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Sanctuary: The Complete First Season(TV) (2009)
Dr. Helen Magnus is a beautiful and enigmatic scientist who seeks out all manner of monstrous creatures. Aided by her protege, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman, and her fearless daughter Ashley, the Sanctuary team tracks down, studies and protects the strange and often terrifying creatures that secretly populate our world.
For more about Sanctuary: The Complete First Season and the Sanctuary: The Complete First Season Blu-ray release, see the Sanctuary: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review
Starring: Amanda Tapping, Robin Dunne, Agam Darshi, Ryan Robbins, Christopher Heyerdahl
» See full cast & crew
Sanctuary: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review
The successful Syfy series shows promise despite a rocky first season.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, July 9, 2010
The invention of computer generated imagery has profoundly changed the landscape of modern sci-fi television. Look no further than a direct comparison of the original "Battlestar Galactica" series to the modern-day iteration, and you'll realize just how far we've progressed in the span of 26 years. Space battles once dominated by crude models set against a star-filled backdrop have been replaced by computer rendered dogfights boasting stunning realism and amazing depth. This gradual move toward "game-changing" technology had been championed in the film world for over a decade, but the cost-prohibitive nature of CG-rendered effects often left the television market grasping for simple cut-scenes or other token moments of eye-candy. However, exponential gains in technology coupled with advances in software-based rendering programs soon opened the door for the widespread use of digital effects in the television realm, provided the tools are placed in the hands of a talented cast and crew.
Following the release of the film Sin City (shot entirely on green screen), writer Damian Kindler set to work producing a series of webisodes based on a storyline he originally dreamed up in 2001. Teaming with actress Amanda Tapping (Stargate fans will recognize her as Samantha Carter) and director Martin Wood ("Stargate SG-1", "Stargate Atlantis"), the trio completed a two hour internet production, sparking enough buzz within the science fiction community to earn funding for a 13-episode television incarnation that premiered on SyFy in October of 2008. Well known for its extensive use of CG environments and set-pieces, Sanctuary has acquired a loyal following across the first two seasons released thus far, and looks to expand its hold with the announcement of a third season arriving later this year. Coming to Blu-ray courtesy of E1 Entertainment, this box set provides the ideal way to catch up on events that occur in the early stages of the series while further scrutinizing the merits of such a CG-heavy production.
Long ago, Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) acquired "The Sanctuary" as a haven for earth-dwelling creatures she refers to as Abnormals. This sympathetic label is confounded by the fact that most humans view these oddities as monstrous beings that often hide in our closets or become the source of legend. Recognizing humanity's fear of what we don't understand has often lead to the destruction of Abnormals, Dr. Magnus made it her life's work to provide a protective home in which these creatures can exist away from the dangers of the outside world. During the course of this quest, the doctor assembles a team of like-minded specialists who assist in the daily operations of the sanctuary, and participate in various missions to acquire new specimens. The newest recruit in this colorful team is a young forensic psychologist named Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), who reluctantly accepts an invitation to become the doctor's latest protégé. Recognized as a bit of a quack by his ex-girlfriend and prior co-workers on the police force, Will soon discovers his true calling as a compassionate helping hand to the monsters he feared since childhood.
The first season of Sanctuary delivers an odd mix of highs and lows. When the series is at its best, it rivals several of the greatest science fiction productions of the past ten years. However, when demonstrating its worst, you'll find yourself checking the runtime counter on your Blu-ray player in a feeble attempt to make time speed up. Fortunately, the strong episodes make it a bit easier to weather some of the exceptionally weak storylines littered throughout season one, and continually restore our faith in the core strengths of the concept. Without these episodes I doubt the show would have been picked up for a second or third season, falling into the annoying black hole of cancelled sci-fi television. Looking back on the initial eleven entries in the thirteen episode premiere season, five immediately come to mind as a waste of time ("Kush", "Nubbins", "Requiem", "Warriors", and "Instinct"), serving as mere filler while we progress to the two-episode finale. This isn't necessarily a knock on the series, since I suspect Damian Kindler and Martin Wood were still struggling to develop the oddball universe in which Sanctuary exists, but it does make season one a bit of a chore to stick with from time to time.
