It all started as an internet show. Amanda Tapping was fresh from her stints as Samantha Carter in the Stargate franchise, and the SyFy Channel saw some worth in keeping her around for something else. The show was unique in more ways than just its origins. There are few sets on the series. Most of the show is shot in huge green screen rooms where even ordinary environments are computer generated. It’s an evolution of the film Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow. I guess it was my complete disenchantment with that film and a shrinking regard for the more recent projects at SyFy that led me to pass on this show when it made the jump from web series to full television show. This was my first exposure to the world of Sanctuary and I was, at least somewhat impressed with what I saw.
Dr. Helen Magnus (Tapping) has been around for a little over 150 years now. She was part of a group of five Oxford students who conducted experiments with vampire blood among other things. It was somewhat of a wild group that included Jack The Ripper (Heyerdahl), Nikola Tesla (Young) and Nigel Griffin (Gale), also known as The Invisible Man. A sixth man Adam Worth (Tracey) wanted in and was the inspiration for Stevenson’s Jekyll & Hyde. Now Dr. Magnus heads a place where “abnormal” creatures can be protected. The place is called Sanctuary, and it’s part of a global network begun by her father.
Today her team includes Bigfoot (Heyredahl) who does most of the housecleaning in the large mansion. Her second in command is Dr. Will Zimmerman (Dunne) who studied behavior science with the FBI. There’s Henry (Robbins) who is a werewolf and Kate (Darshi) who is a former thief turned to the cause.
The season carries with it several important story arcs. Dr. Magnus is sent a holographic map of a strange city. It turns out the city is an ancient civilization that lies hidden in “Hollow Earth”. Her father had taken refuge there, and its a place where both humans and abnormals live. It’s based on the Roman model. The search for clues in the holographic city dominates many an episode. Adam Worth has been there and he wants to utilize the city’s power for a time travel experiment to right an event in his own past. Someone is building an army of abnormals, and it’s up to the team to discover what is really going on.
One of the better episodes is a flashback to just before D-Day. It turns out that the five were very much involved in setting the stage for a successful invasion and defeat of Hitler’s forces. Henry finds an institution where a clan of werewolves are kept. They stay here attempting to control their demon.
I’m not a huge fan of the show’s style and f/x. Too often the computer-generated images are quite obvious, and there are some that are almost comical. The werewolf creature is almost a joke. But there are moments where the f/x give us some grand visual experiences. The holographic city is quite amazing. It’s not only the city’s look but how well the cast can interact with the graphics. But this isn’t a show you can enjoy simply for the computer wizardry.
What finally drew me in was the complicated relationships and some clever storytelling. Don’t get me wrong here. There are times the stories are just too cute or silly. When that happens the magic dissipates quickly, and we’re left staring at the little man behind the curtain. But when these writers are on their game you get compelling characters doing very interesting things. I came in this thing from the middle, so I don’t miss the departed characters, and I do get a bit intimidated by the show’s overwhelming mythology at times. And did I mention Amanda Tapping’s really bad accent?
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. In high definition the images show their secrets. That means the bad stuff looks really bad, but the good stuff looks really good. There’s no question the production values are high, and this is a very sharp image. It does lack any kind of strong texture. One of the drawbacks to all of the computer stuff is that you don’t have as real a sense of these places and things. We can be tricked into buying them for the sake of the story, but there is no tactile reality to speak of.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is pretty solid. You get good dialog, and there are some creepy and immersive surrounds that help you buy into the image a little more.
Amanda Tapping – Directing One Night: (13:47) Cast and crew do a lot of bragging about Amanda’s directing effort. Strictly a love-fest.
Visual Effects: (13:08) A peak behind the green curtain.
Hollow Earth: (8:32) A feature on the underground city from a story perspective.
Damian Kindler – In The Director’s Chair: (19:21) The co-creator gets his very first directing gig.
The Music On Sanctuary: (16:10) The show changed composers to Andrew Lockington. Cast and crew talk about the effect his music has had on the series.
Behind The Scenes – Normandy: (18:41) A look at one of the better episodes of the set.
Character Profile – Jonathan Young/Nikola Tesla: (21:08)
Blooper Reel: (6:34)
The big problem for me is that it took a while to figure the world out here. I suggest you do not follow my example and attempt to start with the beginning if you decide to enter the universe of Sanctuary. There’s a ton of Stargate folks here in addition to Amanda. Many of the crew, including Martin Wood, are involved in the show. It does take some getting used to, but it’s certainly worth a look, to be sure. “Welcome to my world.“