Hollywood’s First Rule

On January 27, 2009, in Doing It Wrong, by Rob Levandowski

Terry Goodkind wrote a pretty good fantasy story some years ago, Wizard’s First Rule. This turned into a book series, The Sword of Truth.  Although the books weren’t all as good as the first—after the fourth one, there were some missteps—the series still told a good, thoughtful tale.  They also told a decidedly mature-audiences tale.

When I first heard that Disney/ABC was developing Wizard’s First Rule into a syndicated TV series, “The Legend of the Seeker,” I wondered how they would possibly handle some of the more, ah, exotic content of the book.

It turns out they handled it the way I had feared: by totally bastardizing the book.

The story starts off mostly the same as the book.  Some of the casting was inspired; the character of Zedd seems perfectly cast.  Kahlan, while not matching the physical description of the book, is played by an actress that seems to understand the character.  Unfortunately, the main character, Richard, was badly miscast… and badly rewritten.

In the book, Richard, the Seeker of Truth, is the kind of guy who pays careful attention to what people say and do, and his keen insight and willingness to speak truth is his greatest weapon—greater, even, than the magical Sword of Truth that comes with his appointed title. Richard is a young, but mature, man, noted for his imposing, masculine build.

The television Richard is a whiney brat of a young twenty-something who is more likely to annoy you with strident complaint than shake your convictions with a well-reasoned argument. He’s also short and light of frame, and wouldn’t be considered imposing by anyone weighing over 90 pounds.  The actor’s inexperience is sadly on display next to the rest of the regular cast.

Okay, so the casting was a bit… off.

Then there’s the plot.  In the first two hours, one major plot device of the novel is discarded irretrievably.  This is an omen.  By midseason, the series has not simply thrown away major plot points from the book; they’ve been violently raped and left to die by the side of the road. 

Potential spoilers:

  • A group of characters that play a pivotal role in the second and later novels are introduced early in the TV series. Instead of being antagonistic to our heroes’ goals and blocked from the New World by a treacherous magical barrier, they’re a bunch of friendly nuns hiding behind a slab of rock.
  • Kahlan, rather than being the last and most powerful of her kind, is but one of many of her kind.
  • The pivotal character of Denna is brushed off in one episode.  Her reason for existing in the first place is ignored.  She’s a caricature, and her motivations are cardboard-cutout instead of the deep past given in the books.  Where she dies a highly meaningful death in the books, she gets to become a recurring character in the TV series.
  • Darken Rahl.  The big bad guy of the book.  In the book, we learn why he does what he does, and just how depraved he is in pursuit of his goals.  On TV, he’s nothing but central-casting, chew-the-scenery unexplained evil.

I could go on with many little changes that aren’t necessary to the TV adaptation, but there’s one change, one episode that got me to delete the show from my TiVo’s Season Pass list.

Kahlan goes undercover as a Mord-Sith to help save the Mother Confessor.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know why that one sentence embodies the producers’ deep disrespect for the source material.  It’s totally implausible to the plot and characters of the book.

This is Sword of Truth in name only.

I blame Sam Raimi; it seems like he had a few leftover Xena and Hercules scripts that he wanted to recycle, and that couldn’t happen with Terry’s characters.

Mr. Goodkind doesn’t seem too thrilled about it, either, based on the fan sites.

By now, I shouldn’t be surprised, Hollywood’s First Rule of adapting novels is that they need to be utterly sodomized before filming.  (Ironic, given that the sodomy present in the novel was excised from this series…)

Hey, Hollywood: The reason a book series has so many fans, the reason it sells well, is because people like it.  Don’t try to make it better; you’ll fail.

I’m done watching Legend of the Seeker, and I’m done watching anything Sam Raimi produces.


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