Being a big fan of Stargate
SG-1 in general and Amanda Tapping in particular, I was quite
hear that the actress had signed up to play the lead in (and was
producer of) a web-based series entitled Sanctuary. I had meant to download the 8 15-minute
webisodes but with one thing and another, never got around to it. Based on the strength of those shorts, the
series was picked up by the horribly named cable network Syfy, had a
first season, and was renewed for a second (that is scheduled to begin
October.) E1 Entertainment has now
released Sanctuary Season One on DVD
in a nice four disc set that fans of SF should consider picking up,
if you gave up on the series while it was airing after a few episodes.
Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) is a profiler for a local
police force in an unnamed metropolitan city.
Being very observant in a Monk-like way, he puts together clues
others often miss and follows them to their logical conclusions, even
conclusions sound crazy. He was kicked
out of the FBI for his hair-brained hypotheses, and is pretty much
the policemen he works with for the same reason.
While investigating the dead of a civilian and two police
officers Zimmerman crosses paths with Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping). She runs the Sanctuary, a privately funded
large gothic building in the middle of town that is host to, Will
discovers, a wide assortment of bizarre creatures called 'abnormals'. Basically all of Zimmerman's theories have
been correct, there are odd being roaming the world in secret and
helps those that they can and hunts down the ones that are dangerous to
Will signs up and joins the Sanctuary team that includes
Magnus, who turns out to be much, much older than she looks, Helen's
daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), tech geek Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins)
butler and extra muscle when needed Bigfoot (Christopher Heyerdahl). Searching the globe for abnormals the group
discovers mermaids, ancient witches, a human-like race that can compact
bodies to squeeze through the smallest spaces, a vampire, people who
heat rays from their eyes, and even the basis for Sherlock Holmes and
Jack the Ripper (who just happens to be Magnus' ex-lover.)
Every great team needs a suitable enemy too, and Sanctuary
has one in the form of the Cabal, a super-secret, well funded,
that also investigates abnormal sightings, but they have sinister
what they're doing and consider the Sanctuary their sworn enemies.
I was looking forward to watching these and honestly the
first episodes really disappointed me. They
weren't horrible; there were just an accumulation of small things that
them mediocre at best.
In these early shows the writers didn't pay attention to
detail and didn't do their research. At
one point someone proclaims that the last time the Black Death was a
was in 800 AD, apparently forgetting the outbreak of 1665-66 and any
before that. (I remember that date since
people at the
time thought it was the end of the world.
After all the year was 666 with a one in front of it.) There's also a scene where a group walks onto
a cargo ship and finds the crew dead and someone proclaims "They
killed... they were half devoured." It's a
nice line, but it doesn't match what viewers see. The
bodies were whole with some blood on them...
they weren't eaten. There's also an
episode where we get to meet Magnus' British father, but while she has
accent, he doesn't. What's up with that?
The dialog in those early shows tries to be witty and cute,
but fails miserably too. In one episode
the team discovers some creatures that are a cross between Tribbles and
that Ashley names "Nubbins." In the most
cringe-inducing scene in the whole series Henry passes Ashley (clad in
shirt) while she's looking at her new discoveries in their cage and
Henry, wanna check out my nubbins? (a moment later) Don't
you just want to squeeze them?" Ugh,
neither clever nor funny.
Okay, so by the time the series was half way through, I was
pretty unimpressed. Then the writers hit
their stride and figured out what works and what doesn't with the
series. Starting with the seventh episode
took a couple of giant steps forward in terms of quality.
The plot became more intricate, the
characters stopped acting like walking clichés and started to
become real three
dimensional people. In short, it
turned into a really good show. One of
those "it's midnight and I have work tomorrow.... so I'll just watch one
before bed, or maybe two" programs.
In the second half we're introduced to Nikola Tesla (yes the
real Tesla) who used to be a friend of Magnus' way back when and who is
vampire. An intriguing character and
easily my favorite in the show, viewers are never sure if he's lying or
the truth and whose side he's really on.
The show picks up for there, no longer being a 'monster of the
it starts telling a larger story and is more careful how the plots
unravel. The faux witty banter is toned
down considerably and small incidental details actually make sense at
point. They also go back and correct
some of their earlier mistakes such as Magnus' education.
In the first episode they stated that she
attended Oxford in the mid 1800's, a time when women weren't allowed to
but in episode 12 a character reveals that she only audited classes at
time, something that makes much more sense.
The acting in the program is generally good with Amanda
Tapping stealing the show. She's playing
a character similar to Dr. Samantha Carter, the person she portrayed on
Stargate SG-1, but Tapping went out of her way to create a totally
personality for this new character.
