BFS Video // 1999 // 480 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // March 25th, 2010
His second sight is his second chance.
An early example of Clive Owen doing what he does best -- namely, being intense -- BBC's Second Sight appeared on American public television briefly without much fanfare. So why release this series now on DVD to North American audiences? Shame on you, gentle reader; you shouldn't even need to ask. Hollywood is currently working on a big-screen adaptation. Is there any other reason?
Detective Chief Ross Tanner (Clive Owen, Inside Man) is an ambitious and successful officer put in charge of a task force to investigate the brutal murder of a teenager. His team consists of dozens of officers, including DI Catherine Tully (Claire Skinner, Bridget Jones's Diary), an ambitious detective with a clouded past.
Tanner is cocky and arrogant; a magnificent detective but lacking in his personal life, estranged from his son and her mother. Then suddenly, Tanner begins losing his sight. It starts gradually -- a peculiar halo effect clouding his vision that comes and goes, but soon alarms him enough to go to the doctor. The doctors tell him he suffers from a rare viral condition that will eventually rob him of all his sight. Tanner is defiant and angry and insists on a second opinion, but the reality of his situation soon becomes clear: he is going blind, and when the brass finds out, he'll lose his job -- the only thing in his life worth a damn.
Tully finds out about his condition through good old fashioned deduction, and confronts Tanner. Desperate to conceal his condition, Tully agrees to assist him in protecting his secret, working out a partnership that lets Tully act as Tanner's 'eyes' -- for a price. Tully has her own demons, and she needs Tanner to succeed at his task force to further her own career. It is a partner of mutual benefits, and the two soon find themselves partnering in other ways.
As a bizarre side effect to the diminishing sight, Tanner begins to experience peculiar visual hallucinations; strange and nonsensical imagery and strange magnification of his other senses. He is confused at first, but soon realizes that these visions may hold the key to unlocking the key to the murder...
Second Sight: Complete Collection contains both series of the show, as aired on BBC One in 2000-2001:
* "Second Sight, Parts One and Two"
* "Hide and Seek"
* "Kingdom of the Blind"
Second Sight is a tricky show to review. On paper, it is a fine crime drama with a novel twist; a slow-moving procedural drama in the style that the BBC excel at. The writing is taut and melancholic with a marvelous performance from an up-and-coming star Clive Owen. So why is it such a ponderous drag to actually sit down and watch?
Like I said: tricky. I can rattle off endless reasons why I admire and appreciate the show, but having sat through its two series run, I have basically forgotten about it in a matter of days. The concept is novel, if a bit gimmicky: an intense and slightly jerky police officer struck by a viral condition that messes with his eyesight, rendering him helpless and dependant on a plucky female officer for sight. His tattered and damaged brain sends his eyes bizarre signals, broken bits and flashes of nonsensical imagery that he then interprets as vital clues to solve whichever case he happens to be working on at the time. It all works out just a little too well, if you know what I mean.
The first series in actuality is little more than a pilot; a two-hour BBC event to test the waters with audiences to see if audiences would go for it. They did, and a second set of episodes were ordered, but there's something distinctly missing in the second series; a je ne sais quoi of urgency in Owen's performance, an unpredictability in the story. The first series was good, hence the second -- but turning the story of a cop gradually losing his sight into a series kind of loses some of the dramatic punch. It's not like they're going to actually take his sight; instead, he just loses it in slower increments. Good stories all, but Second Sight doesn't really bring the same intensity the second time through.
Still, there is much to like about the show. True seasoned procedural drama fans will find the intricate ins and outs to their liking, which can be surprisingly involved. A few times I found myself rewinding because I hadn't been keeping up with the dialogue and got lost, narrative-wise. I actually took this as a plus. I'm not saying you won't be able to predict the outcome of the mysteries -- trust me, you will -- but the writing is certainly on par with other great BBC shows. And in terms of performances, it's hard to understate Clive Owen in the role; a fresh-faced and youthful angry bastard going blind and smashing up whisky bottles, rolling around in heady angst. What's not to love?
Second Sight has its fans, but I can't really count myself among them. The whole failing eyesight and prophetic vision angle is a fresh twist, but it gets old fast. Once you take that out of the mix, there's not much to distinguish the series from any of the other marvelous procedural dramas and mystery programming coming out of the UK. Tanner and Tully end up romantically entangled, but the actors don't really show much in the way of chemistry together. Clive Owen is the best part of this show; without him, it would be all too easy to dismiss it and move on, but he brings enough intensity to bear on the role that Second Sight justifies a viewing -- barely.
As transfers go, Second Sight: Complete Collection is a clean, full frame presentation with natural color, sharp and clean. At times, the picture quality is most impressive, with remarkable detail in close-up shots of skin details. Some speckling and print imperfections pop up here and there, and the expected ghosting and edge aliasing crops up now and again, but otherwise a solid television transfer. Some of the special effects used to simulate elements of Tanner's hallucinations are downright cheesy. Audio is a simple stereo presentation, but dialogue is not always as clear; expect to do some volume fiddling to get the levels right throughout the show. A lack of subtitles makes it particularly challenging in this regard. The score is a smoky jazzy electric homage to film noir and vintage private investigator films, like a modern Mike Hammer and suits the show magnificently.
Despite this being a five-disc set, there's not a single extra present.
A slow-moving, detailed and brooding police procedural drama with a gimmicky twist, Second Sight is a marvelous showcase for Owen's intense performance; definitely an early indication of how successful his career would become. Unfortunately, the show lacks the grab factor to make it a mandatory watch for North America audiences.
Not great, but that in of itself is not a crime. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 480 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated