The Wheel of Time is an Amazon Prime Video epic that falls just short

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Streamer: Amazon Prime Video

Length: 8 x episodes (60 minutes each approx)

Score: 3/5

Realising epic fantasy on the small screen is harder than it looks. Get it wrong and the plot seems silly, the character names convoluted and the magic goofy, eg: Chronicles of Shannara. But even when you get it right, ala Game of Thrones, you’re only as good as your last season.

In the case of The Wheel of Time, Amazon Prime’s mega-budget fantasy epic, the result is decidedly mixed, although not without its charms.

The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime Video
The rather massive main cast of The Wheel of Time are a handsome lot, although they're awfully clean for a realm without washing machines! Picture: Amazon Prime Video

The Wheel of Time is based on the long-running book series by Robert Jordan. And we mean LONG-RUNNING. The source material chimes in at 14 main books, one prequel novel, and a couple of companion tomes.

The story follows Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a member of the Aes Sadai (sounds like ‘eye so die’) who are a group of magic-using women. Along with her Warder (bodyguard) al'Lan Mandragoran, they’re looking for the “Dragon Reborn” - the reincarnation of an important historical figure, who will either save the world or destroy it.

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When the main story kicks off, Moiraine seems to have narrowed down the Dragon candidates to five people from the small and isolated Two Rivers district in the kingdom of Andor.

There’s handsome but inexperienced Rand (Josha Stradowski), guilt-wracked Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), suspicious Nynaeve (Zoë Robins), charming ne'er-do-well Mat (Barney Harris) and stunning Egwene, played by Aussie actress Madeleine Madden.

Any one of them could be the Dragon Reborn and half the fun of The Wheel of Time is guessing who that might be.

The Wheel of Time, it has to be said, does not get off to a great start. Maybe we’ve been spoiled a bit by gorgeous fantasy shows like Game of Thrones or more recently Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, but TWoT just looks a bit flat.

Yes, the landscapes from the extensive Prague shoots are undeniably gorgeous but the costume design, art direction, and general vibe of the show is a touch bland.

This is strange, because Amazon has dropped some serious bank on this and yet it looks a little… network television at times, over-lit and flat.

Aussie Madeleine Madden and Josha Stradowski on The Wheel of Time  Amazon Prime Video
Egwene al'Vere (Madeleine Madden) and Rand al'Thor (Josha Stradowski) spend quite a bit of The Wheel of Time looking like they're pining for the fjords. Picture: Amazon Prime Video

The good news is, this improves. The first episode is the weakest of the six made available to review, and even that got better in its surprisingly action-packed and monstery second half.

The performances are a little more uneven. Rosamund Pike does mostly excellent work as the stern, imperious but nuanced Moiraine. And Barney Harris at least looks like he’s having a good time (although sadly has already been replaced for the next season for reasons unknown).

However, while the rest of the gang do their best, their roles feel too thinly written to really make an impact. There’s potential there for improvement, no doubt, but The Wheel of Time seems more intent on spinning forwards rather than developing character.

Robert Jordan’s books were notoriously stretched out, something even ardent fans have to admit, and it almost seems like showrunner Rafe Judkins is obsessed with forward momentum to compensate. On the one hand, this means you’re rarely bored. On the other, you’re also rarely deeply invested.

Season one alone seems to cover most of book one and some of book two and three of the venerable series, which never lets the world feel lived in or credible because you’re always moving to the next thing.

Rosamund Pike as Moiraine in The Wheel of Time on amazon Prime Video
Rosamund Pike as Moiraine is an undeniable highlight of The Wheel of Time. Picture: Amazon Prime Video

This has the odd effect of making The Wheel of Time feel both compelling and forgettable. While you’re watching it, in the moment, it’s pretty intriguing and addictive. But as soon as the credits roll, you’ll promptly forget all about it.

This isn’t the kind of show, like Game of Thrones, where you’ll spend your free time thinking up theories and potential twists.

The Wheel of Time is a decent yarn and just intriguing and moreish enough to keep you wanting to watch the next episode. This is the fantasy equivalent of a guilty Maccas feed, salty and greasy; it fills a hole, but leaves you with nothing of substance.

The Wheel of Time lands on Amazon Prime Video on November 19.

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