Nine Realms, Five Stages
The time had come. The new show was open on my computer and although i was genuinely concerned about it, i was ready to take it on. Good or bad, great or terrible, i had to know what this was.< Last | Next >
Welcome back to the rabbit hole that is my slow descent into madness! If you have not read the last post, this is about to make little to no sense at all, so i would recommend going back and starting at least here. Anyways, i left off having just located the new show, so that is where i shall pick this back up. I also am going to try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, so if you have not seen the show as of yet, you can read on spoiler free. (mostly)
The time had come. The new show was open on my computer and although i was genuinely concerned about it, i was ready to take it on. Good or bad, great or terrible, i had to know what this was. In an attempt to be fair to the show, and also as there was only six episodes, i decided to break them up, limiting myself to only one episode per day. This would give me time to think about each one as it came. If i hated it, the slower pace would prevent me from letting emotions completely overwhelm it, and if i liked it, it would be something i could look forward to each day. I also decided that i would finish all six episodes, no matter how bad it was, and that i would not look for answers, theories, or reviews online until after i had finished it so i could watch it without having been influenced. With my ground rules set, more or less, i began my adventure.
First Flight, Part 1
To me, the first episode was alright. Character design had some questionable choices, and there was a few rough edges, but overall it was a nice story. The episode introduced the main characters and environment, and was more of a setup than a story, hence the two part episode, but i never judge a show by the shortcuts of a first episode as it usually takes a bit of time for the writers to find their groove. Overall this first episode had a similar feeling to the old Dragons TV show, think Riders of Berk, but was very different. Simply put, where the old series felt 'real', this one felt fanciful, but not in a bad way. It was more reminiscent of movies in the likes of Wall-e or Megamind than the first How to Train Your Dragon movie. As my fears of the show being a disaster began to fade, i began to wonder where i felt this would fit, in regards to its canonical status, eventually settling with it being almost on par with the dragons comics, but closer to the main story than the comics were. Effectively it was the same timeline, but under a different cannon, kind of like an alternate reality.
As far as the quality of the story went, i would liken it to a hybrid of the original Riders of Berk series as mentioned above, and the second christmas special, Dragons: Homecoming. At the time of watching it, to me, it felt more like an encore to the main story, rather than as a canonical piece. Obviously i still felt it was walking a fine edge, and could easily trample its history, but i felt that if they continued on as they had in this first one, things would be alright. To continue my furniture metaphor from my last post, this first episode was not a large load hitting the glass top of the table as i had feared, but rather a matching end table elsewhere in the room. Something completely different, but still familiar. A clean break. I did not feel it was deserving of the How to Train Your Dragon name, but as an offshoot it was fine. It was not a Rescue Riders style failure as i had feared it would be. One episode down, and so far i was ok with it.
First Flight, Part 2
Day two, episode two. Character setup had more or less finished its introductions, time to begin the story. While it started out with much of a similar feel to the first episode, it definitely strayed way too close to the edge for comfort. Back to back, in three hard hits, it made direct and harsh callbacks to the most emotional parts of the very first movie, pushing your feelings almost to the breaking point. Quickly i found it treading in dangerous waters and i did not know how, or if it could recover. This new show was just one of those things that simply could not exist on its own. It relies on what came before it to survive, but it had to do so without damaging its past. What started feeling like a good encore, now felt like it was trying to force its way in with the original movies. It hurt emotionally, and made me mad. I began to wonder what the writers were thinking and really wondering if they even knew what they were attempting to build on. It's way too easy to undermine your own foundation if you cant see where you're digging. Had the first episode not been so strong, the second episode would have killed it. I was still going to see the show through, but i really began to fear that this show was going to be worse than if it had been just another Rescue Riders. Instead it looked like it was going to be a poor imitation and make a mockery of everything that i loved about the original show.
A Hole New World
The next day brought with it episode three. After the pain of the last one, my hopes were not high. Right out of the gate they set it up for another direct ripoff, Race to the Edge this time, but then to my surprise they didn't follow through. Watching this scene you knew exactly where it was going, down to the last detail, but then it didn't happen. The characters approached the scenario well out of left field, wrong beyond your wildest dreams and the attempt failed. Actually it failed miserably. Suddenly they had to stop and reassess their environment, adapt on the fly, and come up with a new plan and in doing so, after a couple of tries, found the correct solution to the problem in a natural feeling way. It nodded to the old, but didn't step on it, and turned the familiar event into something new. I found myself liking it more than i would have expected and really began to hope that the show could continue on this new course. The story still felt a bit like an encore to the main series, rather than as a proper continuation, but now i wasn't sure if that was a good thing. Originally i thought that the clean break would be a good thing, and rejoiced when it was, but i was no longer as sure as i once had been. In short, i began to doubt my own opinions...
Episode four had a couple of big Deus Ex Machina, but Race to the Edge had a few of those too (looking at you Snow Wraith), so i was willing to turn a blind eye to those for a bit, but for those of you who don't know, a Deus Ex Machina is where a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved, usually through a leap in logic, addition of a character, or discovery of a new unknown ability, or in this case, all three. They are usually fairly jarring, but to have one or two here or there is fine. It's a common TV trope that many shows have fallen victim to, so to see a few here was no real surprise. Realistically it wasn't bad, but it did lose some of its magic because of them. It was also a much slower episode, but it was still the right pace. Any faster would have felt too rushed. My biggest complaint with this one was on where it ended. Where the first three had ended on either a cliffhanger or a sense of wonder, this one ended abruptly on a cheap joke. It made one character look like an idiot, and the rest look foolish for ever believing in him. Overall this episode felt a bit like Shock and Awe from Race to the Edge, when the riders find a sea shocker in a tidal pool. It was alright as part of a bigger picture, but on its own it was kind of bland. Like a puzzle piece that's all one color, it helps complete the bigger picture, but was not an interesting piece to hold, nor to put in. That being said however, i was really starting to like the show. This was very different from what the original series had been, and was not at all what i had expected it to be. I was beginning to enjoy watching it. I didn't like that i liked it, but like it i did.
