BBC Video // 2008 // 445 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // October 8th, 2009
There's a new link in the food chain -- and we're it!...Again!
ITV's popular dinosaur-hunting adventure franchise swings back with Primeval: Volume Two, continuing its inexorable trend of blandly executed scripts, wooden acting, and improbable plots. But hey -- dinosaurs!
Defying all explanation, anomalies are popping up all over Britain, holes torn in time and space. From these holes emerge all manner of creatures from ages past -- dinosaurs, parasites, prehistoric monsters, insects, and worse.
Evolutionary zoologist Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) is fighting to refocus his embattled team, Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts) and Abby (Hannah Spearritt). They are still reeling from the death of his best friend Stephen, and the betrayal of his long-lost wife Helen (Juliet Aubrey). Cutter's crew is joined by some new recruits in the form of maverick policeman Danny Quinn (Jason Flemyng), Egyptologist Sarah Page (Laila Rouass), and the new leader of the ARC security forces, Captain Becker (Ben Mansfield).
As the anomalies continue to present an unrelenting series of threats, the task at hand grows increasingly impossible. It's not just dangerous creatures from the past and future the ARC team has to deal with; the cloak of secrecy behind which they have been working is beginning to slip. The press begins to pick up the stories of the incredible events. Questions are being asked as the conspiracy spreads its net wide. As deadlier creatures continue to rampage through the anomalies, the team faces a threat to the future of not just the ARC, but all of mankind...
Primeval: Volume Two contains all ten episodes from Series Three, spread across three discs.
This Judge recalls being quite optimistic at the start of Primeval: Volume One, but ultimately becoming disinterested and disappointed by the end of the run. On paper, the show is spectacular, full of dinosaurs and adorable former pop stars in various states of undress. In execution, the overall combination of lackadaisical special effects, bad acting, and weak scripts taint the enjoyment factor. Not unexpectedly, Primeval: Volume Two continues this tradition, but with a higher body count.
Series Three has a revolving door cast (spoilers beyond this point!). We are introduced to three new characters, only to have them summarily abandon the show after being killed off, quitting, retiring, etc. In addition to the influx (then departure) of new faces, large populations of the old faces take off for greener pastures, including the main protagonist and the primary villain. A gutsy move, but a peculiar one! Why kill off the show's main character, the only likeable one in the bunch? Sure, Primeval fancies itself as something of an ensemble cast, but most of its protagonists are painfully uninteresting.
A show at fundamental odds with being good, Primeval is even more paradoxical this time around. Again and again, good ideas, interesting plot twists, and decent (for British television, at least) special effects are marred and maligned by poor execution, wooden acting, uninteresting and annoying characters, and needlessly PG-friendly comedy that takes the dramatic wind out of the sails like a cannonball hole. Every so often, the show gets tantalizingly close to being interesting, engaging, dramatically satisfying, and gripping, only to stumble and trip on its own feet. On paper -- and I say this again for posterity -- this should be a very good show. It is nothing of the sort. All the elements are here. Man, the potential!
I had honestly hoped the show could turn the snooze-inducing pace of its first two seasons around and come back with a groundbreaking third, but nothing ever materializes. The first few episodes had me truly hopeful, with Helen ratcheting up the aggression towards ARC with an veritable army of goons and strong-armed tactics to wreck the team, but poof -- the story arc gets unceremoniously (and unfortunately) resolved by a bizarre twist that only serves to aggravate. Then the revolving cast door swings open, abandoning all hope for those who pass through its gates.
Primeval: Volume Two isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. It just isn't good. Not even a little bit. Everything is here for an enjoyable action drama -- decent special effects, a large cast, gunfights and explosions, and a rich and rapidly evolving mythology and universe of monsters, creatures, and invaders. Why it fails so utterly to engage is a mystery I simply fail to answer. On paper -- and here I go again -- it really should be a great show. Oh, the sweet disappointments of life.
Like Primeval: Volume One, the technical presentation here is average at best. Black levels are improved, but the muted and washed-out palate still muddles the picture. The picture is a bit less grainy this time around, but the image lacks the sharpness and crisp lines we expect; too soft and hazy, with aggressive use of soft filters to create bizarre visual effects and simulate different timeline locations. Again, the mix is stereo only, with an energetic orchestral/hard rock score constantly churning and roaring along the action. Dialogue is clear and clean, with acceptable bass response for an adventure show.
Extras are on par with the previous set. We get three episode commentary tracks this time, which is an increase, but the two standalone features ("Cutter's Odyssey" and "Genesis of a Creature") only run about 20 minutes each, which is a decrease from last time. You trade the one for the other, so no harm done.
I admit that the chief villain (or villainess to be exact) is pretty darn effective. Helen, the crazy ex-wife, may just be the show's crowning achievement. A character so full of vitriol and deception, she oozes evil with every appearance, but acts confused and crazy and innocent just enough to make you think twice about her motives -- and then she shoots you in the face.
As villains go, she's a humdinger. She actually starts to make the show interesting, especially towards the end, raising the stakes quite significantly against the ARC team -- almost into areas audiences might constitute "enjoyment." Just a little bit at the end there.
After a ratings decline and a total lack of money to pay for the million-dollar-per-episode production costs, ITV cancelled Primeval at the end of this season, a kick in the teeth for fans to be sure, as the show ended on a cliffhanger. Interestingly enough, the latest news is that two more seasons will be funded by international partnership and will be back in production. So if you're a fan of the show, good news there -- it'll live on.
Maybe the new overseers will manage to revive the franchise into something worth following. In its current iteration, Primeval certainly has good ideas and lofty ambitions, but lacks the polish and finesse to execute them consistently. Things slowly start to improve towards the end, but frankly, there are just far too many better shows on television right now that people could be watching with their limited time. Why waste time with the stragglers?
Guilty. But boy, Hannah Spearritt is cute. Can I award points for that?
(Editor's note: No, you can't.)
Review content copyright © 2009 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 445 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Official Site