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Continuum: Season 1

Universal // Unrated // March 26, 2013
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 17, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Facing the first sanctioned executions in decades, eight freedom fighters engineer the perfect prison break, and they pull it off without moving an inch. The walls of this futuristic prison may be impregnable,
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but the barriers that bridge the past, present, and future...? Far more easily shattered. The eight of them leap back sixty-five years to 2012, transported to an era before sprawling, multinational corporations seized a chokehold on their government. They have the knowledge, the means, and the iron will to ensure that the future they once knew will never come to pass. Freedom and liberty won't be outmoded concepts in long since destroyed history books. Impoverished people won't die starving in the streets because limited food supplies make the third quarter earnings look better. No matter what the cost to friends or family that may never exist...Liber8 refuses to let the future fall.

Just to be clear, Liber8 are the bad guys.

I guess that's all a matter of perspective, though. After all, one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. Liber8 succeeded in taking out a couple dozen of their highest-placed targets in 2077, and the collateral damage numbered in the tens of thousands. If sacrificing 30,000 innocent lives spares several hundred million more, they look at that slaughter as a necessary evil. This is war, and wars have casualties.They're not moustache-twirling villains out of some '40s serial, hellbent on conquering the world; the eight of them give up everything they've ever known to save it.

That's part of what makes Continuum so compelling. Without leaning on too many overly familiar anti-hero clichés, the series blurs the lines between right and wrong. Liber8 feels that they've been given an impossible second chance, and they don't want to squander it by hedging their bets. They utilize the only tactics they know to be effective. The most interesting villains are almost always the ones with moral certainty on their side...that they look at themselves as the good guys.

Meanwhile, Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) -- a "Protector", if you want to call agents of the Corporate Protective Services that, ensnared in Liber8's timejump -- isn't an typical heroine either. She's an agent of an oppressive status quo. This law enforcement officer hails from a future where due process is a distant memory...where suspects can be brutalized without
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impunity, where "innocent until proven guilty" makes way for truth serums jabbed in the back of the necks of anyone who's acting a little squirrelly. Kiera doesn't relish any of that, exactly; it's just the way things they are (errr...will be?), and she hails from a time where questioning authority too loudly gets you thrown down a deep, dark hole. As sympathetic as Kiera so often is, it can be uncomfortable rooting for her at times.

If you're starting to cringe that Continuum preaches from some sci-fi pulpit about economic inequality, then you can relax. Those sorts of politics are definitely in play, but it's hardly Occupy-meets-Time Trax. Honestly, Continuum is pretty much everything I'd want in a series like this. For one, it strikes a really nice balance between a stop-the-nefarious-scheme-of-the-week procedural with a heavily serialized arc. There's no shortage of action, I found myself completely hooked by the investigations of a group with elusive motives and unconventional tactics, and the mythology that's being constructed here is more inspired than you might expect at first glance. There's a surprising amount of forward momentum, especially since there are a finite number of members of Liber8, and not all of them make it out of this first season alive. Some of the twists and turns in what looks to be a series-long arc caught me completely off-guard in the best possible way, and it feels like there really is a grand plan here rather than the making-it-up-as-we-go-along of Lost and Heroes.

Continuum makes the most of its ten episode order. I'm used to genre series that spend most of their first seasons trying to find steady footing: figuring out how to best play to the strengths of their actors and writing staff, striking the right balance between action and world-building, remaining accessible to new viewers while rewarding established know what I mean. It doesn't help that a lot of freshman series don't know how many episodes they'll have to play with either. Continuum finds its voice unusually quickly. The series premiere can be a little shaky, sure, but I found myself with very few complaints after that. For my money, there's not a single weak episode at all this season. I'm impressed by how quickly Continuum is able to pick up on its missteps and correct them. For instance, the series starts with Kiera clad in a "future-tech-is-magic!" suit that's bulletproof, houses the planet's most powerful computing system, has a built-in taser, can turn invisible, and on and on and on. It's a cool idea, yeah, but that super-suit makes Kiera so unstoppable that it stomps all over the
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potential drama. The writers realize before too long that they need to take it out of play, and that's exactly what they do. If you twiddle your thumbs throughout the first half of the season whenever the rest of Alec's family is on-screen, well...just wait; the payoff's well worth it. Basically, any gripe you have is out of the way fairly quickly.

