E1 Entertainment // 2010 // 572 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // June 23rd, 2011
It takes a village to hide a secret.
In 2004, writer-editor Charles Ardai launched the Hard Case Crime publishing imprint, offering reprints of old pulp novels as well as newly written pieces emulating the genre. During the series' initial run, he tapped Stephen King to write an introduction with his thoughts on hardboiled crime fiction of post-war America. King agreed to take on the assignment in exchange for being allowed to write his own entry in the series. The resulting novel, 2005's The Colorado Kid, is pure Stephen King in playful defying of expectations. Given the opportunity to write a straight-up genre piece, the writer known for his excursions into the horror genre delivered an artfully elliptical little volume involving hearsay narration and a long unsolved crime that remains unsolved. Critics and fans split over The Colorado Kid, but it's easily the most fascinating Hard Case Crime release.
Fresh off of their work on the television adaptation of Stephen King's The Dead Zone, writer-producer team Jim Dunn and Sam Ernst stumbled upon The Colorado Kid. They believed that elements of the novel would make for interesting TV, despite the fact that the book as a whole appeared impossible to adapt. The duo worked up a proposal for a loose adaptation of the book, which received a thumbs-up from King. When funding from NBC Universal and the Syfy network followed, Haven was off and running.
Using the unsolved Colorado Kid case as a jumping off point, Haven follows the adventures of FBI Special Agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune) in Haven, Maine. The quaint seaside town has a history of "The Troubles," odd supernatural events surrounding certain Haven residents. When Agent Parker arrives in town on the trail of a fugitive, The Troubles return -- perhaps because of her unexplained connection to the murder of The Colorado Kid. Audrey teams with local police officer Nathan Wuornos (Lucas Bryant, Queer as Folk), newspaper men Vince and Dave Teague (Richard Donat and John Dunsworth), and Haven bad boy Duke Crocker (Eric Balfour, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ) to solve a series of mysteries related to The Troubles as well as uncover the secrets of her own past.
This set contains all 13 of the first season's episodes, spread across four discs:
* "Welcome to Haven"
FBI Special Agent Audrey Parker arrives in Haven, Maine on the trail of escaped convict Jonas Lester. Once in the picturesque town, she meets local police officer Nathan Wuornos, the son of the Haven's police chief (Nicholas Campbell, Naked Lunch). When Lester turns up murdered, Parker and Wuornos try to ferret out his killer. Their search leads to ne'er-do-well Duke Crocker, who not only proves to be innocent of the crime but saves Parker's life during a bizarre hailstorm. During her investigation of Lester's murder, Parker also learns about the murder of The Colorado Kid in Haven in the early '80s. When she discovers an old newspaper photograph photo from the crime scene that includes a woman who looks eerily like herself, the FBI agent decides to stay in the little town a bit longer to see if she can unravel the truth of her own past.
Extras: Cast and Producers' Commentary; Commentary by Director Adam Kane
Audrey and Nathan are on the case when a feud erupts between a local bar owner and fire-and-brimstone preacher Reverend Ed Driscoll (Stephen McHattie, Watchmen). The mystery deepens when a series of violent events unfold that are always accompanied by a swarm of butterflies and may be connected to the conflict between the two townsmen.
Extras: Executive Producers Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn Commentary
Parker and Wuornos are flummoxed when the patients and doctors at a local mental hospital suddenly turn violent, leading to the escape of three former catatonics. The two law enforcement officers suspect that the music of one of the patients, who was a composer before her psychological collapse, may somehow have triggered the episode of mass psychosis. Audrey also learns that the mysterious woman in The Colorado Kid photo was named Lucy. The FBI agent, who was raised as an orphan in foster homes, believes that Lucy may be her mother.
Extras: Commentary by Executive Producers Sam Ernst, Jim Dunn, and Co-executive Producer Jose Molina
When food begins to instantaneously rot all over Haven, Parker and Wuornos trace the unexplained event back to brothers Bill and Jeff McGraw, owners of the Last Chance Bistro.
