How to end a decade with a twinkle?
A recipe from Netflix: to release just in time for Christmas 2019 the long-awaited new film adaptation of the adventures of Geralt from Rivia – once a cult literary hero, and now a favorite of millions of gamers around the world. The event is epoch-making – and the ongoing discussions of the series, its Russian translation, as well as the wig of Henry Cavill (Henry Cavill) are the best evidence of this. But let’s forget for a moment the “contagious” memes and pesky songs of bard Lyutik: are the authors of the series worthy of the coin minted?
In previous series
When Netflix voiced its intentions to film Andrzej Sapkowski’s book cycle, there was no limit to the enthusiasm of the fans – seriously, how much can you watch a cheap TV series starting zero with its funny effects and katana instead of a normal sword? But as soon as the hype calmed down a bit, he was replaced by skepticism: although the company released the shock version of Castlevania, in the same year she got into a puddle with Death Note. So no guarantees.
The situation was aggravated by interviews with the authors (who emphasized how important it was for them to use the show as a platform for talking about current issues, tolerance and patriarchy) and news about the leading actors – they say that neither Henry Cavill nor Anya Chalotra ; Yennifer) in book images. For a couple of years, the fan base safely divided into two camps, quarreled, held its breath before the premiere – however, the long-awaited release on December 20, alas, did not reconcile anyone. Quite the contrary – it infuriated even more.
What do viewers say about The Witcher? Some praise the actors (in particular, Cavill in the role of Geralt), music, spectacular action. Others criticize the “tolerant” casting (of black elves and dryads), and also criticize the show runner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, who, according to them, uses cinema to promote the feminist agenda.
Professional critics do not help in disputes either: opinions were well divided, the average score on Metacritic at the time of writing was 53 mediocre points, and one publication (Entertainment Weekly) gave an impressively low rating – 0 out of 10. The number is hard – but the review text is ridiculous: it turns out that the brave journalists did not even watch the first season to the end, because they got bored. We looked at a couple of episodes, laughed at Cavill’s wig, and it’s the end.
Within the framework of this war, it is difficult to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the series: the impressions and emotions are too fresh, so any opinion is doomed to cause someone’s anger. But since we are all here, it is worth making a verdict – disappointing.
The Netflix Witcher is weak. Only he is not weak because of black actors in the supporting roles. Not because of the so-called “agenda” of Hissrich and her team. And certainly not because of the “budget”, which has become the root of the troubles of the novelty in the eyes of the fans – the first season of the Game of Thrones cost, according to rumors, about the same, if not cheaper. Everything is much more prosaic: the fresh adaptation of Sapkovsky’s books does not stand up to criticism like a movie. Like a story (or a set of these). Like a whole piece. This material is intended to explain what is wrong with the second attempt to transfer the White Wolf to the small screen.
Attention: front spoilers.
Movie structure, or Why parallel lines should intersect
Where to begin? With consensus. As a rule, fans and haters rarely agree – however, in the case of The Witcher, the cancer on the mountain whistled: that those that the others ravely criticize the ragged narrative of the fantasy epic. Why? Listen to social networks, so the catch in the slurredness of what is happening: they say, it is difficult to understand the plot twists and turns of the characters, that’s all. But these are just the consequences. The reason is different.
So the point. The first season of The Witcher tells the stories of three characters at once in three different time periods. If you lay them out in chronological order:
• the transformation of a modest, slaughtered hunchback into a powerful sorceress Jennifer from Wengerberg (begins somewhere 30 years before the fall of Cintra);
• the adventures of Geralt from Rivia (begins somewhere 12-15 years before the fall of Cintra);
• the flight of Princess Tsirilla (Tsiri) from the army of the Nilfgaard Empire (begins immediately after the fall of Tsintra in the final of the first episode).
In each episode, at least two of the above lines appear (in some, just three), and the duration of each of them remains a mystery to the viewer for a long time: the protagonists specify it reluctantly. Leading characters for a long time go about their business alone and only in the second half of the season they begin to slowly gather in groups. And it’s not just that: as Hissrich explains, the show is about creating a family.
This type of storytelling alone cannot be called innovative: the formula “several parallel plots at once” has been around for decades – it can be seen both in comedy sitcoms like “Married … with children” and “The Simpsons”, and in serious and story-oriented shows like “24 hours” and “Lost.”
The idea is simple: different people have different adventures – why not show a few of them at once? This will significantly spur the narrative: instead of one drama, the viewer observes two or three at once – you will only get tired of one set, now, look another, with a unique caste and new intrigue.
As a rule, in a single series there is an easily distinguished center line (A), as well as one or more side lines (B), which are needed rather as an addition to the main dish. Homer Simpson is trying to gain the respect of Frank Grimes, meanwhile Bart Simpson acquires an abandoned factory at auction. John Lock leads the survivors on a hunt, in between flashbacks it is explained how he got on the fateful flight 815 and why he considers the Island so special. While Jack Bauer is investigating the impending assassination of a presidential candidate, his family is trapped.
