Bringing “The Wheel of Time” to TV with an ensemble cast and action-driven plots is a task that can be complicated. Is it a TV movie or a miniseries? Can you get away with an anthology of sorts? You can also explore all of that pretty much at your own pace. But no.
The TV show written and produced by Astra Taylor will premiere with a two-hour “Dragonfire” that runs a reasonably brisk 90 minutes. Then the installment goes nowhere fast. More importantly, it is not very good.
That’s not to say that it isn’t a pleasant watch. It’s at times an absorbing go-through the Great Men & Their Wonderful Loves episode of “Battlestar Galactica,” occasionally veering into thriller territory. Doona Bae, in her first role in America, is her usual enchanting self as the soulful warrior Arianne, and Swedish actor Johannes Haugen is fairly convincing as Akhir, Prince Eris’s henchman.
But overall, the screenplay, by Gamorra, Taylor and the minds behind Marvel’s Black Panther, Ryan Coogler, never convincingly creates chemistry among any of the important characters, and the show’s production values are weak, coming as they do from Netflix.
If you can get over that and a few other things, you’ll probably find “Dragonfire” worth the time if you enjoy this kind of magical entertainment.
Everything about “The Wheel of Time” at least aims to emulate the past. Back in 1996, Lewis MacAdams brought out a critically lauded miniseries adaptation that ran five episodes and was good enough to get excellent ratings and rave reviews. (Disney remade “Wheel of Time” into a movie that bombed in 2012, but was quickly revived as a miniseries on Netflix.)
On the TV side, another adaptation called “The Great Passage” focused on the adventures of Imhotep, a minor deity, who embodies the powers of the five most important moons. If you’re into that kind of thing, “Dragonfire” might be a nice place to start.
The gist of the story is that the servant of Imhotep, Darnus, is chosen to usher in the Fourth Age. It is said that in that age, characters with five wishes can accomplish one of them, and Darnus has five wishes. He doesn’t quite understand why, and instead goes off on a quest with the descendant of the blue dragon asymptote, who has made her home in the Moon Lake of Phonithen. They travel to the home of the Dragon God, where they meet Ahura, the divine father of the dragons.
It sounds amazing, and the dragon is indeed pretty good looking, but “Dragonfire” really isn’t very good. It is, at times, engaging. Haugen’s Akhir, for example, is evil and unstoppable, but that’s not always the strongest ingredient in a villain. The other members of Akhir’s posse — the evil malevolent Aspen, the sadistic Lord Rama, the sadistic Erenna and the surprisingly malleable Alex — hardly fire off memorable lines.
Doona Bae is also easy on the eyes, but she doesn’t really have any scenes with the Dragon God. It’s not clear who the character is supposed to be in this world, or why she was picked to carry the entire story.
Then there’s the problem of exactly where the story will go. The deus ex machina plot lines have happened before. When Imhotep dies, his fate is sealed. Likewise, when the end credits come, all you will be left with is the baffling fate of Darnus. If you’re going to invest some time in a worthwhile piece of entertainment, it’s best to save that for a final twist.
Rating: 3 stars.