Extras: Commentary by Executive Producer/Writer Sam Ernst and Co-Executive Producer Jose Molina
* "Ball and Chain"
The Haven police department is puzzled when corpses of withered old men begin turning up all over town. The problem is that the dead men were in the prime of youth only days before their bodies were discovered. Duke Crocker inadvertently discovers the key to the mystery when he begins rapidly aging after an intimate encounter with a beautiful stranger named Helena.
Extras: Cast and Producers' Commentary; Commentary by Executive Producers Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn
Chief Wuornos is on the war path after a fellow member of the Haven Hunt Club is seemingly mauled to death by a wolf. Believing that cuckoldry, animal rights activism, and The Troubles may be behind the man's death, Audrey tries to convince the chief to delay a hunt for the animal and give her time to investigate.
Extras: Commentary by Executive Producer/Writer Jim Dunn
When an invisible force begins attacking Haven residents, Audrey Parker suspects that a local artist's drawings (and The Troubles) may be behind the deaths.
* "Ain't No Sunshine"
Parker and Wuornos are called in to investigate the murder of a cancer ward nurse at a local medical center. The duo hears stories of "The Dark Man," an apparition whom survivors are convinced killed their cancer-stricken relatives before the disease could take them.
Extras: Commentary by Executive Producers Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn
* "As You Were"
The Haven townsfolk invite Audrey to a birthday party at Vaughan Carpenter's home on his secluded island, Carpenter's Knot. The festivities turn into a manor mystery when it turns out that Vaughan is a shape-shifter with murder on his mind.
* "The Hand You Were Dealt"
Audrey interviews Duke and his former babysitter Vanessa Stanley because both were at the Colorado Kid crime scene, though neither can remember anything about that day. Later, Vanessa begins having visions of people's violent last moments -- visions that come to pass with startling accuracy.
* "The Trial of Audrey Parker"
Audrey has a run-in with card sharps Ezra and Tobias, who are on the hunt for a mysterious package in Duke's possession. Chief Wuornos attempts to reconcile with Nathan, who resents his father's emotional distance. Audrey's boss arrives in Haven to order her back to work at the FBI, causing her to quit the bureau so she can continue her investigation into The Colorado Kid and her own past.
Extras: Cast and Producers' Commentary
Parker and Wuornos investigate strange, ghostly goings-on in the home of a dead fishing boat captain whose family suffers the shame and indignity of the Haven townspeople blaming him for the loss of his crew at sea. Audrey's ability to help the family appears oddly connected to Lucy's presence in The Colorado Kid newspaper photo.
Extras: Commentary by Consulting Producer/Writer Charles Ardai
Audrey's search for answers takes a number of shocking turns when Max Hansen, the man convicted in The Colorado Kid murder, is paroled after 25 years in Shawshank State Prison. Hansen's presence is unsettling for the little town's citizens. Painful truths are revealed about Nathan, the chief, and finally Audrey.
Extras: Cast and Producers' Commentary
Though its connection to Stephen King's The Colorado Kid is tenuous at best, Haven is a solid little show -- one part police procedural, one part supernatural mind-screw. As with most series of this type, individual episodes of Haven tend to alternate between stand-alone monster-of-the-week mysteries and mythology stories that press further into the riddles of Agent Parker's past. Haven plays this balancing act better than most series (so far, at least) in large part because the monster-of-the-week episodes are connected to the mythology by way of The Troubles, the existence of which is so unquestioningly accepted by Audrey and the townsfolk of Haven that the show is allowed to sidestep the "there must be a rational explanation for this"-style sleuthing that can quickly become tedious in the genre. Whether or not Haven is a great show will be determined by how skillfully its writers reveal the series' central mysteries over subsequent seasons, and how satisfying the revelations are as they come. Based on television's poor supernatural science fiction track record (see, The X-Files and Lost), the odds are stacked against Haven, but so far so good. The show's first season builds to a truly startling revelation that appears to be taking the series closer to Twin Peaks levels of weird than to The X-Files. Even better, the writers first hit you with a run-of-the-mill revelation that any attentive viewer will see coming from a mile away. As the disappointment of that narrative dud sets in, they nail you with Season One's real capper, a piece of carefully crafted ambiguity that ties a bow on the first 13 episodes of the series while setting the stage for a second season that could go in all manner of compelling directions.
