearing group of pacifist nomads called Da’shain Aiel. The main characters are mostly boring, but some of the supporting characters including Maria doyle kennedy‘s Tinker and Alexandre willaume‘s Thom, are charismatic and mysterious.
The problem is The wheel of time is superabundant in its mythology and presentation. He throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. For every captivating element, there is another that falls flat.
Ironically, there is an ideological simplicity beneath the surface of The wheel of time it’s just as frustrating as its dense mythology. When opposing forces meet, one group wears white and another wears black, like something a Star trek episode.
There’s also a half-baked gender politics at play. The show portrays women as the primary holders of power, thanks to an all-female order of magical protectors called Aes Sedai. Despite the seeming matriarchy of the world, characters still find time to drop generic comments about genre dynamics and then leave them unchecked. Women have one type of power, the red magician Liandrin (Kate fleetwood) claims at one point, but men still have a lot more.
There is a strange lack of emphasis running through The wheel of time, starting with the vacant opening monologue. In different hands, comments like Liandrin’s could have resonated with viewers despite the meager underlying ideology. Through Game Of Thrones‘sixth episode, there were at least a dozen widely cited moments. Yet no line in The wheel of time seems worth remembering, and only a few scenes clearly stand out in terms of cinema. It is as if the show works with less dimensions than others of the genre.
Despite all this, The wheel of time shouldn’t be written off completely, if only because there is so much more material to work with. We can regard the titular wheel of the series as a symbol of positive change or inevitable redundancy. The show, an obvious work in progress, certainly needs more than the other.
The first three episodes of The wheel of time premiered on Amazon Prime Video on November 19.
Related topics: Coming soon
Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, television lover and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a senior contributor to Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the television and documentary branches of the Critics Choice Association. Twitter: @aandeandval (She she)