Getting back to a cup half full assessment of this Sanctuary boxed set, I must admit I was rather smitten by the cliffhanger conclusion of the season one finale. As I mentioned earlier, when certain episodes hit full stride, the storytelling equates to top-notch entertainment. In between the diversionary investigations that pop up throughout the weaker episodes, we have an underlying story arch involving a group known as "The Five", and a shadow organization known as The Cabal. Dr. Magnus is revealed to be one of five individuals who received an injection of vampire blood bestowing varying supernatural changes on the recipients. Over the 200 years that followed, each member went their own way (often playing an important role in history), but they remain linked by the knowledge and powers they share. With this in mind, we're introduced superficially to The Cabal, an organization responsible for the production of a bioweapon that turns Abnormals against humans. Knowing the global chaos that would surely ensue if The Cabal is successful, The Five are forced to work together despite old wounds that never healed. As preposterous as this plotline likely sounds it serves as the basis for an intriguing journey that encompasses the better moments in season one, and lays the framework for events to follow in season two.
Though I wish I could provide a glowing assessment of the special effects courtesy of Anthem Visual Effects, enough weaknesses surface to warrant only average marks. For a television affair this is more than acceptable, but significant tradeoffs had to be made in order to satisfy the budgetary constraints placed on the series. As a result, some elements in the effects (such as backgrounds) look exquisite, while others (monster effects) look no better than your typical late night cable production.
Sanctuary: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 33Mbps), Sanctuary: Season One offers a mixed bag of highs and lows in the transition to Blu-ray. Considering the film was shot using the all-digital RED camera technology (at a reported resolution four times that of Blu-ray), I was taken aback by the volume of hazy shots that crop up from scene to scene. A perfect example of what I'm referring to can be found approximately six minutes into episode three, when Will and Dr. Magnus are chatting in her laboratory. During that scene, fine object detail takes a tremendous hit, offering only marginal gains over your typical standard definition offering. As bad as that sounds, the very next scene exhibits a complete 180 degree turnaround, revealing excellent texturing within both the foreground and the background. These wild swings in detail don't appear to be a result of shoddy craftsmanship in the completion of the transfer, but rather an unfortunate byproduct of the extensive green screen editing. I'm sure the digital effects surrounding the characters were often difficult to blend seamlessly, so it's not a huge surprise to find a fair bit of softening from time to time. If that were the only issue with the transfer, I'd probably have scored this a bit higher on visual competency (after all, we can't fault the transfer for issues with the source material), but there's also the noticeable presence of aliasing (movement not found within the source elements) that sensitive viewers will likely find distracting. Focusing on the same soft scene mentioned earlier, take a look at one of the metal poles holding the IV bag next to Magnus and you'll notice unnatural movement in the reflection on surface of the metal. Fortunately, the negative aspects of the transfer end here, and we're able to turn our attention to the more enjoyable elements. First up, the coloring of the series is quite vivid, containing a wide range of complex hues that appear to surpass what I recall of the original cable broadcast. Second, contrast rarely demonstrates a hint of weakness, despite the overly dark nature of the series. One of my primary concerns going into this review rested on the strength of shadow detail and black levels (considering the number of dark scenes), but I'm pleased to report those fears quickly subsided.
In case my visual assessment sounded overly harsh, I should qualify my statements by making it abundantly clear this is an ambitious special effects undertaking, and a real joy to watch on Blu-ray. Is it perfect in every way? Certainly not, but the shortcomings in the video department are hardly a deal-breaker when it comes to an appreciation of the series as a whole.
