Netflix has unleashed the first teaser trailer for the high-profile The Witcher series at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. For many, it completely misses the mark and doesn’t bode well for the series penciled in for release at the end of the year.
On the surface, the teaser depicts another mid-budget fantasy series with the usual mix of political intrigue, magic, and a cast of broody characters. In the post-Game of Thrones landscape, this fresh take emerges as a welcome cure for those suffering from withdrawal, and there doesn’t appear to be much wrong with it.
For those acquainted with both the excellent novels written by venerated Polish fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski and The Witcher games from studio CD Projekt Red, this sneak peek raises a lot of red flags.
Although much of the source material tackles tough subjects, it does so with a well-balanced mix of dark, challenging themes interwoven with levity. The teaser, on the other hand, is whitewashed with an overbearingly severe tone, that’s almost austere at times.
Showrunner Lauren Hissrich has been clear about aiming for a ”very adult show” and tone, but it frames the moral ambiguity of the books and games as a traditional conflict between good and evil devoid of nuance and intrigue. The inclusion of non-sensical acclamations doesn’t help, notably this gem;
Chaos is the most dangerous thing in this world, but without control, chaos will kill you.
The absence of Slavic influences sticks out like a sore thumb and screams a missed opportunity. Both the novels and games dip generously into that rich heritage to great effect. Both the teaser’s setting and music detract from the Slavic roots that make the subject matter so appealing for many.
The Witcher is a world of wind-swept forests, tales inspired by Polish folklore, and finger-picked folk fiddle and hurdy gurdy leitmotifs, while Netflix’s rendition showcases more grandiose and over-played high fantasy tropes accompanied by the inevitable orchestral crescendos.
There’s a sense the showrunners are trying to tap into what made Game of Thrones a worldwide hit and the similarities are all too apparent.
An enterprising fan took it upon themselves to rejig the teaser with a classic Slavic-inspired soundtrack, and it’s astounding just how much more palatable it becomes.
Then there’s the issue of the lead actor. Setting aside the fact that Henry Cavill will eternally be associated with his Superman role, there’s something amiss about his portrayal of Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher.
The oddly placed wig doesn’t help, but it’s his all too emotional take on a character defined by his lack of emotion that stands out the most. Geralt’s a gruff monster hunter who’s nonchalance is peppered by quick, deadpan wit and cutting quips, none of which appear in the teaser.
Additionally, Cavill’s overly muscular physique is at odds with Geralt’s representation in both the books and the games. He’s athletic, yes, but of the lean, agile, and sinewy variety suited to the demands of lithe, acrobatic combat fighting off folkloric aberrations.
Judging the finished product as this point would be hasty. After all, we are only previewing a highly edited and stylized two minutes from a series that will span eight episodes.
Our first insight into Netflix’s The Witcher does confer some hope. Small pockets of potential exist when it comes to the stories the series appears to tackle.
The last scene depicting Geralt in a toxic state after imbibing a concoction heightening his skills to battle an arachnid is particularly promising, as are allusions to Yennifer’s journey from a hunchbacked trainee sorceress to the lands most powerful magic-wielder.
As it stands though, it would be wise to adopt a measured degree of skepticism as we wait for The Witcher to hit out screens. Should the series fail to stir viewers, it will do little to help the company’s plummeting subscriber base.