Of course, there is always a threat to make stories too self-sufficient – why should they even be to each other if they have no common ground? Therefore, so that the stories do not seem completely isolated, the scriptwriters invent tricky ways to weave them together. Perhaps one of them exists in order to give a new context to the other (“Lost”). Or maybe the characters are doing different things, but along the way they meet a couple of times to create a sense of integrity (“The Simpsons”)? Who knows, the adventures of one hero can directly affect events in the life of another (“24 hours”)? A lot of techniques, and all of them have long been worked out on television.
But if this is a proven structure, why doesn’t it work in The Witcher? Why do even fans complain about a slurred plot breakdown, and does the showrunner swear that in the second season everything will be different, better, more holistic?
Because all three stories are maximally divorced from each other. Torn off by time. Torn off at the scene. To illustrate: in the first episode, the viewer is shown the massacre in Blaviken, alternating it with the sunset of the kingdom of Zintra. Both lines develop independently, with virtually no intersections. Each has its own set of actors, and they do not interact with each other in any way. One drama does not affect another – it does not even complement. And finally, between the tragedies of Geralt and Cyri, a gap of 12 years.
The problem is exacerbated in the next episode, where there are three stories at once – and there is no distinct, conscious connection between them. Ciri runs through the woods. Brokeback Yennifer learns magic. Geralt meets Buttercup, and together they are captured by the elves. Is there a common theme? Not at all. The authors vainly try to somehow unite the segments using the musical ending (when the bard’s song about the witcher plays against the background of the endings of all three lines), but this is nothing more than dust in the eyes.
The situation is maintained almost until the very end, and in each of the first six episodes there is a filler moment a la “Now we stop showing this solemn feast for the sake of running around from the assassin and his beetle.” The situation could be saved by a cunning montage creating audio or visual references (in the spirit of the comic book “Keepers” by Alan Moore; Alan Moore) – but alas.
Simply put, in order for the structure chosen by the Witcher authors to work, stories must be put together – like a puzzle, where each new element complements the previous one in an unobvious, but logical way. In The Witcher, new scenes are more likely to step on the throat of the previous ones, diverting attention and not offering anything in return.
It comes to the ridiculous: in the framework of one episode, different stories sometimes openly contradict each other in terms of design and premise. In the fourth, for example, the Yennifer line in theory illustrates the plight of a woman in a fantasy world, where her life depends entirely on the will of men on the throne. Forget for a moment that such morality is spoken out in the series with a box of powerful sorceresses capable of managing entire states behind the scenes (and this is emphasized closer to the finale). It’s much more interesting that in the next story Queen Kalante appears – a powerful, confident woman who successfully holds the country under her heel. And she doesn’t even need a man to hold on to power! If Hissrich and her screenwriters wanted to say something on the subject of patriarchy, then they chose the most unfortunate moment.
About characters and “characters”
There is another reason why the showrunner and her team chose such an intricate storytelling scheme: they wanted to introduce some important characters early. In the original book saga, Princess Cyril did not appear immediately, nor did Yennifer: most of the first stories are devoted to the travels of Geralt from Rivia, and, in fact, they do not have any central driving force. Too boring, the authors decided, it’s necessary to add a couple more story lines and deepen the images of the two heroines. Noble motive, for that matter. Summed up the execution.
Ciri was treated the worst: the poor thing gets the most basic characterization in the first series, after which the remaining seven simply wander through the forests in search of Geralt. What can be said about the girl following the results of the first season? She is burdened with royal life (one scene), likes to spend time with poor children of her age (one and a half scenes) and … in general, that’s all. The rest of the time she’s just a walking mccaffin. Was it worth it to “smear” the princess for a whole season, potentially taking timing from other, more eventful lines? Hardly.
What about yen? She got to the mercy of the magical version of the series Ugly Betty. Based on a couple of mentions that she was once a hunchback, that she had an affair with a magician named Eastredd, the authors blew a giant fan fiction about the early life of the sorceress. Which in itself is normal, except that what is happening in its storyline is a banal and sometimes slurred soap opera with magic eels. She was poor and clogged, but then a stern woman noticed the potential in her, trained her to use it, and now an episode and a half later she devours the hearts of the kings at the balls. There is a suspicion that she is a frank “self-insert” Loren Hissrich, but go and prove it.
Moreover, in his attempts to somehow deepen the character of the already very complex heroine, Hissrich and the company managed to make holes in her image. For example, in the third series, Yennifer voluntarily goes to the ceremony, after which she will get rid of her physical defects. They call her the price: after that, she will not be able to have children. She doesn’t care – she has other interests and desires. And then, two episodes (and many years in the chronology of the show) later, she blames the mentor for her infertility, saying, “You deprived me of a choice.” Stop stop stop, right?
