Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sanctuary (Canada / 2008-2012)

Sanctuary follows the exploits of Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) and her quest to protect what most people would consider monsters. "The Sanctuary" serves as a safe haven for these "Abnormals." She is aided in her quest by her reluctant protégé Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne); her intrepid, if somewhat reckless, daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup); the talkative geek Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins), a computer and security expert; and her taciturn Neanderthal-like unnamed assistant (a Bigfoot), sometimes called "Big Guy" (Christopher Heyerdahl).

The show is shot digitally at a high resolution, primarily on green screen, so most of the sets are computer generated. They've done a really good job with this production element, although at times it looks a little fake, and some of the CGI creatures are poorly designed (but pretty decent considering the likely budgetary constraints).

The first season reveals the history of Dr. Helen Magnus, stating that in her youth she was a member of a group of experimental scientists known as "The Five," which also included Nikola Tesla, Nigel Griffin, Dr. James Watson, and John Druitt; each wanted to push the boundaries of their understanding of the physical world through unconventional means. At some point during their partnership, Magnus acquired a vial of untainted ancient vampire blood and used it in a serum that "The Five" injected into themselves. After the injection, they each developed different gifts; Magnus gained a high level of longevity, Nigel Griffin acquired the power of invisibility, Dr. James Watson's intellect was tremendously heightened, John Druitt developed the ability to teleport through time and space, and Nikola Tesla undergoes transformation into a vampire, with the additional power of electrical manipulation. The second half of the first season introduces "The Cabal," a powerful shadow organization that captures, studies, and experiments on Abnormals in the belief that the Abnormal population is a threat to the human species.

The show started out as a series of webisodes before it was picked up by SyFy as a standard television series. The first season was hit and miss; the monster of the week episodes were so-so, some clearly influenced by past (and more successful) Sci-Fi/Fantasy series. However the episodes dealing with the Five (and later, the Cabal) were its best offerings, and made up for the lackluster monster of the week episodes.

What this series has done is introduced a character whom I consider to be one of the most interesting vampires to appear on television in the past decade: Nikola Tesla, played by Jonathon Young (recurring Season 1–2). The vampire blood he was injected with activated his dormant Vampiric genes, transforming him into a vampire in the classic sense--he also gained the ability to control electricity. Tesla despises humanity for destroying the pure-blooded vampires centuries ago, and eventually leaves the Five and goes underground for over 60 years with a plan resurrect his vampiric ancestor. He also has a taste for expensive wine!

I won't give away what happens in this story arc, but let's just say, he's a villain you love to hate. In fact, I can't even consider him a villain per se; sure, he's constantly got some scheme going to resurrect the vampire race, but he's also very witty, self-absorbed, and just so damn charismatic on screen. Take a look:

Unfortunately, season 2 has been overall a disappointment. It seemed to focus more on character development and procedural crime investigation, and not so much Sci-Fi, something not typical for this kind of series. They also killed off a main character, and brought in a lesser version of essentially the same role, but the new actress is incredibly annoying to watch. Think of it as like replacing Buffy altogether with Faith, and still continuing the series as-is. (Not that I'm saying Faith was annoying -- loved her -- but this is kind of what the change felt like to the viewer.) On top of this, they've introduced split screens and fancy "look what we can do" editing, which is way overused and incredibly annoying to watch. "The Five" story arc was the most interesting part of the show, and now that it has basically concluded, there's nothing really left to hold our interest.

That is, until Tesla returned in season 3.

UPDATE: The show has officially been cancelled, and all four seasons can be purchased from the links below:

Sunday, May 09, 2010