Judge Adam Arseneau goes bump in the night.
Our review of Sanctuary: The Complete First Season, published September 18th, 2009, is also available.
There are monsters loose in the world. And they are the key to the future of our race.
The second season of the hit SyFy supernatural drama, Sanctuary: The Complete Second Season offers more of what fans love: green screens, ghouls, and people who used to be on Stargate TV shows. Compared to its sci-fi fantasy competition, Sanctuary is somewhat sterile and ineffectual, but a superior sophomore season helps mitigate the damage.
Facts of the Case
Noble scientist Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) seeks out all manner of monstrous creatures. She is their protector, offering sanctuary to any being, man or beast that requires it. Her project, the Sanctuary Network exists in major cities all across the world, offering protection to the creatures of the world, but is under threat from a mysterious organization known as The Cabal which has set its sights on her destruction.
Aided by forensic scientist Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), tech expert and part-time werewolf Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins), professional con artist Kate Freelander (Agam Darshi), and the mysterious reformed serial killer John Druitt (Christopher Heyerdahl), the Sanctuary team is the last line of defense for the secret population of the world.
Sanctuary: The Complete Second Season contains all thirteen episodes from the second season spread across four discs.
• "End of Nights, Part 1"
It is hard not to admire the independent and resolute spirit of Sanctuary. Shot entirely using the extremely impressive and prohibitively expensive RED camera system and composed with extensive green screen use, Sanctuary walks a fine line between cutting edge high-tech and low-budget creativity. Originally conceived in an online webisode format, the end result was impressive (and affordable) enough for SyFy to pick up the show for full episode production. Now in its second season, Sanctuary continues to kick out beguiling sci-fi product while looking twice as expensive as it is.
All sci-fi fantasy-type shows start with an idea, and Sanctuary has a clever one: a network of Sanctuaries in cities all across the world, taking in refugee abnormals, monsters, and all manner of creatures requesting asylum from the world around them. The setup gives the creators a near-unlimited playground of new materials and concepts to toss around; each week a new creature or monster, a new exotic location—by which I mean a new green screen shoot in Vancouver—and a new cadre of kung-fu fighting vampires. Apparently that is how vampires fight. Who knew? I blame Joss Whedon for that one.
Season Two shakes the cast up in Sanctuary by swapping the annoying-but-pretty blonde girl out for an equally annoying-but-pretty brunette girl. This is a net hotness/annoyance loss of zero, so the impact is moot. We also see the former antagonist John Druitt join the gang, which is an interesting development. Christopher Heyerdahl plays the role of a semi-reformed teleporting serial killer with swagger and charm, but having a dude who can teleport anywhere in the world on staff at your beck and call kind of writes the show into a nefarious corner. It is hard to develop dramatic tension when you've got the ultimate deux ex machina device at your beck and call. Narrative issues aside, he's hands down the most interesting and charismatic member of the group, so his presence is more than welcome. Did we mention he's Jack the Ripper? No, literally.
Ambition can only take you so far in a show. Sanctuary does an impressive amount with limited resources, but struggles with establishing a consistent tone, perpetually unsure whether to be moody and full of gravitas or lighthearted and humorous, then delivering exactly the wrong element at the worst possible time. The big bad villains are so shadowy and all-powerful that they just come across boring and clichéd. Perhaps most destructive, the characters themselves are dull and uninspired, difficult to get attached to any of them. Amanda Tapping gets some decent emotion going in the first few episodes, but overall the acting is stiff. Chalk it up to a side effect of the excessive green-screen use. After all, it's hard to emote properly to things you can't see.
Even with the prevalence of these flaws, Season Two is a notable improvement over the debut. The Sanctuary universe, such as it is, eagerly welcomes the depth and expansion of a second season, the widening of exotic creatures and of the Sanctuary Network itself. The reliance on excessive teleporting, as a plus, speeds up the pace of the show noticeably as Magnus and her posse rocket from place to place at breakneck speed. The new cast member, Kate, seemingly exists solely to be acerbic and sarcastic to everyone at all times, and while she's just as annoying as Ashley, she does injects the gloomy atmosphere with some much-needed wit. The special effects aren't perfect—and some of the more ambitious green screen location shoots are laughable at best—but the blend of on-set location shooting, prosthetic makeup, and CGI pull off the illusion more consistently this season.
On DVD, the transfer here extremely crisp and clean; the all-digital nature of the show lends itself expertly to the format, and would no doubt be a stunner on Blu-Ray. The image has a stylized, oversaturated haze prevalent throughout the presentation with a strange color balance, leaning flesh tones towards orange. You won't find a spot or a speck on this transfer. The heavy use of CGI gives the show remarkable stretch on a tight budget, but the strong fidelity of the transfer works against the special effects at times, especially the more ambitious ones—definitely not Hollywood production standards. Black levels are solid with minimum grain.
Audio comes in both a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround presentation and a stereo track for your listening pleasure. Dialogue is clear and clean, bass response is solid and rear channels get a pleasant workout, with well-realized placement of environmental effects. The score is powerfully mixed and dramatic, at times distractingly so. The stereo track does the job well, but the extra oomph and bass of the surround track make it superior.
Extras are pleasantly impressive. We get audio commentary on all thirteen episodes (pretty sweet) with creator Damian Kindler, producer Martin Wood, actress Amanda Tapping and others. In addition, we get making-of featurettes, "International Sanctuary," "Amanda Tapping Directs 'Veritas'," "Dancing in Mumbai," and "Sanctuary Visual Effects," each running a few minutes in length. "Anatomy of an Episode: Next Tuesday" goes behind-the-scenes with cast and crew in the making of the aforementioned episode. We also get some footage of the Sanctuary cast and crew attending Comic Con, a behind-the-scenes feature of the cast and crew in Japan, bloopers, and outtakes and a photo gallery.
Actually, skip "Dancing in Mumbai." The less said about the dance number at the end of the season, the better. Seriously.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Perhaps the biggest problem facing Sanctuary is that of overcompensation. Shows like The X-Files, Millennium, Dark Angel and especially Torchwood all have bigger budgets, more talent, and notoriety. Fearful of the stiff competition, of standing out in such a massive crowd, Sanctuary eschews the long-term gains of storytelling and character development in favor of short-term ones: pithy one-liners, increasingly improbable narrative story arcs, faux exotic locations, and a rotating monster-of-the-week format.
Having watched two seasons now of the show, I find myself uninterested in the world of Sanctuary but the second season is admittedly more enjoyable than the first. On the plus, fans of the series will appreciate the top-notch DVD treatment.
Man, I wish I had a RED camera.
Not my favorite of shows, but not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
• Episode Commentaries
Review content copyright © 2010 Adam Arseneau; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.