The Witcher – 2019 Netflix – Review

geralt-the-witcher-netflix-ds1-1340x1340-1Rating up front just to get it out of the way: I’m gonna take a crack at the books, because this show is a semi-interesting mess.

[Update on 1.5 3 of the books: I don’t think I’ve got the fortitude to finish the rest of the series. It’s gonna be rough.]

Pros: So, back to the show, it’s mostly pretty (except why does everything have to be brown?), there is one very nicely choreographed sword fight in the first episode; the cast is attractive and fairly good at their roles, from Tough Martial Queen to Random Destiny-Touched Peasant Guy. And….uh…I guess the effects are good?

Cons: the script is terrible. The dialogue is god-awful. But that’s par for the course. I couldn’t actually name you one modern-era film production that had dialogue I could comfortably listen to. This one’s just wince-worthy. And the anachronisms are occasionally funny: outlaw mages living “off the grid” (no, really, that’s an actual line), or Geralt’s confused growl of “the f*ck?” when he first encounters Yennefer. It’s also confusing because it’s not at first appearent that large chunks of the narrative are actually flashbacks; the story only catches up to itself in the next to last episode. That’s just poor scripting, not to mention poor directing. Well, it ain’t easy being a hack. (Also, way, way, wayyy too much time was devoted to Yennefer. Less is more; her situation is one in which brief flashbacks would have worked far better.)

[Update after reading: why, why, always, does Hollywood and their hangers-on have to make every character smaller? Every character, on adaptation, is less noble, less likeable, less thoughtful, less intelligent. Every situation is dumber, meaner, more vulgar, less meaningful, less enjoyable. Why? Take the King from episode whichever-it-was with the striga. In the short story, he is a shrewd, conflicted ruler who commissions a professional monster killer to save the man-eating monster that is his daughter, with the full understanding that she may die–because he knows it is necessary–and because he knows his child is suffering. That’s a man; that’s a hard choice; and that’s a touching motivation. In the show? He’s an obstructive blunderer who tries to stop Geralt and whatsherface, and who only steps aside at the last minute because Geralt is going to go through him anyway if he doesn’t.
Why? I’m genuinely at a loss. Why choose to be stupid when you don’t have t–well, okay, let me not discriminate against the phrenologically-challenged. Perhaps they can’t help it. OK then.
One other thing: Geralt has a fairly distinct personality, which Cavill is pretty good at portraying. The only thing is he’s about 20-40% more broody in the show than the books, and the annoying bard (GET THAT SONG OUT OF MY HEAD DRAT IT) is about 80% less annoying in the books. Actually their relationship reminds me strongly of Bahzell/Brandark from David Weber’s War Gods sequence. This is more or less a good thing. Moving on.]

My last complaint is: there is one really nicely choreographed sword duel in the first episode and then no more of them. One-on-one sword fights are cool. There should be more of them. Multi-enemy mook mowdowns don’t count, the hero never is in any danger in those. (Update on rewatch: there is in fact another one-on-one duel in the final episode. But my point remains).

So, anyhow, what’s it actually about? Hell if I know. It’s about a sorceress who gave up her uterus to be beautiful and as time goes on, begins to really regret it; a princess of a fallen kingdom on the run, being chased by a guy we know is evil because he wears black armor (that isn’t stylish like Geralt’s) and has a fancy feathered helmet (but I am rather interested in him anyway because he’s kinda good looking and also badass) and then finally we have the adventures of the title character, Geralt of Rivia; his storyline slowly begins to interacts with the other two. Geralt is a taciturn loner with a heart of severely-beaten gold, which, like gold, is somehow able to recrystalize at room temperature, or, at least, remain sympathetic even under body blows of a script with room-temperature IQ . (The script is genuine trash.) Still, Henry Cavill does an excellent job despite the fact that, heh, he’s required to talk like Batman. The fact that apparently the costume designers had trouble fitting Cavill’s muscles into his clothes doesn’t hurt. Sidenote: this show contains upper-body nudity only. Mostly female, but there are indeed a number of Henry Cavill shirtless scenes. On closer inspection, we’re not at all surprised the costumers had trouble.

Uh, where was I?

Things I enjoyed? Cool stuff–Geralt’s duel with Renfri….uh….I’m casting about. Really the only things that stick in mind are aspects of Cavill’s performance and also the warrior queen lady. She gives a swaggery performance in a more or less thankless role. Oh, also her husband with the unspellable name; he’s got a good (if vanishingly small) role, which he performs with charm. I also did like the evil helmet guy, whatever his name is: the one scene he gets hints that he could be fleshed out into an interesting villain. Quoths his sorceress ally, regarding the inside of a slaughtered tavern (he was looking for a shapeshifter): “A simple test of silver would have sufficed.” “I had steel at the ready,” he snaps back. Steel-souled villains are far more interesting than empty ones. Also after reading: Ciri doesn’t fare particularly well in this at all–she’s a generic princess instead of, well, Ciri. (In the books: Ciri is much younger–ten to twelve instead of eighteen–somewhat bratty but very feisty, while also being sweet and enthusiastic). This one is just passive and somewhat insipid.

(There’s one moment where Ciri’s companion has a knife to an enemy’s throat. This enemy has just tried to kill them both and was definitely leading them into a trap. They have fought him to a standstill and, as stated, have a knife at his throat. Ciri, as befits the Lion Cub of Cintra, orders, “Kill him.” When he hesitates, she then takes the knife to do it herself. It’s a very good character moment and a good scene….until the legs get cut out from under it and Ciri and her friend get pummeled, tied up, and the plot chugs drearily on. Because Melitele forbid that your heroine deal with a direct threat, show any sort of leadership, or just actually take an active role in her own storyline.)

Yeah, so, anyhow: if you’re going to check it out, try the books first or at least don’t pay money for it.