The way that Continuum continually reveals more and more of the overarching scheme behind the timebreak is unbelievably compelling. Even with all of the mythology that's being doled out here, it doesn't come at the expense of the series' characters either. Liber8 aren't a bunch of interchangeable idealogues; hell, some of them only seem to be part of the movement as an excuse to wreak havoc. The strife within the group, the jockeying for control, everyone having their own endgame and motives...they're a hell of a lot more interesting than C.O.B.R.A.-from-the-future or whatever. Speaking of which, after suffering through G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I was kind of iffy about watching a series starring Rachel Nichols. Far more than just a pretty face, she's completely up for the challenge of shouldering her own TV series, deftly fielding the drama, action, comedy, and some intensely emotional moments without missing a beat. Kiera is an immediately engaging lead, and I appreciate the fact that her driving motivation is to return to the future where her husband and young son await. Kiera may be partnered with an impossibly handsome detective (Victor Webster), but Continuum doesn't get caught up in the will-they-or-won't-they between Carlos and Kiera that you'd expect in...oh, any other TV series, ever. I can't say enough good things about Erik Knudsen as Alec, a seventeen-year-old off-the-charts-genius whose experiments in the here and now will shape the face of technology in 2077. Alec is the technosorceror who knocks down the walls of every corner the writers paint themselves into, but he's so ridiculously likeable and so critical to Continuum rather than just another plot device.

I have so much more to say about Continuum, but this review is probably unreadably long already. I love its sharp sense of humor, from the gentle ribbing of Kiera by Carlos and Alec all the way to the inevitable fish-out-of-water comedy. Because it's genuine serialized sci-fi rather than a police procedural with time travel stapled on, Continuum really lends itself to being devoured in marathon viewing. The brawls are generally staged very well, and the series knows how to get the most out of its budget, especially when it comes to the use of visual effects. As an honorary Canuck living in South Carolina, there's part of me that's all giddy that Continuum is a Canadian-lensed sci-fi series that's actually set in Vancouver. Unprecedented...? I'm a definite fan of the way the back-to-the-future flashbacks/flashforwards inform the present. The series upends about as many genre tropes as it embraces. Even when Continuum does really cornball stuff like "I'm trying to trace this IP, but it's bouncing through proxy servers all over the globe!" or the lack of repercussions when Kiera and Carlos pull unforgiveable stunts, it all seems like part of the fun. I went into Continuum hoping for nothing more than sci-fi/action junk food, and while it definitely delivers on that front, it's so much smarter, better crafted, and more engaging than I ever could've expected. I'm counting the days till the season two premiere. Very Highly Recommended.

The digital photography in Continuum's premiere has a distractingly video-like appearance, but it settles into a more cinematic look once the meat of the series is underway. The image is reasonably sharp and well-defined, benefitting further from some really robust contrast whenever it has plenty of light to play with. More dimly-lit stretches can get kind of noisy, and black levels sometimes struggle in those moments as well. Being a serious genre series lensed in Vancouver and all, it follows that Continuum's palette tends to be rather subdued. Colors do pop at times when appropriate, most memorably throughout a sequence set in Kiera's apartment in the premiere. I couldn't spot any missteps in the authoring of this disc at all. Very nicely done.

Continuum's ten episodes are spread across a pair of dual-layer discs. They've each been encoded with VC-1 -- hey! haven't seen that codec in a while -- at a higher-than-average bitrate for a TV-on-BD set.

Continuum boasts a set of 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. Its technical specs may mirror most of the sci-fi blockbusters coming down the pike, but as far as the execution goes, there's never really any doubt that Continuum was produced for the small screen. The surrounds are reserved primarily for ambiance and atmosphere. Sometimes they'll help reinforce the action as well, but it's a coin flip whether or not a shootout will
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find its way to the rear channels. Throughout the premiere, I felt that the chronal blast and various other explosions packed a healthy low-frequency wallop, but kicks, punches, and gunplay generally fell flat. As the season breezed along, that seemed to change, with bass response throughout the brawls getting more impactful. Still, the sort of distinctness and clarity that Blu-ray generally delivers isn't really on display here. On the upside, Continuum's dialogue is clean, clear, and nicely balanced throughout. Overall, a solid effort for a TV series but not approaching cinematic quality the way some sci-fi series do.

No dubs, alternate mixes, or audio commentaries. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH) only.

  • Meet the Makers, Protectors, and Terrorists (19 min.; SD): Creator Simon Barry is joined by actors Rachel Nichols, Victor Webster, Erik Knudsen, and Tony Amendola for a set of brief interviews. The four of them speak about Continuum's view of the future, its origins here in the present, casting, being part of such an action-heavy production, and delving into what sets this series apart from the rest of the pack. Feels a little promotional in nature but is worth a look.

Continuum comes packaged in a traditional width Blu-ray case and a glossy, slightly embossed slipcover.

The Final Word
I had a blast with Continuum, a Canadian import that strikes the perfect balance between a heavily serialized sci-fi action/drama and an accessible case-of-the-week police procedural. It's smart, it's funny, it's exciting, it's heartbreaking, and it's wildly addictive, demanding to be attacked in a seven and a half hour marathon. Very Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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