Sanctuary Season 1 DVD

Friday, 23 October 2009 01:00

Out now is the first ground-breaking season of Sanctuary, released on DVD from Contender Home Entertainment, and you could have been the lucky winner of our competition to win a copy of the box set!

Sanctuary was one of those projects that had been in gestation quite a while before it finally came to fruition. Dreamed up in 2001 by Damian Kindler (Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis), the show first saw the light of day as eight Internet “webisodes” in 2007. On the back of their popularity and brave creative vision, a fully-fledged TV show was born in 2008 and at the time of writing, Sanctuary is already into its second season in the USA.

Sanctuary Season 1 DVD

The series centres on Dr Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping – Stargate SG-1), a 157-year-old benign hunter of “abnormals” – mythical species and beings with unworldly genetic mutations. From the outset Magnus is the head of a team that also comprises her feisty, gun-toting daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup – “jPod”), techie Henry (Ryan Robbins – Battlestar Galactica) and Bigfoot (Christopher Heyerdahl – Stargate Atlantis, Supernatural) – a genuine bigfoot who acts as a butler and security guard.

In the opening two-parter “Sanctuary For All”, Magnus seeks to recruit another team member. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne – Dead Like Me, Dawson’s Creek) is a sceptical forensic psychiatrist who has always suspected that strange beings lurk in the shadows, and been professionally ridiculed for his theories. Last, but by no means last, the darkly enigmatic character of John Druitt (also played by Christopher Heyerdahl) keeps popping up (teleportation is very handy!); we soon learn that long ago, he and Helen used to be passionate lovers, but subsequently something terrible happened to make them bitter enemies.

The team are based in the eponymous Sanctuary, a huge abbey-like gothic complex which harbours all of the creatures they capture or rescue. In some senses it is a zoo, in others a hostel, alternately caging species that present a danger to the outside world, and also giving benign or misunderstood inhabitants somewhere safe to reside. Each week, the team have to track down, study and deal with a different type of creature, and - as in similar shows and films like The X-Files, “Men in Black” and Torchwood – they and the audience have a fun time trying to work out if the species is going to be malignant or benign, where it came from and what its motivation is.

A lot of the time, the initial impression one forms is totally at odds with the reality of the situation, and therein lies one of the series’ central tenets – never judge a book by its cover. Proper understanding often negates unnecessary fear and leads to acceptance. Kindler loves to wrong-foot his audience!

This first season has thirteen episodes, and they are extremely varied in their tone and storylines. Some tales are horrific and suspenseful, such as the claustrophobic “Kush” where some of the team are trapped in a plane downed in the Himalayas along with a hidden killer, and in “Instinct”, which is shot like “Cloverfield” from the perspective of a cameraman, following the crew’s hunt for a deadly giant insect. Some episodes concentrate more on the scientific or criminal investigation, which is where Will’s brilliant detective and psychoanalytic skills shine most. “Nubbins” is hugely reminiscent of Star Trek – The Original Series’ “The Trouble With Tribbles”, featuring a seemingly cute and cuddly species that actually represents a significant threat if left unchecked; “Edward” centres on an idiot savant capable of speed-drawing photo-realistic images from his memory, and the bloody murder of his oppressive father.

Finally, there are a number of central arc episodes that concentrate on Helen’s incredible past and the shady “Cabal”, a Fringe-like mega-corporation with its own private army of mercenaries who are seeking to abuse the abnormals’ powers and genetics for their own benefit. Most of the episodes feature an keen sense of adventure, and take place in a varied array of locations including the fascinating Sanctuary itself, the city’s shadowy underbelly, snowy mountains, the sea’s depths and in “Indiana Jones”-style ancient (and very deadly) temples. Thanks to a fair number of flashbacks, the show’s ambiance regularly shifts between the modern and the Victorian.

Taken as a whole, the quality of the episodes is impressively high, though there are a couple of fillers which stretch their slender plots a little too far (and feel like the producers were saving money for the next big instalment), and thus lose momentum. Most of the stories are scary, funny, thrilling and present enough of an innovative twist on what has come before to make the series well worth seeking out. It is the arc-based episodes that really show what “Sanctuary” is capable of, though, with every aspect of the show seemingly stepping up a couple gears. The marvellous characters from Helen’s past and their bearing on her present make for highly addictive and enthralling viewing, though I cannot say any more for fear of giving something away.

The plots are not the series’ only strength, though. The principal characters and the actors playing them embrace the whole enterprise enthusiastically. Tapping is excellent as the strong but caring female lead, and her English accent is flawless, never faltering despite some emotionally-charged and action-packed scenes. Heyerdahl is fantastic as both Bigfoot and Druitt; the former is a being of few words and is a relatively small role but he imbues it with some delightful character tics – grunts, shrugs and comical glances of despair. In Druitt, he sheds the bulky and hairy prosthetic makeup and becomes a towering, hauntingly gaunt figure, sometimes menacing, sometimes compassionate, always gripping.

Dunne as Will starts out as a blatant copy of Daniel Jackson from Stargate SG-1, but soon transcends the bespectacled geek stereotype to become a much more rounded, likeable person – the character the viewers can identify with amongst all the abnormals. Ullerup’s Ashley is bubbly, sexy and deadly, equally confident in a gun or fist fight, but underneath has a layer of vulnerability that stops her becoming too cocky. Lastly, Robbins probably has the least fleshed-out character early on, but towards the end of the series Henry goes on a personal journey that broadens him out from the initial wise-cracking IT nerd. All of the characters – good and evil – are likeable in one way or another, and it really pays dividends.

It is a credit to the series that it has taken me this long to get around to the effects and production values, even though Sanctuary received a prestigious Emmy nomination for ‘Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series’. It is trailblazing in its heavy use of green-screen filming techniques and the ultra-high definition “RED” video-camera. Most of the sets are virtual and computer-generated, with perhaps the odd real table or set of steps for the actors to interact with. The rest are added in post-production. It is a credit to the actors that they “sell” their environment so convincingly, as it cannot be easy to film most of your scenes in a bright-green room! The CGI crew have worked wonders, and clever use of depth of field and excellent lighting on the actors ensures that most of the time the viewer is unaware of the make-believe nature of the sets.

Occasionally the backgrounds do stand out or look a little flat, but not very often. The creature effects are generally pretty good, though sometimes their movement is a bit stiff and fake. In these instances it is down to the actors to win us over, and they do it with aplomb.

Sanctuary Season 1 is out now on DVD (cerificate '15'), priced £39.99. The four-disc set includes a few special features, including a three-part “making of” (totalling 15 minutes), a charming blooper reel, all eight original “webisodes” (which bear a striking resemblance to the finished article), a behind-the-scenes gallery and a sneak peak at Season 2. A more substantial documentary would have been nice for such an innovative series, but what there is suffices.

To enter our competition, all you had to do was take a look at the following three short clips which offer an enlightening glimpse into the making of this innovative series, and then answer the question below.

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

We asked: what is the name of the submarine seen in one of the promotional clips? The answer was Nautilus, and the lucky winner was Morag Finch of Romford. Well done Morag, and thanks to everyone that entered.

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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