Judge Dan Mancini's home town isn't zoned for "The Troubles." He prefers it that way.
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.
Facts of the Case
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"
Extras: Cast and Producers' Commentary; Commentary by Director Adam Kane
Extras: Executive Producers Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn Commentary
Extras: Commentary by Executive Producers Sam Ernst, Jim Dunn, and Co-executive Producer Jose Molina
Extras: Commentary by Executive Producer/Writer Sam Ernst and Co-Executive Producer Jose Molina
• "Ball and Chain"
Extras: Cast and Producers' Commentary; Commentary by Executive Producers Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn
Extras: Commentary by Executive Producer/Writer Jim Dunn
• "Ain't No Sunshine"
Extras: Commentary by Executive Producers Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn
• "As You Were"
• "The Hand You Were Dealt"
• "The Trial of Audrey Parker"
Extras: Cast and Producers' Commentary
Extras: Commentary by Consulting Producer/Writer Charles Ardai
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)
VFX of Haven (5:07)
Mythology of Haven (6:01)
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.
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.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
• Episode Commentaries
Review content copyright © 2011 Dan Mancini; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.