Last night on Sci Fi was episode eight from season one of The Dresden Files, the long-awaited adaptation of the first novel, Storm Front. This was supposed to be the pilot episode of the series but the Sci-Fi Channel execs decided to change the order that the episodes would be shown in, and instead opened the season with Birds of a Feather some weeks ago.
Beyond this link lie spoilers.... Hasufin and I had a discussion about this last night, and we agree that the network execs made the right choice showing Storm Front when they did. They've built up background on Harry, on the High Council, on what the world of The Dresden Files is like and how it works, what police officers Murphy and Kirmani are like, and the sorts of things that happen. We've been introduced to some secondary characters like Morgan and Ancient Mai, too, and we know what they think of Harry... not much, in other words.
This episode was originally filmed to fill a two hour time slot, so a lot's been cut out of it to bring it down to episode length. The organised crime subplot, for example, has largely been dropped and Tommy Tom makes a brief yet painful appearance - painful for him, that is. The subplot about the magical drug Third Eye was hinted at in an earlier episode but is not present in last night's. On the whole, I thought that was a positive change, because it's a storyline best suited for having its own episode entirely. We also finally get to see the ire of the High Council toward Harry due to his past, something that I can definitely empathise with for other reasons.
I found the 'crystal turns black == black magic' bit at the beginning a little cliche' - why not break out the PKE meter from Ghostbusters as an encore? If something's already been spoken, we don't need to be bonked over the head with it.
The toad demon was changed into a guy built like Tanner from Home On the Strange, which I felt was altogether more menacing. Movies today have done many variants of "big, bad, supernatural, and ugly", so it was a well-done change of pace. While I'm on the topic of special effects or lack therof, this version of the story in Storm Front is packed full of vulgar magic that would make a Mage player cheer. It's obvious that this episode was originally supposed to be the "everything and the kitchen sink pilot episode" because Harry slings more mojo in this episode than he has in the rest of the series to date combined. I was especially impressed by the brief images of symbols that appeared when he use the shield bracelet - kudos to whomever dug up some of the sigils used, they were a nice touch. It's been established to the audience, I think, that Harry can throw down when he has to, which should calm a little of the nerd rage.
It is also obvious that this was supposed to be a pilot episode because Harry's office/apartment is very different from the one we've been seeing. Not only is it a two floor walkup kind of place, but the magical workshop beneath the trapdoor is there, and we even get to see Susan (whom I doubt will be in any other episodes this season). It is not uncommon for television shows to have one 'home base' set in the first episode or two, and another one entirely for the rest of the season.
We even see Bianca again - what is it with vampires owning nightclubs, anyway? Her role in the story is changed somewhat in that the three dead women and Tommy Tom all frequented her club, and discovered their vices du mort within its walls. The scene where Harry puts the lean on Bianca is largely unchanged, and we actually get to see the amulet in action for the first time. The visual FX on Bianca were also nicely done, and it sets up another encounter later in the series, possibly next season.
The Third Eye drug kingpin plotline was changed to a bereaved father whose daughter was killed with black magic, after discovering that his own daughter was hip-deep in bad mojo, herself. Again, a nice variation on a theme. The ending was very different but well done, and it establishes another major tenant of the Never-Never, which we hadn't yet heard of: Its denizens have long, long memories, and are willing to wait as long as necessary to get revenge. After all, they have nothing but time on their hands.
This episode was shot with the original conception of Bob as a fire spirit residing in the fireplace in Harry's flat. An early version of this episode was shown at a couple of sci-fi conventions around the country last year, and because the fans didn't like it they decided to go with a humanoid depiction of Bob, vis a vis Terrence Mann. Rather than re-shoot everything, I think, they just dropped Bob from the episode entirely (though other parts, I've heard, were re-shot).
We also briefly get to see Mister the cat, who has been turned into a large-ish orange tabby cat. The cat they cast in the series wasn't very well trained, and in fact was said to be something of a pain in the ass to work with, so he's largely missing from the show this season.
Robert Wolfe on the Jim Butcher forums says that the full 90 minute version of Storm Front will be shown at some point, either as a special movie or possibly in the DVD release.
Word will come down in May of 2007 whether or not the series has been renewed for another season.
All in all, I give this episode five blasting rods out of five - I can't wait to see the full version if and when they show it.