Here it’s still worth noting that because of the same messy structure of the narrative, the passage of years in the series does not strike the eye – in the future this causes a certain dissonance. For example, the character of Yennifer changes between episodes 3, 4 and 5: from a naive person, she transforms into a cynical woman, ready to go almost over the corpses for her own purpose.
This, of course, is good. However, many important events leading to change remain behind the scenes. They are implied – but not shown, although, it would seem, the cinema exists primarily for visual narration. Of course, the character has an arch (which is already there, she is the only central hero with some kind of her!), But the presentation leaves much to be desired.
Similar things can be said about the filing of other actors. Strong and cool in words, Kalante behaves like a stupid gopnik, publicly insulting the messengers from Nilfgaard – how did such a short-sighted queen with the habits of a boorish woman last on the throne? The riddle.
The relations between the bard and the wandering hunter of monsters cause no less questions: Buttercup irritates Geralt so much that the friendship between them looks like something dictated from above by the writer.
Yes, and the White Wolf itself is surprisingly no: it simply carries the plot winds, and it is surprisingly passive in terms of motives. Swinging a sword, of course, he’s a lot, and not a fool to grunt, but behind all this you can’t see the main thing – a distinct, clear character. And its development, by the way, is also: it is difficult to develop what exists only at the germ.
Even his desire to find Tsiri is explained not by acquaintance and affection for the girl, not by his own judgment, but simply … by something. Destination Coupled with swearing from Yen. In which, by the way, he falls in love also somehow between the lines. The latter will certainly amaze the newcomers a lot, because a meeting with the gangster Renfrey in the “pilot” sinks into his heart much more than a collision with a mysterious magician. He recalls the bandit, in any case, more often.
Pretty funny. Familiar with the original stories and novels by Sapkowski, it’s easy to perceive the characters – they read everything, remember the thoughts of the characters and “feel” them after so many years of reading fantasy prose. But how to perceive these dummy functions without a literary / game context?
Drama for dummies: managing emotions and surprises
All this leads to another problem of the series – to its script. He is in places frankly stupid, even irrespective of slurred narration and free treatment of central characters. The blame for the showrunner’s irrepressible craving and her team for an inflated drama without preparing the ground for her is to blame.
Take, for example, the first episode, and specifically the line of Ciri. It very briefly shows the history of the fall of an entire state. For one scene we are introduced to the characters. In the next they go to fight on an empty field, begin to suffer – and die. Fuck! Arrow in the eye! The Queen (right in the middle of the battle with Nilfgaard!) Kneels down to soar over her husband’s body … whom the viewer knows for a maximum of five minutes of screen time.
After that, Kalante teleports back to the palace, with a pair of holes in his stomach. On her deathbed, she punishes her granddaughter – Cyri run away, because the invaders (somehow left behind) are about to attack the city. The princess escapes through a secret passage in the castle … while the rest of the nobility in the fortress for some reason decides to poison themselves with sad music. In theory, this is sad. It is difficult to say for sure – faceless, nameless strangers perish.
In the best shows, they touch death, because their lives add up personalities to which you have time to become attached. We say goodbye not to someone, but to a hero who has managed to become a native for so many scenes. In the world of The Witcher, extras are planted at scenic peaks.
In the case of the fall of the kingdom, the solution to the ridiculously obvious problem is: why start the series with such an event when you can bring the whole season to it? Introduce to its inhabitants (and Ciri). To escalate the threat, to weave intrigue. And then, in the end, arrange a grand finale with a princess running from Nilfgaard. The death of Cintra could be a surprise, a surprise, given how strong the state is drawn in flashbacks. But the authors safely merged a potentially powerful, symbolic moment half an hour after the start of the season.
Worse, the authors did not find a replacement for him. In fact, the most important, most relevant events of the whole season take place in the first series – and then are repeated in the seventh with a new part, because of which the pilot looks even dumber than before. For the rest of the time (even in the finale!) The story goes around: instead of the plot “meat” and surprises, a poorly disguised filler is served.
What is most sad, the authors are well aware of this: why else should they always turn their attention to Ciri at the most inopportune moments? To remind the viewer: yes, it still exists. Yes, she still runs through the woods. Now Geralt with his background will figure it out and catch up with it, wait a few hours.
Finally, speaking of purely scenario problems, it is worth evaluating The Witcher as an adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s prose. Not in terms of the skin color of the actors or the absence / presence of any passing points from the Polish texts. Authors of adaptations have every right to liberties, this is their vision. The main thing is the result. Everything here is also not thank God: the Hissrich team made a number of mistakes in working with the source stories. We focus on the three obvious ones.
