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The Dresden Files: Birds Of A Feather (Pilot)
Review by Drew Bittner
Sci-Fi Channel Media  ISBN/ITEM#: SFC-TDF01
Date: January 21, 2007 /

Jim Butcher's gritty but likable urban wizard, Harry Dresden, has arrived on the SciFi Channel, and we're pleased, if not enchanted, with the result. Paul Blackthorne is terrific as Harry, the Chicago PI/Wizard, but Valerie Cruz doesn't quite fill Lt. Connie Murphy's shoes, and Terrence Mann's role as spectral adviser (a paler Giles) is channeling a bit too much Tim Curry. But we've only seen the pilot, "Birds of a Feather" and there's every chance that the characters will settle into their roles after a few more shows. It's certainly good enough to give them a season to pull it together.

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series is a terrific urban fantasy/mystery adventure with a compelling lead character and an intriguing meta-plot that's been building for some time now. With that in mind, it was exciting to hear that the SciFi Channel was launching a television series based on Butcher's work.

Having seen the first episode, "Birds of a Feather", I'm wondering how much of the source material they felt like including. My early impression: not much.

The story: a boy is convinced that monsters are stalking him. He tries to hire Harry (the only wizard who advertises in Chicago's Yellow Pages) with his college fund. Harry is convinced the kid is imagining things, but events take a dark turn when a body is found devoid of skin -- one with a connection to the kid. Worse, Harry begins to believe that the ravens following the kid are harbingers of something really bad, something he might not have the power to defeat.

The news is far from all bad. Paul Blackthorne (most recently of Fox's 24) is terrific as Harry. He projects a world-weary "I know a lot more than you do and I really hate that" vibe, complete with what sounds to me (as a former Wisconsinite) like a reasonable Chicago accent. The magic is not as flashy as the spells Harry casts in the books, but... that's okay. There's room to build.

Casting Valerie Cruz as Lt. Connie (not Karrin) Murphy is puzzling. Murphy is a rather specific character in Butcher's work; she's been dealt a lousy hand by the Chicago PD higher-ups, assigned to work hopeless "weird" cases as a career dead-end... but none of that comes through. This may be more of a writing issue than an acting issue, but arbitrarily changing her ethnicity (okay, Murphy in Butcher's books is petite, blonde and cute as a button over a hard-as-nails core) seems like change for the sake of change.

Terrence Mann is his usual elegant self as Bob, the skull-bound spirit that helps Harry with research and witty repartee. I suppose they needed a foil to comment on Harry's thoughts and feelings-- but this has the ominous feel of a character who could eclipse the lead in some significant ways. Bob is a minor character in Butcher's work; here, he's on-screen a lot... and I don't know if that's a good thing. Yellow flags are being flown.

Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed often take time to find their way -- even a season or so. The down side, for fans of the source material, is that elements we hope and expect to see may not be introduced right away... or ever. Will we see Mister, Harry's pitbull of a cat? How about the Blue Beetle, his battered-but-beloved VW bug? (Okay, there may be an issue with the DC Comics character of the same name, but still...) Or even how he fries electronics and has to live a 19th century lifestyle?

It may take time, but viewers should give the show the benefit of the doubt. At the moment, Dresden Files still feels a bit generic and not particularly inspired by Jim Butcher's books; however, there's room for improvement and the team of Hans Beimler and Robert Hewitt Wolfe (both Star Trek veterans) have shown they know how to run a show. If future episodes send us more watered-down Dresden, however...

Recommended-- for now.


Our Readers Respond

From: John Corriveau
I would agree. I have recently discovered Dresden Files and the changes I have noticed are usually to make it more "visual" for the TV medium. Bob being the most prominent example; we can relate to Terrance Mann talking as opposed a whisp of smoke. Also I like the look of the Jeep over the Beetle. And they have shown him screwing up electronics. The show needs to build a background and allow writers and actors to flesh out the characters. It can't be presented all at once.

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