Review: ‘Encantadia’ returns

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The new "Sang'gres" of GMA 7's "Encantadia" requel (from left): Glaiza de Castro as Pirena, Gabbi Garcia as Alena, Sanya Smith as Danaya, and Kylie Padilla as Amihan. Photo from GMAENCANTADIA/INSTAGRAM

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Less than an hour before the “Encantadia” reboot/sequel — its creators call it a “requel” —made its debut, there was a news bit about how the head of the newly formed Department of Information and Communications Technology plans to make our internet services a lot faster. During Sec. Rodolfo Salalima’s first press conference, he ordered an inventory of assigned frequencies to private companies. If frequencies are not being used, licenses will be revoked. Salalima also noted how the people tend to clog the internet pathways when shows like “Games of Thrones” are being downloaded.

“Game of Thrones,” HBO’s last bastion of hope against the tidal wave of Peak TV, is a worldwide phenomenon. It is also the world’s most pirated show, with the Philippines having the fifth highest number of torrent downloads for the series’ latest season premiere. The popularity of a show like “Game of Thrones” and the drought of fantaseryes that once reigned supreme on primetime blocks in the 2000s may have opened up a delicious opportunity for GMA to bring “Encantadia” back. But is this what the audience wants when about 40 percent of them are watching “Ang Probinsyano” five days a week?

Pitting a fantastical world audiences have missed as an alternative against a show about cops and villains with bad mustaches does sound like a good idea. Every day, I wake up to news about people getting killed by the police or unnamed assailants. I see reports of it on “TV Patrol,” and then I watch a fictionalized version of it with the sound of Coco Martin’s beautiful lisp. “Ang Probinsyano” now faces tough competition from the onslaught of pretty gowns, sparkling fairies, and Dingdong Dantes’s biceps.

Last night’s pilot episode of “Encantadia” lived up to its long-gestating hype. While the first “Encantadia” opened in the real world and was told through the perspective of a young Amihan, the “requel” dives deeper, shifting the narration from one of the Sang’gres — the four lead diwatas meant to represent the elements of fire, air, water, and earth — to Imaw, the Yoda-like master of Adamya, one of the four kingdoms of “Encantadia.” The soothing narration from Noel Urbano, who voices the latter, is already a step up from the mechanical reading of a child in the first series. Imaw has also received a nice upgrade — from looking like a wrinkled turd with eyes, his skin is a lot smoother now and he can now blink and he now has moveable tiny fairy wings on top of his head. Yes, you really can make a turd look better.

Marian Rivera as Ynang Reyna Minea and Dingdong Dantes as Prinsipe Raquim in GMA 7's new "Encantadia." Photo from ENCANTADIA/FACEBOOK

The first series expounded the lore of the land through Raquim (then played by Richard Gomez, now by Dingdong Dantes), who told his daughter about it while showing her the map of Encantadia. Today, the map itself is the main feature of the opening credits because that’s so “Game of Thrones.” The new iteration not only looks better than the original, it also paces itself well in terms of narrative. The original’s heavy exposition, told in mere minutes, is expanded further. The original pilot is equivalent to maybe about a week’s worth of episodes in the new series.

The “Encantadia” of 2016 starts off with Amihan (Max Collins) battling the brand new baddie Adhara (Sunshine Dizon, who had been one of the original four Sang’gres as Pirena) on the island ruled by Cassiopea (Solenn Heusaff). Amihan ends up captured and used by Adhara to pressure the former’s sister, Reyna Minea (Marian Rivera), into giving the latter what she wants: the brillantes, all-powerful jewels that keep the land together, now in CG form as opposed to actual gems used in the first one. But Minea is a badass — her fancy gown transforms into her battle gear, which makes her look like a cross between Sailor Moon and Wonder Woman. She ends up defeating Adhara, only to find that it’s actually Amihan she has wounded. The real Adhara appears to revel in her success — until she is obliterated by Minea (because reveling in your own success is always a great idea). After this seemingly irrelevant addition to the narrative, the separation of the Ynang Brillante into four smaller gems and its subsequent distribution to the ruling lands of Encantadia is revealed: Adamya gets the Brillante ng Tubig, Sapiro receives the Brillante ng Lupa, for Lireo it’s the Brillante ng Hangin, and Hathor receives the Brillante ng Apoy.

Solenn Heusaff as Cassiopea in GMA 7's "Encantadia." Photo from ENCANTADIA/FACEBOOK

The fights are a lot more impressive in the new series, with wide shots giving the impression that things are being done on a grander scale. Compared to the boxy 4:3 aspect ratio of the original, the 16:9 look of the new series requires better handling of the cinematography, something that the new team delivers. Scenes have depth and CG backgrounds are rendered beautifully. If the first series had CG visuals that looked like cut scenes from PlayStation One games, the new one looks a lot slicker and a whole lot darker, looking like something from the PC version of Skyrim. That’s a huge improvement after over a decade.

Reboots are tricky. We’ve witnessed serious misfires like the ill-advised “Pangako Sa’yo” remake, or GMA’s “Marimar” remake with Megan Young, which came only seven short years after its first “Marimar” remake with Marian Rivera left the air. Hollywood is already feeling the pain from relying too much on existing intellectual property. “Ghostbusters,” one of the most anticipated and heavily reviled films of late didn’t do too well in the box office, opening on the number two slot after failing to make more money than yet another animated film about talking animals. Sony Pictures spent about $250 million making and marketing “Ghostbusters” alone, and the $46 million opening does not sound impressive especially to Hollywood execs. The cost that it takes to produce the new iteration of “Encantadia” is equivalent to about five GMA shows. So yes, this is big.

Based on the pilot alone, it seems like “Encantadia” is trying to tell the same story but with a shiny new coat of paint — largely devoid of the original’s bad special effects and retaso-chic costumes. It’s too early to tell how the new show will deviate from the original or how it will be improved. All we know is that it looks a tad bit better but it still pretty much feels the same.