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'The Wheel of Time' review:  Faithful, intelligent adaptation, but overstuffed

Pictured (L-R): Zoë Robins (Nynaeve al'Meara), Barney

 Pictured (L-R): Zoë Robins (Nynaeve al'Meara), Barney Harris (Mat Cauthon), Daniel Henney (Lan Mondragoran), Rosamund Pike (Moiraine Damodred), Madeleine Madden (Egwene al'Vere), Marcus Rutherford (Perrin Aybara), Josha Stradowski (Rand al'Thor) in "The Wheel of Time."  Credit: Amazon Studios/Jan Thijs

SERIES "The Wheel of Time"

WHERE Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

WHAT IT'S ABOUT An army of evil Trollocs has descended on the peaceful hamlet of Two Rivers in search of the Dragon — a person who has been reincarnated from the distant past, and has come again to save the world. As servants of Shai'tan — aka the Dark One — they are here to stop him or her before he (or she) does. But Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) and her faithful bodyguard, Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney), have arrived here first. They too want to get to the Dragon, who could be one of five innocent villagers (who have no idea which of them is the Dragon either): Nynaeve al'Meara (Zoë Robins), Egwene Al'Vere (Madeleine Madden), Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford), Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris), and Rand al'Thor (Josha Stradowski.) They all set off on an epic journey to the White Tower, headquarters of the Aes Sedai, the powerful matriarchy that rules the world, or at least for now.

This 8-part Amazon Prime series — filmed in the Czech Republic — is based on Robert Jordan's epic fantasy novel series.

MY SAY Other than a keen devotion to "The Lord of the Rings," Jordan's "Wheel of Time '' did bring one big, exciting idea to the epic fantasy party. It's that business about the "wheel." His intricate world goes 'round and 'round, with each spoke of the wheel both past and future. All those heroic battles, and human dragons, all those Trollocs and sisters of the Aes Sedai? They will come again and again. Light follows darkness. Darkness follows light. Good triumphs over evil, but evil gets an upper hand again too. The more things change, the more they stay the same, unless that Dragon changes them for the better (or worse).

While Jordan (who died in 2007) told this story over 14 substantial volumes, the TV adaptation needs to get this down over the first six hours (those offered for review) and does. Full of intricate world-building details of its own, this "Wheel" spins stories, launches characters (lots of them) and explores canon (lots of that) in every scene. The trees crowd the screen so much that soon the forest fades from view. The non-initiate must — but won't — resist the urge to go to "Wheel's'" Wiki page every now and then to find out what a "Myrddraal" is, or why Queen Siuan Sanche (Sophie Okonedo) is so cranky. Forget the forest: This can be like hacking your way through a swamp.

But get past the busyness of "Wheel," and at least one uncluttered thought should eventually come into focus — this can't even begin to escape the gravitational pull of those other epic fantasies, "LOTR" and "Game of Thrones," and doesn't seem to want to either. It's a minor planet circling those much larger ones, a reflection of them, fated to fall in their shadows.

That could be the general idea, too. Amazon's "LOTR" spinoff arrives in 2022, so "Wheel" could be the sideshow to what will certainly be the main event. This series in fact embraces the many stylistic flourishes of Peter Jackson's great trilogy — its mountains and rivers of Middle Earth, the Orcs, magic rings, towers and swords along with a "Palantír'' that sees into the heart of evil. Think of the wise and powerful Moiraine Damodred as Gandalf, or the kind and gentle Rand al'Thor as Frodo. You're supposed to anyway.

Homage, or the more obvious conclusion that Jackson's "LOTR" was simply too good not to steal from? Either way, you are still left with the uneasy, then sinking, feeling that "Wheel" — as sumptuous a production as this is — has been done before and better. A couple of times, at least.

BOTTOM LINE Faithful, intelligent adaptation, and an overstuffed one too.

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