The first season of Sanctuary was a surprisingly good SF/action show. Based on a web series and created almost exclusively with CGI sets, I didn't have high hopes going into the program. By the time the season was done, I was a fan and eagerly awaiting the second year's worth of shows. That wait is over. E1 Entertainment has released Sanctuary Season Two on both DVd and Blu-ray, and while the show still has a lot of charm, it doesn't live up to the potential that was established in the first season.
The show centers around a Sanctuary, a special supposedly secret (though everyone seems to know about it this season) center that protects and studies 'abnormals' creatures that have unique and special abilities. The institution is run by Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping), an intelligent and resourceful leader who just happens to be 157 years old. She's aided by Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), a psychologist and ex-police profiler, tech geek Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins) and butler and extra muscle when needed Bigfoot (Christopher Heyerdahl). Together they scour the world looking for abnormals.
At the end of the last season, things were getting pretty interesting. The whole system of Sanctuaries was under attack by the Cabal, a group of sinister villains who had even managed to kidnap Magnus' daughter, Ashley (Emilie Ullerup). The reserves were called in including a vampiric Nikola Tesla, Magnus' ex-lover, Jack the Ripper, Dr. James Watson (from Sherlock Holmes fame, not the DNA guy), and Clara Griffin who has the useful ability to turn invisible. Five very powerful individuals. One sinister international conspiracy. Sounds like great stuff.
Then season two started. For some reason the writers threw out a lot of the aspects that made the end of the first season so great.
Instead of a season long battle with the Cabal, that story line gets wrapped up in two episodes. What's much worse is that they're destroyed off screen and it's just related to the other character through exposition. What??! That's like M telling James Bond not to worry about Dr. No as he's fallen down a flight of stairs and killed himself. Talk about anti-climactic. That was a huge let down. Adding insult to injury most of The Five were killed or dispersed. They were the most interesting part of the show, but after the wrap up intro story they don't appear.
As is revealed in the telling front cover of the DVD and Blu-ray sets, Ashley is written out for most of this season. I always found her a bit irritating, so it was no big loss. For some reason however, they've replaced her with another annoying young woman, Kate Freelander. She's basically the same character as Ashley, tough as nails on the outside but still a vulnerable young woman on the inside, but this time in an Indian shell.
Unfortunately they didn't replace the Cabal with another villain or even an overriding story. Aside from the season-ending two-part episode, the other shows are pretty much stand alone stories that don't have the impact that the longer story arc episodes did.
That said, there were some good shows this season. The episode where they encounter an overweight and nerdy superhero called "the Adjuster" was funny and interesting, especially since the explanation for the hero's powers was unique. "Sleepers" was probably the best episode in this set, as it brings back the vampire Tesla who is just a great character. He's come up with a way to revive the vampire race, but his scheme doesn't go quite to plan and ends up causing more than a little trouble.
Another aspect of this season that I really enjoyed was that there were a lot of guest stars that SF fans will recognize including Michael Shanks (Stargate SG-1), Paul McGillion (Stargate Atlantis), and Callum Blue (Dead Like Me). The acting was still fine across the board, with Amanda Tapping really getting to stretch her character this time around. She's up to the task and is the highlight of the show.
It's just too bad that the show drifted away from the elements that made the first season so enjoyable. It's still not a bad show, and if you're able to look past some of the silly parts (the episode where a giant abnormal squid fought its natural enemy, a non-swimming giant scorpion, was just ludicrous and the Bollywood dance number in the final episode (I kid you not) is cring-inducing) it's a fun way to kill some time. It doesn't rise to the level of the previous season and it doesn't really explore any new ground but it's still worth watching.
The Blu-ray set:
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 disc keepcase.
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 good on Blu-ray, much better than season one did on DVD. The image was much sharper and the level of detail was greatly improved. The aliasing was gone and the blacks were darker and more even. The colors on this set are very nice, thought the skin tones sometimes look like they've been played with in post-production. Overall this is a nice looking set.
The show comes with both a DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track and a DD 5.1 option. I really enjoyed the DTS track which was pretty solid. The dialog was 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. The mix was a bit more front-heavy than I remember season 1 being, and it's not quite as immersive as I was hoping, but the show still sounds very good. There are SDH subtitles in English.
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, directors, 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 that I did play were fairly interesting.
There are also some behind-the-scenes documentaries included with the set:
Anatomy of an Episode
Amanda Tapping Directs "Veritas"
"Next Tuesday" - Anatomy of an Episode
Sanctuary Visual Effects
Sanctuary for Kids
Behind the Scenes and On the Set
Sanctuary Goes to
Dancing in Mumbai
In addition to all that there is a Behind the Scenes Slideshow, a featurette the show's presentation at Comic Con, a blooper reel and a photo gallery. All in all this is a nice set of extras.
While the show still retains the charm of the first season, it really takes a misstep by going back to the stand alone episodes instead of trying to tell a bigger story. The lack of more adventures of The Five is also disappointing. It's still worth watching and enjoyable, just not as gripping as the first season. Recommended.