The first is striking when watching a pilot episode, The End’s Beginning. As part of this series, the showrunner undertook to reproduce the story “Lesser Evil”, during which the White Wolf is involved in the conflict between the magician Stregobor and the gang princess named Renfrey. Rate the difference:
• The story. Renfrey intends to put forward an ultimatum to Tridam: if Stregobor does not surrender, her accomplices will cut people at the fair taking place at that moment. Geralt (on a tip from an old friend and based on conversations with the “princess”) hurries to the square. There he meets gangster people who pass him the message of the leader – say, do not go in or join. He spits on him and kills the villains before they begin to slaughter the innocent. Then he kills their leader. The audience, having watched the bloody fight from the very beginning (and not suspecting that the bloodied wanderer had saved everyone), chases Geralt out – in the eyes of the crowd he is an evil, dangerous mutant who arranged for bloodshed out of the blue.
• Series. Geralt decides to go to the market (not the fair) just like that. On a deserted street (except for a few onlookers at the far end), a girl’s gang just attacks him. Before the fight, the villains transmit the message to the main one, put an ultimatum (not Tridamsky, but simply “Join or die”) and, upon seeing the harsh face of the interlocutor, they attack. White-haired kills villains far from the public, for the sake of self-defense. The hero of the occasion comes with the hostage. A fight ensues. The hero spares the girl, but she continues to attack – the result is logical. Then extras crawl onto the stage. Only after the appearance of Stregobor did Geralt begin to be condemned and stoned – more likely at the instigation of the magician than because people were horrified by the massacre.
In general terms similar. But in fact – not really. So why is the witcher suddenly a butcher if he killed the bandits defending himself without endangering, in fact, anyone? Because it is written in books. The funny thing is that the creepy nickname in the series does not play a role at all: in the next episodes, Buttercup unfolds a PR campaign so powerful that everyone around is more likely to honor the witcher than fear. And they pay with a minted coin, of course.
The second mistake is the presentation of the image of Yennifer. In the original stories, her character and background were revealed gradually and non-linearly. At first, she seems to be a cold, calculating bitch pursuing her goals. But every now and then the reader (together with Geralt) learns something unusual about her: new bits of information change his attitude towards a woman. She, a highbrow enchantress, wants children. She, a stately beauty, was a hunchback. She, living light, had a difficult past.
All this gives her actions and behavior an initially unobvious context, changes her attitude to heroine, which until then is easily mistaken for an ordinary femme fatale. In the series, everything is much simpler: from the very start, she is a failure, and she is valued less than a pig from a barn.
She is a poor outsider, who is becoming stronger and stronger, openly spits on her bosses, and even her stern mentor looks at her with loving eyes. With this approach, the audience no longer expects any revelations: yes, Ian becomes hardened, changes (including physically), but the main thing – the mystery – disappears from her image. Now she is Katya Pushkaryova, capable of creating portals from the air.
The third mistake is the relationship of Geralt and Ciri. Rather, the lack thereof. Before starting the saga of Cyril in several volumes, Sapkovsky wrote a story about the first acquaintance of the severe witch and the princess-boy, in which two dissimilar companions were not immediately there, but they were imbued with each other sympathy. Before the Wolf even understood who he was dealing with and what it meant.
Therefore, the epic with the search for the fugitive, with a touching reunion after the fall of Cintra – everything bore weight both for the person with the book in his hands and for the heroes appearing on its pages. The scriptwriters reduce everything to “Geralt is seeking because Destination, Tsiri is searching because her grandmother told her.” The hugs in the finale are empty. There is nothing behind them.
Someone will consider the above trifles, but they demonstrate how poorly the authors of the series understand the original. Yes, they have their own ideas, of course. But who said these ideas are good and worthy of getting on the screen?
The Witcher had a chance. Explanatory source. Good leading actors, led by Henry Cavill, who sincerely tries and confidently takes the role of Geralt, as if the very image of the stern White Wolf was written under him back in the 80s. However, the series did not work out.
The first season is suffering from problems on all fronts. The confused structure serves only to surprise the viewer, and not to give something to the narrative. Characters (except Yennifer) are surprisingly empty and formal – they are here as functions, somehow moving the plot. Although this is said loudly: in fact, after the very first series, he stomps on the spot, while the side lines somehow catch up with the fleeing Ciri, Princess McGuffin. The script is full of logical misses, holes and cliches. And even as an adaptation, the novelty is frankly weak: the scriptwriters frankly did not understand why Sapkovsky’s novels were read in one breath, and their ideas completely lose the vision of the original author.
The Witcher is a logic bomb: the more you think about a show, the worse it gets. Yes, there is good in it, it can entertain, and, of course, “everything could be much worse”: here at least the lenses for Cavill were not the cheapest ones. But when the only arguments in favor of the series come down to the main character, one fight (out of about six) and a “meme” song, it’s worth considering: was the game worth the candle?