Watching the first episode of Haven, I had the bizarre experience of finding Emily Rose incredibly familiar, though I didn't recognize her face. Finally, I realized that I knew her from her voice work as Elena Fisher in the Uncharted series of Playstation 3 video games (a rare high-quality female video game character who is smart, tough, not proportioned like a Barbie doll, and who doesn't dress like a whore). Rose does an excellent job anchoring Haven. Audrey Parker isn't that far afield from Elena Fisher -- competent, professional, and self-assured. Throughout the first season, the writers allow her to occupy the show's central role uncontested. She never wilts into a damsel in distress, or devolves into a sex object for the series' male characters. There are no stirrings of romance between Audrey and Nathan (I suspect this may have to do with revelations yet to come). She is a likeable, well drawn, and wonderfully acted character with whom it is easy to identify and for whom it is easy to root. That alone makes it easy to ride through the couple monster-of-the-week episodes that don't quite rise to the same standard as the rest of the season's episodes.
Aside from solid storytelling, an engaging lead, and a strong supporting cast, Haven benefits from location shooting in beautiful Chester, Nova Scotia. Despite the looseness with which it adapts Stephen King's source, the show feels very much like a King story. Part of the reason is the location, which looks exactly like the insular seaside Maine towns in which so many of the author's stories are set. Chester comes across quite well on Blu-ray. The 1080p image is clean, detailed, and accurately handles the town's mostly muted, autumnal colors. Unlike many high definition television productions, Haven doesn't offer razor sharp focus across all focal planes (perhaps because of the abundant use of subtle CGI to change the weather or add architectural or topographical detail to existing shots). As a result, the series isn't as vividly detailed as many modern TV release, but it still looks great.
Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio mix in 5.1 surround that makes good use of both the front rear speakers.
The set is fairly loaded with extras, beginning with audio commentaries on 10 of the 13 episodes. In addition to the commentaries, there are a number of featurettes and other supplements, all contained on Disc Four:
The video extras kick off with a trio of making-of featurettes, all presented in high definition:
Welcome to Haven (18:15)
More than a rote promotional piece, this featurette traces the origins of the show from co-executive producer Adam Fratto's discovery of Stephen King's The Colorado Kid, to the elaborate financing deal between NBC Universal and Syfy, to casting and shooting the show.
VFX of Haven (5:07)
Visual effects supervisor Kris Wood walks us through the many digital and practical effects (some subtle, some not so much) used in the series.
Mythology of Haven (6:01)
In this piece, the producers and writers assure us that, though the first season of the series leaves many questions unanswered, they have worked out the show's elaborate mythology so that it won't crash and burn like The X-Files.
In addition to the making-of featurettes, there's a series of six video blogs that run about 19 minutes total and are presented in standard definition. They include cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and a segment that points out a few references to Stephen Kings' books in the various episodes.
This sections offers separate sit-downs with Emily Rose (2:33), Lucas Bryant (2:09), and Eric Balfour (1:58). Unfortunately, most of the material is recycled from the video blogs.
Finally, there's a trailer for the show's first season, and a writer's room sneak peek at the planning for Season Two (4:48).
If you haven't seen Haven, It's worth checking out. Should you buy it on Blu-ray? I don't recommend it. Rent it instead. The first 13 episodes are a lot of fun, but they're not self-contained. Whether Haven soars or crashes and burns will be largely determined by its upcoming second season.
Review content copyright © 2011 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 572 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Official Site