The episode Featherhide was a big turning point for me. It's also my favorite of the lot. By now it was evident what the show was going to be moving forward, and i was actually really enjoying it. Here is where i also had a turn of heart towards the show as a whole, and came to terms with what it meant for the DreamWorks: Dragons franchise moving forward. I understood what it was, and i accepted it. For better or for worse, i had to accept this as cannon. I also now personally believed that they were deserving of the Dragons' banner they claimed to fly and felt they had earned the How to Train Your Dragon name. I'm not sure how they did it, but somehow the writers at DreamWorks managed to breathe new life into a world with three feature length films, six specials, and well over a hundred episodes.
This franchise hadn't just ended either, but had finished completely, with no loose ends to tie up, and nowhere left to go. As far as i was concerned, this franchise was born to a community that loved it, lived a long and prosperous life, and was peacefully and gracefully laid to rest after ten years of telling its story. DreamWorks however pulled off a miracle and managed to thread the eye of a needle that many of us, me included, didn't ever think existed, and somehow opened a new door into this world full of dragons without unraveling any of its past.
It looked like Dragons, felt like Dragons, and at this point, i believed it was Dragons.
There's not much that can be said about the final episode of this season that can be said without massive spoilers, so i won't write much on it (go watch it if you haven't already), but needless to say, this one was big. This episode was the equivalent of Hiccup's fall into the fire at the end of the first movie, and the one that cements this season as a part of the dragons world. It took six episodes to build to this point, but the wait was worth it. The restraint that was shown is incredible, and the care that was put in is jaw dropping. The end of this season leaves you dreaming of the future of Dragons, wanting more. It also contains one of the best moments, not just of the new show, DreamWorks Dragons: The Nine Realms, but of all the Dragons TV episodes to date. It's exciting, and wonderful, thrilling, and care free. I was astonished at how this season came together. By the end of the second episode, i was scared for the future of the show, but now i cant wait for the next season to be released. It was quite the emotional rollercoaster to get to this point, but it was a ride i am glad i took, and one i have done over again a few times now.
The world of Dragons' biggest strength was that it grew up with a generation. When the first movie came out in March of 2010, its target audience was around the age of 14 to 15 as was Hiccup the main character, then over ten years they grew up. Both the characters, and the audience. The third movie was not made for children, but those now young adults who saw the first movie as a child all those years ago. I believe that DreamWorks wants to do this again, but with the children of that first generation. To create a new show with new characters and introduce this next generation to the world of dragons they created. As much as we all hated on Rescue Riders, that was as much our fault as it was theirs. By the time the third movie came out, that first generation had grown up. They were getting married and having children of their own. Rescue Riders was for this new generation to plant the seeds of familiarity in the minds of the children as something that could be built off of later. It wasn't meant for us, the first generation, and DreamWorks knew this. It was a calculated risk, and one they were obviously concerned about.
The hostile reaction from the first generation had been predicted by the writers and as such Dean DeBlois himself publicly stated well before it was released, or even announced, that it would be neither cannon, nor would it carry the Dragon's name. This new series of Dragons on the other hand, is the beginning of the story for the next generation, but with one critical difference. This was aimed at the children of the first generation, but it was not for the children of the first generation. This first season was for the parents, the first generation itself. They knew that it would be an uphill battle if the parents were not on board, and they saw the chaos that ensued when Disney brought back Star Wars without the full support of its fans.
This season contained only six episodes, shorter than any other season across any of DreamWorks' properties, and in that time, the characters achieved almost nothing, but that wasn't the goal. Above, i gave each episode a sub title. This was for a reason, and it wasn't just an arbitrary feeling for each one, but rather a build up to this; together, these six episodes complete a grief cycle.
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, and Hope.
This was a conscious decision that was made. They used this first season to break us, the first generation, into the idea. They knew this would be painful for their fans to go through, and they knew it would be hard for them to accept it. This short season was no accident but rather a strategic position of strength. The length of the season would prevent people from dropping out after only the first or second episode, choosing instead to see it through. This whole season exists to rip the bandaid off quickly and open our eyes to the future of Dragons that they want to create for us.
I am excited to see what they bring next and although i don't know where it will go from here, i am still going to come along for the ride. It's a difficult path they have chosen to follow, and very big shoes to fill, but i can't wait to see what the future of Dragons brings. I tip my viking helmet to all those at DreamWorks who built this world that we love. They built something incredible and had the vision to recognize what they had created. They respected the love of their community, protected the history they created, and built toward a shining future. I am glad to have been a part of what they have built so far and i cant wait to see what more they can bring. It's been an exciting ride so far and one i look forward to continuing with.
To all of the writers, producers, animators, and directors at DreamWorks,
This has been one incredible adventure, one who's path looks bright, and one who's future i cant wait to see.