Film and drama Opinion

WHAT'S ON: The Wheel of Time — almost magical

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A powerful magic wielder takes a group on a perilous journey to discover if one of them might be the one prophesied to defeat a great evil. Digital editor Dan Jensen takes a look at Amazon's new big-budget fantasy series that has everyone talking.

★★★☆☆

THE WHEEL OF TIME is a new fantasy series streaming on Amazon Prime, based on the best-selling book series by Robert Jordan. It stars Rosamund Pike as Moiraine, a channeler of an elemental magic force wielded by women who embarks on a journey with a group of five young people believing one of them might be the reincarnation of the Dragon, a powerful individual prophesied to either save the world or destroy it.

The remainder of the cast of The Wheel of Time is made up mostly of lesser-known actors, but everyone does a fine enough job to bring the characters to life. Fantasy fans will no doubt lap it all up, but there’s enough to appreciate even for those with a casual interest in the genre. The series is currently the most-watched premiere to hit Amazon this year, so clearly the buzz around the show is reaching audiences.  

The Wheel of Time is a great looking show, with some absolutely eye-popping scenery from filming locations including Prague and Slovenia. With a budget of $10 million per episode, every cent has gone on screen to create a world that feels believable and big. Costumes and props have been given great attention to detail, despite most of the characters missing anything that really makes their image stand out. But then again, most of the leads are ordinary folk on a journey to something greater, so the character designs fit the story.

Throughout the story, the group is pursued by a race of creatures called Trollocs – hideous monsters that look incredibly good. A cross between demons and old fashioned mythological beasts, they often give the principal characters good reason to keep moving. The show has some moments of horror which work well and suit the tone of the narrative. It’s difficult to tell how much of the monsters’ design is costume and CG, which is a testament to the quality of the special effects department.

The first episode moves a little slowly with some heavy scenes of exposition halting the story’s progress, but things really pick up in the second episode when the group is split up, with pairs of characters going separate ways towards their destiny. This at least gives the story room to introduce new side characters and a variety of locations and events to make the story a little more interesting.

But while The Wheel of Time certainly has enough to keep viewers intrigued and coming back for more, with some genuinely shocking twists and turns in the story, it unfortunately suffers from the same problem many TV shows and films do when adapted from large volumes of text. Whereas a book can take its time to explore characters, worlds and lore a lot deeper, a TV show has to move as quickly as possible, often forsaking all-important character development in order to keep things flowing.

And this is possibly Wheel’s biggest downfall — the characters are just interesting enough to sustain interest, but the viewer isn’t given enough information about them to truly care. And while the story and key moments are compelling enough to stick with it, it does lack the sense of adventure that makes other fantasy franchises such as Lord of the Rings so great.

The series has currently aired four of the scheduled eight episodes of season one with a second season already confirmed, so there’s every chance the whole story will make the first part feel a little less empty. Aside from that, fans of the books will more than likely find more to appreciate with a deeper knowledge of the story and characters than viewers who have never read them.

But The Wheel of Time certainly has enough going for it to warrant return visits each week. Most of the episodes have ended on cliffhangers and there’s enough intrigue as to what will happen next. But while fans of Game of Thrones eagerly await the prequel series – next year’s House of the Dragon – many will be satisfied with what The Wheel of Time has to offer.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @danjensenmovies or check out his YouTube channel, Movie Talk with Dan Jensen.

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