The Dresden Files: Is It Worth Watching?
Any time I say ‘The Dresden Files’ you, of course, start to think about that television show which aired on the SyFy (then still named Sci-Fi) channel several years ago. Oh, wait, some of you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, do you? Well, in this case some explanation is needed.
The Dresden Files was based on a series of urban fantasy books written by Jim Butcher, the first of which entitled, Storm Front, came out in 2000. The series tells the story of the only professional mage in Chicago, Harry Dresden, who earns his money by helping people to solve mysterious cases or simply find lost pets or personal items with magic. Occasionally Harry is hired by the Chicago PD as a consultant, usually when the police faces something which couldn’t be explained by rational means. There he often teams up with Karrin Murphy, an officer within the special investigation department.
The book series quickly started to rise in popularity and it was only a matter of time until someone would convert it into visual media, either as a television show or a movie. It happened five years later, in fall of 2005, when SyFy announced their intention of adapting the first book of the series into a two hour-long film with Paul Blackthorne as Dresden and Valerie Cruz as Murphy, which in turn would be followed by an additional eleven episodes, making up of the first season of the show.
But, even with anticipation from the fans of the series and general supernatural genre aficionados, the show never became popular enough to warrent a second season and production was shut down after filming the final episode of the sole season. During my research I found that a large amount of the opinions about the show’s failure were based on the idea that it happened because the show runners took the show too far away from the books, changing almost everything but the character’s names and occupations.
While it is a reasonable argument among the book series fans, it is still unwise to forget that any visual media based on its literal predecessor is supposed to be equally interesting and understandable for both categories of people – the ones who are familiar with the written version and those who aren’t. The show was supposed to present the newcomers with an opportunity to enjoy the experience of The Dresden Files without the need of knowing the background, and, at the same time, introduce something new for those who have already read the books.
In this case, no matter how good the intentions were, neither of the groups were left satisfied by the show.
The release of the two-hour long film was anticipated in the Summer of 2006, and it was supposed to serve as an opening for the show itself, but the film wasn’t aired until much later, and stood independently from the show. Instead the episode which originally was planned to be third was aired as the pilot episode.
Some people might think that switching episodes around isn’t a big deal, if the show itself is good, but that is not true. The pilot episode is the most important episode for any show. Its purpose is the introduction of main characters and the setting; the creation of the atmosphere and the basis for what the show stands for and where its going to lead the audience. The pilot of The Dresden Files on the other hand dropped the watchers into the midst of the show’s plot from the start. It introduced not only main characters but a number of side characters, it mentioned the wizard’s political structure without giving any explanation to it, it used an over-complicated plot without any reasonable need.
Additionally, the show decided that the main character needed to have flashbacks into his childhood. Those flashbacks didn’t have any sense and wasn’t connected to the plot. Some of them seemed like they belonged in the later episodes, like someone just messed up the editing and misplaced them.
The plot of the episode was clunky and perplexed. It told a story about a ‘special boy’ who had ‘strange talents’ planted into a foster family by a mysterious Cult of the Crow, which looked like an Uncle Fester’s cosplay fan group. The reasons behind the cult’s actions were unexplained, neither it was explained why a skinwalker, a supernatural predator capable of changing appearance and turn into other people, decided that it needed the boy for itself.
The two-hour long film, which I mentioned was aired not as a part of the show, wasn’t disposed of totally either. Instead it was decided to squeeze it into the middle of the show, so there wouldn’t be any need to re-shoot an extra episode. And, to spare some air time, it was also cut to fit into an hour-long schedule. Have you ever watched a movie based on a book and it felt like the events in the movie were rushed and the plot was lacking crucial points which were present in the book, but couldn’t make it into the movie because of the time limitations? Now imagine an entire length of a book cut not into standard 90-120 minutes, but into 40 instead. I guess I don’t even need further explanations.
Because of all of those moving episodes around, the plot arc of the season was ruined as well. It was difficult to comprehend what the general idea of the show was as a whole, as instead of step-by-step development, we were introduced to the flashes of the plot which weren’t chronologically connected.
The show ended its short life over 6 years ago and there hasn’t been any news about its renewal, so why did I decide to talk about it if no one will ever fix those mistakes? To tell the truth, I did it because even with all those faults, the show is still kinda fun to watch.
First of all because of the world. A supernatural setting, where people live without any knowledge of what is lurking in the darkness, or heroes who protect them from the monsters isn’t new. But the show managed to have its charm and originality, to build a world new and familiar at the same time.
Secondly, the writing in general. I’ve already mentioned the main plot arc being poorly done together with a failure of the pilot, but the plots of most other episodes are a different story. Those plots unfold around solving mysteries, combining elements of supernatural, urban fantasy and crime procedural genres just in a right proportion. A wonderfully written dialogue, together with good acting, is also bringing life to the characters and demonstrating the chemistry of their relationships.
“Yeah, well, life if pain. So is dinner. You’ve burned your garlic bread.”
I was going to mention the comedy relief moments, but it was something more from the writing aspect. Instead, I will just say ‘Bob’. Bob (played by Terrence Mann) is a former necromancer from XVIth century, now a ghost bounded for eternity to his own skull as a punishment for the usage of black magic in attempt to bring back from dead the woman he loved. As a part of the punishment Bob is compelled to serve to anyone who holds an ownership over his skull as an adviser. Previously, Bob belonged to Harry’s uncle Justin and served as Harry’s mentor. Now Bob lives with Harry, helping him with advice on the supernatural lore, or making snarky comments about Harry’s life choices.
Now, I know that liking a character is a matter of personal preference, but nonetheless, I’d still list this television show as worth checking out, even if everything else was done painfully bad, just because it had Bob.
In my opinion The Dresden Files is one of the shows which appeared in the wrong time and wrong place and was made by wrong people. The great potential it had, was leveled to the ground, spawning many controversial opinions and points of view, many of which were negative. At the same time, the show had its own share of fans, own share of discussion forum topics and fanfiction communities. That means I’m not the only one that thinks there was something there, something worth attention, something worth finding some free time to look up and watch.Genre: Urban Fantasy, Supernatural, Mystery; Developed by: Hans Biemler, Robert Wolfe; Executive Producers: Nicolas Cage, Norm Golighty, Robert Wolfe, David Simkins; Country of Origin: Canada, United States, Original Run: January 21, 2007 – April 15, 2007.
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