SciFi's The Dresden Files [Sundays, 9/8C] spotlights the adventures of Harry Dresden, the only wizard listed in the Chicago Yellow Pages. If the first two episodes are any indication, the series captures the spirit of the original series of novel but many of the changes required for TV may alienate readers of the books – even though the series does capture the feel of the books…CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!
As a fan of the novels, I was eager to see how the The Dresden Files series translated to television. The good news is that Paul Blackthorne [a wizardly name if ever there was one] does a remarkable job of portraying the world-weary wizard. He perfectly captures Harry's attitudes and dedication.
In the series premiere, Birds of a Feather, a young boy named Scott comes to Harry claiming that monsters are after him – shortly after Harry has a series of dreams about his youth, and monsters. Harry is skeptical, but after his "associate" Bob [Terrence Mann] chides him about ignoring the boy, Harry decides to just check things out. Then the boy is kidnapped – and something nasty wants to know where Harry hid him! Somehow, this ties into a gruesome murder that's being investigated by Lt. Connie Murphy [Valerie Cruz].
Episode two, The Boone Identity, revolves around a shattered Egyptian tablet called The Lock of Anubis. When Harry is called in to learn whether a grieving father's daughter, Lisa, is haunting him, the girl's ghost makes herself most emphatically known. She was killed during the theft of the tablet, and her killer was apparently killed in a failed carjacking in his attempt to escape.
Somehow, Harry figures out what ties the murder, the theft, a jailed expert in things Egyptian and a man with a large collection of Egyptian artifacts together. Along the way, he angers Lt. Murphy. In this instance, his questioning of the collector results in complaints to City Hall, further clouding Harry's investigation.
Like the books, the TV series seems more to be about the characters than the magic – though the magic is far lesser supply than in the books – and here is where followers of Jim Butcher's books may be more than a little disconcerted.
To begin with, the short, cute, tough as nails Irish blonde Karrin Murphy of the books has been replaced with a tall, exotically beautiful, tough as nails Hispanic woman. Next, Bob is no longer a skull, but rather, a ghost [which can be explained by budgetary considerations]. Also, Dresden's basement – with its sub-basement lab – has been replaced by a main floor storefront, and technology hasn't yet gone on the fritz around him. Even the wizard's faithful Blue Beetle [a battered, once-blue 60s vintage Volkswagen] has been replaced by a Jeep, and the enchanted duster is replaced by a standard leather jacket [however battered]. Finally, possibly most egregiously, Dresden's behemoth of a cat, Mister, is nowhere to be found [Mister is pivotal to the plotlines of several of the novels, as he becomes a means for Bob to leave the lab and dig up information for Harry].
Although the first two episodes of The Dresden Files capture the spirit of the books, the idea of standalone episodes with background arcs doesn't really suit the character. Both Birds of a Feather and The Boone Identity feel like they've been shoehorned into the format. And then there's the lack of magic – while the series budget may not allow for a lot of FX, there are very few instances in the program's first two eps that really show Harry to be a wizard. Instead, he comes across as a private eye with a few unorthodox tricks – and that's not quite right.
The production values are hard to judge from the advance screener that SciFi sent out, because some of the FX are unfinished, so maybe things will be more magical in the final cuts of the two eps. Still, if you're doing a series about a wizard, he should do something worthy of the title at least once per episode [we'll accept his contact with Lisa in The Boone Identity – even though it's Lisa who does the contacting, simply because it's the most overt of the two magic set pieces in the first two eps – the second involves a magically enhanced object that we never see being enhanced…].
Overall, the cast performs well and the episodes move at an appropriate pace. The basic story ideas are pretty cool, and the mood is very Harry – but the real test of the show's potential for success will come when they adapt stories from the books [coming soon, according to the press kit] – and we get to meet the Council's enforcer, Morgan [Conrad Coats]. For now, though, I'll have to consider The Dresden Files as promising. It is fun, and it is entertaining, but it's not quite there yet.