Physically she dyed her hair and she also sports a British
sounds pretty good actually. She was
born in England,
I guess that helps more than a bit.)
Magnus is also more careful than Dr. Carter and has a totally
different demeanor. I was always enamored
of Tapping's role in
SG-1 (she reminded a lot of my wife,) but while watching her here I
thought of her as "that gal from SG-1," a testament to how well she did
crafting a new individual.
The show was filmed in a unique manner for a TV show
(thought there have been a few movies that took this approach.) Instead of building sets for each location,
the entire show is shot against a green screen.
In post production the walls, floor, and furnishings are
generated and added in.
This has some advantages and disadvantages. On
the plus side, the show can go anywhere
from the bottom of the ocean to ancient ruins with about the same cost
in the sanctuary. CGI monsters also fit
in well with the backgrounds. They
appear as part of the set rather than looking like they were
top of an existing room. On the down
side, the actors don't have anything to react to. When
they look out over a ruined city, they're
actually looking at a blank wall and it's hard to judge scale in
certain instances. An example of this
going wrong is when Will
first sees the 'shoe' in the sanctuary where all the violent abnormals
kept. He looks up and down and all
around with a look of awe on his face, but when the viewers see what
looking at, it's an empty room with some computer monitors hanging from
ceiling. Around the room are darkened
windows with creatures, none of which can be seen.
I guess Will had never seen suspended
So, does the show pull it off? In general
yes, they do very well. Scenes of Ashley
meeting an informant at the
top of a sky scraper that's still being built and the ancient catacombs
impressive and the 'regular sets like the library are so real you'll
forget that it's all CGI. There are some
scenes where they could have used a little more time and money on the
environment, like when a CGI car whizzes by in the first episode. These events tend to bring the viewer out of
the show, which is too bad, but they become more infrequent as the
The 13 episodes that make up the first season come in a fold
out holder that has two overlapping discs per page.
I'm not wild about fold out cases or
overlapping discs, and I wish they would have used a single width 4
The 5.1 DD surround track is good, but not great. The
dialog is all clear and there are not any
audio defects worth noting, but the subwoofer track is a bit anemic. This is especially noticeable in the few
scenes with explosions. Other than that,
the rears are used a fair amount, occasionally with great affect. In one scene a phone rings from behind the
viewer and I got up to find my cell before I realized it was just the
show. There are SDH subtitles in
This program is recorded on new generation digital cameras
that recorded with a resolution of 4096 X 2048 pixels (in comparison
1080p HD has
a resolution of 1920 X 1080 pixels.) Consequently
the 1.78:1 anamorphic image show looks very good on DVD, but not quite
as I was hoping. There is a little bit
of aliasing in some of the CGI backgrounds (the vertical bars in the
the Sanctuary when the camera pans over them, for example) and some
just a bit soft. The colors look like
they were played with in post production too, and in a few instances
tones look a little off. Aside from that
the image is very good. (It's a bit
that the show wasn't released on Blu-ray too.)
This set comes with a good amount of bonus material that
really makes a complete package. First,
there are commentary tracks to every episode with various writers,
and stars. All of the leads are included
as well as the series creators. While I
won't claim to have listened to every minute of every commentary, those
did play were fairly interesting. A lot
of time was spent discussing the sets, most of which are added in
postproduction, and the early episodes discuss the differences between
webisodes and the broadcast versions.
Speaking of the original webisodes, I was very pleased to
see that E1 included those in this set.
All eight are found on disc four, and they run a tad over two
together. It was interesting to see the
slight changes that were made and the original vision for the show.
There are also three short behind-the-scenes documentaries
also on disc four:
Welcome to the
Sanctuary (5:07) - discusses the genesis of the show
Residents (5:37) - talks about the
effort behind creating the abnormals for the show, with both CGI and
Effects (5:20) - a look at how they shoot the show and how the CGI
are incorporated into the program.
There is also a Blooper
Reel (3:31) which is fairly amusing, a photo gallery, and a minute
sneak peak at season two. All in all
this is a nice set of extras.
This is a hard show to rate.
The first six shows are so-so, but the last seven are great. Averaging those scores doesn't really give an
accurate picture though. The last half
of the show really makes up for the beginning episodes however,
creating a very
atmospheric and intriguing show. When
all is said and done, I'm really looking forward to season two which
next month, so the show is ultimately a success. If
you're willing to sit through the first
mediocre episodes and give the show time to get its bearings, this set
comes highly recommended.