Sanctuary: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
E1 Entertainment delivers a surprisingly robust lossless surround track considering the modest roots of the series. For those who first discovered Sanctuary during its initial cable television run, the audio portion of the technical presentation on this Blu-ray release adds a tremendous sense of atmosphere that seemed lacking on earlier viewings. Keep in mind, this is a series that moves beyond the boundaries of what's feasible in the real world, taking viewers through various locations that span the globe (courtesy of ingenious set design and green screen backgrounds), so adding in an immersive audio experience further transports the viewer into each foreign environment. To further clarify what I'm getting at, during one episode we're stuck in a claustrophobic airplane cabin in the middle of a blizzard, while the next features tiny furballs travelling through the ventilation shafts of the Sanctuary. The key here is always mixing things up to deliver an audio presentation that never feels mundane. In addition to the excellent use of the surround field throughout the initial season we're also afforded enhanced clarity and precise volume balance across the mix. I never noticed instances where the music overwhelms other elements, and likewise, never found myself reaching for the remote to compensate for low dialog levels. All in all, this is a job well done.
Sanctuary: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Audio Commentaries: Featuring actress Amanda Tapping, creator Damian Kindler, director Martin Wood, and the occasional guest, this impressive collection of full-length commentaries span the entire thirteen episodes in the first season, providing a wealth of technical information on the CG-heavy show. Above all else, the greatest element in the commentary is the comical, honest banter between Wood and Kindler as they divulge script errors and directing mistakes. Fans will surely find themselves in fits of laughter from time to time.
Sanctuary: The Original Webisodes (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 2:10:12 min): As most fans know, Sanctuary made its debut as an 8-episode webisode production, with each segment running fifteen minutes in length. The initial four entries provide a loose interpretation of the events that take place in the 2-hour pilot of the television series, and the second four webisodes translate faithfully to the third episode of the full-length season.
Welcome to the Sanctuary (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 5:13 min): Various members of the cast and crew provide a glowing assessment of the story while discussing their experience working on the show. Intercut with the interview segments, we're shown behind-the-scenes production footage.
The Sanctuary Residents (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 5:43 min): Largely consisting of interviews with the same contributors from the prior featurette, this supplement focuses on the various monsters and characters that call the sanctuary their home.
Sanctuary Visual Effects (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 5:23 min): Without a doubt, this is the primary value-added featurette included on the disc, since it provides an interesting explanation of the extensive green screen set design, and the choice to shoot the entire series using RED camera (in four times the resolution of Blu-ray).
Green Screen PIP (1080p, Dolby Digital 5.1, 1:28:16 min): The initial two episodes that comprise the series pilot are shown with a picture-in-picture window that only appears when green-screen was utilized. The window reveals which aspects of the scene were digitally added in post-production.
Bloopers (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 3:33 min): The majority of this supplement features the actors goofing around in-between takes, but there are some truly funny moments that make this a must-watch collection of clips (especially for fans).
Rounding out the extras, we have a four-minute Behind-the-scenes Photo Gallery, and a brief sneak peek at season two of the series.
Sanctuary: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The first season of Sanctuary isn't mind-blowing entertainment, but it's required viewing material in order to fully appreciate the superior season two. If you're already a fan of the series, or a card-carrying member of the science fiction fan club, this box set will find a welcomed home in your growing Blu-ray collection. However, if you've never witnessed an episode of Sanctuary and don't typically count the Syfy channel among your go-to outlets for television entertainment, stick with a rental first.
Sanctuary: Other Seasons
Sanctuary: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Amazon Blu-ray Deal of the Week: Spartacus and Sanctuary (Expired) - November 4, 2012
Amazon's Blu-ray Deals of the Week affect Starz Home Entertainment's three Spartacus season compilations as well as Entertainment One's first four Sanctuary season. These deals expire at 12 AM PST/3 AM EST next Sunday, November 11th.
• Deal Alert: Sanctuary Seasons 1 & 2 Blu-ray $24.32 Each - May 31, 2010
Wal-Mart is offering the upcoming Blu-ray season sets Sanctuary: The Complete First Season and Sanctuary: The Complete Second Season at the special price of $24.32 each (51% off MSRP). Additionally, the retail giant is offering free shipping to home on both items. ...
• Sanctuary Seasons 1 and 2 Announced on Blu-ray - April 26, 2010
E1 Entertainment has announced the Blu-ray release of Sanctuary: The Complete First Season and Sanctuary: The Complete Second Season for release on Blu-ray on June 15. This supernatural-themed TV series, which began life online as a webisode miniseries and subsequently ...
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