Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Toss a Coin to Your... Witcher Review

Series Name/Year: The Witcher (2019-)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Drama
Length: Season 1, 8 Episodes, Run-time range of 47-67 min. per episode
Rating: TV-MA
Production/Distribution: Netflix, Pioneer Stilking Films, Platige Image, Sean Daniel Company
Creator/Showrunner: Lauren Schmidt
Directors: Alik Sakharov, Charlotte Brändström, Alex Garcia Lopez, Marc Jobst, Edward Bazalgette, Sarah O'Gorman, Geeta Patel, Stephen Surjik
Writers: Andrzej Sapkowski, Lauren Schmidt, Haily Hall, Declan De Barra, Beau DeMayo, Jenny Klein, Sneha Koorse, Mike Ostrowski
Actors: Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Anya Chalotra, Mimi Ndiweni, Mecia Simson, Eamon Farren, MyAnna Buring, Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, Adam Levy, Joey Batey, Lars Mikkelsen, Royce Pierreson, Anna Shaffer, Jodhi May, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Therica Wilson-Read, Judit Fekete, Máté Haumann, Daniel Burke, Mahesh Jadu, Emma Appleton, Josette Simon, Maciej Musial, Shaun Dooley, Anna-Louise Plowman, Tobi Bamtefa, Terence Maynard, Nóra Trokán, Martin Berencsy, John Wolfe, Aisha Fabienne Ross

IMDB Blurb: Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter, struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts.

Cat's Point of View:

The catchy tune from The Witcher has exploded all over YouTube and the memeverse, and I just couldn’t resist the temptation. (Translate that as it’s stuck in my head – help!) Come, Valley of Plenty, and let’s take a look at this new Netflix Original series.

I had simultaneously two reactions when I first saw that this series was in production. I completely geeked out because I had heard so many great things about the games from a friend. He had talked it up to me so well that the most recent game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) was the birthday present I gave to myself last year. (Sadly, I just haven’t had the time to play it yet. That changes imminently!)

At the same time, I tilted my head to the side a little as I regarded Henry Cavill (Stardust, Immortals, Night Hunter) and that long white hair. It took me only a moment to get past a small mental block that was stuck from seeing him in roles such as the Superman character. The moment didn’t last long, however, because I realized what a physical presence and subtle humor that Cavill was going to bring to the role, and I got even more excited in anticipation of the series.

The world has been craving something to fill the fantasy epic void that Game of Thrones (2011-2019) left in its confounding and controversial wake. I wasn’t sure if it would grab me, much less a wider audience as thoroughly as Thrones did. Nevertheless, I set out right away to learn as much as I could about this new incarnation of the Witcher franchise.

What I hadn’t realized from at-length discussions with my friend was that The Witcher games are based on books. (More titles to add to that ever-growing to-read list of mine.) This is important to note because the series is generally based on these written works by Andrzej Sapkowski, rather than the video games. The production team did make great strides to ensure that some iconic visuals were incorporated into the episodes, but story content from the game vs. the plot of the series may significantly vary – depending on how off-book the games have taken the tales and their respective characters.

That being said, after watching the entirety of this series I couldn’t honestly care less if the games were or weren’t entirely represented here. The cinematography is splendid, the visuals are stunning, the creatures well-rendered, and the fight scenes are intricate and impressive. There’s something here for everyone – adventure, romance, comedy, war, gore, drama… I could go on.

Getting back to those fight scenes. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Cavill performed all of his own stunts. If you think about it, if he didn’t we’d be looking at something tantamount to the video games from the editing required so I’m thankful that it worked out this way. Honestly, watching Cavill in a swordfight is a thing of beauty.

No, I’m not talking about his jacked physique for this role. I’m talking about his fighting style and how he was able to flow through the movement so well. He was praised by the production’s fight-master, a veteran of stunts and stunt-design Vladimir Furdik (Skyfall, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Game of Thrones), for how well he picked up the skills and fight choreography and the speed at which he did so. It does very much appear that he’s dancing through the movements.

It’s also evidence of the dedication Cavill has given to this role. Aside from his ability to make pages of dialogue obsolete simply by nuances in his performance, it was a role that he actively sought out – even before there was a script – because he was a fan. They auditioned 207 other actors, though, before he was officially cast.

Though, of course, Cavill may be playing the title character here, but is by far not the only noteworthy cast member helming memorable characters. Though relatively new faces, Freya Allan (Captain Fierce, Into the Badlands, The War of the Worlds) and Anya Chalotra (Wanderlust, The ABC Murders, Sherwood) playing Cirilla and Yennefer respectively, are killing it with their characters as well. While Ciri feels a bit lost in this landscape, it is likely meant to be due to her individual quest and the circumstances. Yennefer’s journey provides a well-nuanced arc through the series.

There does also seem to be another common thread between this series and the games – likely born of the source material, of course – the shenaniganry of Jaskier (or Dandelion) played by Joey Batey (The White Queen, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, Knightfall). Batey’s character brings some much-needed levity to balance out the darkness of this fantasy world. I’d have to say that he’s probably my favorite character in the series aside from its titular figure.

The only downside that I can think of with the series is some of the framings of the story. It’s a little confusing at first because timelines flip back and forth from past to present-day – through all of the core triad’s stories. Once you realize that’s happening, though, and get some reference on events, then it’s easier to go with the flow.

Showrunner Lauren Schmidt (Private Practice, The Defenders, The Umbrella Academy) has indicated that with this introduction season out of the way, the foundation has been laid to get the story moving more cohesively into the future That’s right! There WILL be a season 2 of The Witcher – we’re just not sure when it will actually be released yet. Target release has been set for sometime in 2021. While production had started already in February 2020, they had to halt and shut down for the time being due to the global pandemic crisis. Still, there is hope. At this point, it’s a matter of when they can resume – not if.

In the meantime, we have this first 8 episode run to watch while we’re staying at home and practicing the all-important social distancing right now. It’s unthinkable how the world has changed in just the course of a month or so. One thing can be counted on, though – through books, movies, ‘television’ series, games, and other means of constructive escape we can take the edge off for a little bit and be transported elsewhere to focus on fictional characters’ problems instead of our own. For this reason, The Witcher is a great way to spend roughly 8 hours in a world of fantasy and monsters. 

P.S. -  For a fun extra, Netflix released a short video of Henry Cavill reading from a book the series is based on. 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 67%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 92%
Metascore – 53/100
Metacritic User Score – 7.5/10
IMDB Score – 8.3/10
CinemaScore – none

Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4.5/5

Series Trailer:

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