I decided on a whim today to watch the pilot episode of Sanctuary itself because I absolutely, positively hate commercials, and particularly hate the commercials on the Sci (online rather than on Sci FiFi channel). I’ve heard a little bit about the show and was curious, although I probably should have been reading instead. Regardless, I have some thoughts.
My overall impression of the show is that it feels very much like the kind of show that shows up on a cable/satellite network station and then gets cancelled at the end of its first series. Perhaps that sounds harsh, but there are a lot of things that feel wrong about the pilot episode and particularly that cry of poorly devised genre. My issues with the pilot also stem from my issues with the Sci Fi channel in general. So, I guess I’ll just dig in.
First, the premise reads like a TV version of Hellboy, which isn’t necessarily bad, but certainly will be noticeable to people who are fans of Hellboy. The problem with Sanctuary is that it lacks the funding that Hellboy received to make that film a much more visually appealing creation: meaning that Sanctuary lacks the visuals to make it an outstanding show. There are too many times when you are fully aware of the CGI, which immediately pulls me out of the show itself. One of the things I think has destroyed modern television and film is this reliance on CGI, but a complete lack of attention paid to the actual details behind it. My rule has always been the following:
Unless you can make it look real, don’t use it.
Sanctuary falls prey to many of the problems that exist within Sci Fi Channel’s original content: poor CGI. This is incredibly depressing when you look at shows like Battlestar Galactica found within the first Mortal issues. None whatsoever. They could have removed half the (the new incarnation) and see what Sci Fi is actually capable of for a limited budget. True, you are aware of the CGI in BSG, but because it’s done well overall you’re much more willing to let it go as being a limiting factor of TV. But Sanctuary relies on its CGI to even work, whereas BSG does not. All the creatures (well, almost all of them) either have to be puppets or CGed critters, and it is really obvious when those creatures are CG. There is a mermaid in the pilot and she looks so obviously fake that it bugged me every time I saw her. The CGI quality here is not that far from the CGIKombat movie, and if you remember the CGI in that film, you’ll know that that’s not good at all. Even when the CGI looks good it’s flawed by crappy green/blue screen techniques where the people don’t look like they are actually a part of the environment around them (this is particularly annoying when they’re inside of the mansion and it makes you wonder why it was so hard for the producers to hunt down a nice mansion where they could film). I realize that TV shows don’t have a lot of funding, but if you’re going to use CGI, make it look good, or don’t use it at all. There really is no reason for the entire pilot to be mired by CGICGI to make the stuff that had to be CGed look even better. And this is very consistent within the Sci Fi Channel’s attempt to reach their market. No wonder the station has issues being taken seriously even by fans (and I will make a claim here that any time Sci Fi wants to be taken with a grain of salt when it creates its own scifi/horror movies, then they should cast Bruce Campbell in every part, because only then will anyone watch and be willing to let all the issues in the production slide…because Bruce rules).
Additionally there are issues with casting. The daughter, Ashley, comes off forced and cliche–oh no, yet another leather-clad blonde girl who runs around fighting people and shooting guns…yippee. The main character, Will, is okay, but it feels a little Soap Opera-ish, and Amanda Tapping as Dr. Magnus is perhaps the strongest role, although even her performance is a mixed bag. Even the bad guy, John, isn’t perfect, although he really creeped me out and felt like a British version of Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty from Blade Runner. Did anyone else see that similarity?
There ‘s a complete lack of atmosphere too, let alone conflict. True, there is conflict, but it’s poorly done within an hour an a half of actual show. The overall issue is getting Will to join up with Dr. Magnus to deal with all the nifty unknown tidbits of the world (the sort of hidden and unknown aspect of Hellboy’s world of monsters and demons and what not). And that part gets resolved, but at the same time we’re told a lot of things about Dr. Magnus, which should have been a feature drawn out over the first season rather than developed and answered all at once, and her relationship to her daughter and John. In fact, the whole pilot was trying to do so much all at once it just felt like a bad movie. The atmosphere tries to be dark and gritty, somewhat noir in approach, but it fails to do that because of its poor production quality and limited sets (which is probably due to it being a TV show instead of a movie). The sets that exist don’t feel very lived in, but more like temporary creations that lack the personal touch that we might have seen in Lord of the Rings–and before anyone goes off on me for making a comparison between a movie like LOTR and a TV show, you can still create character and atmosphere with cheap props on a TV show in the same manner as was done with expensive props in LOTR, so there.
In the end, I just don’t see this as being a show worth watching. Maybe 10 years ago it would have been a fascinating show, but right now it feels tired. The best moment of the whole episode for me was when the girl who plays Dualla from Battlestar Galactica has a brief one minute moment. That made me happy, but the rest of it was worth forgetting. Maybe this show will get better–most shows do after their pilot episode, like Sliders and even the Simpsons–but I’m not sure if I’m willing to waste another hour to find out. I’m not very enthused at this particular moment.
Anyone else see it or have opinions?