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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

‘Sanctuary’ debuts tonight on Sci Fi

It’s a little bit Matrixy, a little bit Hellboyish, a little bit Buffy, a little bit Beauty and the Beast (the Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton urban fantasy, that is). It’s got hot babes in leather hunting down monsters, and a guy-sidekick for them (the babes, that is, not the monsters) who’s like Sherlock Holmes meets Fox Mulder plus Monk and that dude from Psych all rolled into one. It’s loaded with cool gothic FX done in a revolutionary — for TV — green-sceen technique that allows for imaginative virtual sets.

Sanctuary, debuting tonight at 9pm on Sci Fi, sounds like it should be kinda cool. So I can’t believe how really boring the pilot is. I’m gonna give it a few more weeks, at least, to see if it grows into what sounds like a promising premise. But that promise is gonna have to be realized sooner rather than later for me to stick around beyond that.

The premise is: Dr. Helen Magnus — played by Stargate SG1’s Amanda Tapping, gone brunette and British — heads up the mysterious Sanctuary, and over the course of these 90 minutes (two hours when you add in commercials), which I had the chance to preview, she slowly introduces her strange world to Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), forensic psychiatrist. That sounds cool, but what it really means is that he wanders around crime scenes muttering things like “There’s a lot of fear in the air” while the cops mutter in return that “this is exactly the same kind of BS that got you bounced from the Bureau.” But Magnus sees something in him, and it’s probably a bit more than that he reminds her of Dr. Daniel Jackson.

So Will — and we — slowly discover that Magnus is prone to saying things like “there are things in this city, in this world, that no one wants to admit are real,” and that she, in the words of the villain in this episode, “protect[s] the innocent, stud[ies] the bizarre, the inexplicable.” And I do mean slowly: the measured reveal is meant, probably, to be atmospheric, but it feels sluggish more than anything else. There’s a lot of very on-the-nose dialogue about how she specializes in cryptozoology and xenobiology and how she has “a dual obligation: to study the miraculous and protect against the perilous.” People don’t talk like this. Still, Will is intrigued: will he take her up on her offer to join Sanctuary and hunt down monsters– I mean, abnormals, as Magnus prefers to call them? The suspense is so not killing me.

It’s nice to see a woman in charge and mysterious — and Tapping has the, well, balls to pull that off, if the show works on being more daring — and the virtual sets are indeed quite cool. And the other chick in leather at Magnus’s side? It’s her daughter, Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), a cute spunky blond, and there’s a certain undiscriminating segment of the forever-adolescent male audience this is mostly aimed at for whom that will be enough. You know who you are. Everyone else may agree with me, that this all feels like something left over from the early 90s, a syndicated SF/F action drama that fell through a timewarp to today. The production technology may be a step forward, but the pedestrian storytelling and rote characters are a step back. We’ve seen this all before. Sanctuary will have to be a lot bolder and more audacious than this to keep me coming back. Fortunately, there’s a hint of a suggestion that something more dramatic may be in the offing… which I won’t spoil. It’s up to you whether you want to invest a couple of hours on a chancy proposition.



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  • I have a sudden urge to re-watch Sci-Fi’s series “The Chronicle”

  • Ken

    None of them look like they’re enjoying being a part of this.

  • Karen R

    I watched 5.5 minutes of this premiere and promptly turned to my DVD collection.

    I am *so sick* of seeing the same Canadian/Sci-Fi acting pool in these shows. They should get the nation’s award for recycling actors. Amanda Tapping and at least two other actors from SGA. I mean, you can’t tell me there aren’t 3 or 4 other actors in Canada who couldn’t have played those parts. Sci-Fi and Alliance Atlantis — get it into your heads we’re not going to *come* to a show any more because it’s got familiar faces, we’re going to go screaming in the other direction.

    And some of the same sets/hallways/fields/trees. My God. It’s a good thing the American dollar is tanking because that means we’re no longer going to have to put up with all of this redux, redux, redux.

    Plus, the makeup on the actors was disturbingly yellowish, very thick and very obvious.

    I’m just fed up with the sub-par of it all. We deserve much, much more.

  • belle

    God, what a load of rubbish. Tapping always was the most wooden actor in the Stargate franchise and now she seems to have found a whole bunch of matching furniture to keep her company including a cut price Daniel Jackson. So did she pay to make this garbage or what? She couldn’t possibly need the money after infesting both Stargates (and doubtlessly the next one) for 12 or 13 years. I mean it’s not like it’s an acting challenge or anything. Thank god for the Brits and the new prime time network sic fi shows if this, Flush Gordon and Painful Jane are what the Sci Fi channel think sci fi fans want to see.

    Epic fail.

  • Ryan

    I don’t know if Tapping was the most wooden actor/actress on SG-1…although even as I wrote to dispute that, I have to acknowledge that Daniel and O’Neill were far more charismatic…and Christopher Judge was intentionally playing Teal’c as straight as possible…so hmmmm. OK, maybe she was, and I sort of enjoyed Claudia Black as Vala a lot more.

    It’s weird how sometimes you don’t notice these things until in retrospect you start comparing her to Claudia Black, or Summer Glau, and think wow…not really on the same level.

    That’s all beside the point though…I’m pretty sure Sanctuary’s main problem is less the actors and more the fact that it appears to have been written by a list of cliches and a thesaurus conspiring to make money at the expense of Sci-Fi fans.

  • To be fair, the 2-hour pilot was reworked from the original 2 20-minute segments that aired on the web. The story was thin when it was 40 minutes, but when expanded to 80 minutes plus commercials it is threadbare.

    Much of my problem with this show is that I find Amanda Tapping’s accent appallingly bad. The rest of it I can sort of let slide. There is a lot of potential here for a good show, and the potential of their production technique (let’s call it the “Sky Captain” method) means that they can save money on production which means that the pressure is lessened to make money in the first season.

    Perhaps if this show is even moderately successful we can get a really good show to compliment it.

  • I tried watching the pilot, twice. Both times I fell asleep mid-show. I think that sums up my feelings about how this show is going to do.

  • Jim Mann

    I really wanted to like this who more. Unlike several of the other folks who commented, I really like Amanda Tapping in Stargate. And the premise sounded interesting. But it just didn’t come together.

    I’ll probably give it one more week. I’ve seen other shows where the pilot didn’t quite work but the show was OK, so maybe that’s the case here. Though I doubt it.

    Jim

  • Jester

    Great review. You nailed it in every respect. In addition to being slow to get rolling, it was also as predictable as a clock. When the key character in the back half showed up, I knew exactly who he was… and they still managed to throw a major cliche in there.

    It was also freakish how much they were aping the recruitment of Daniel Jackson from the first Stargate flick, though. Every single beat was the same, right down to the final recruitment happening in the back seat of a car, in the rain. It had to be intentional, but why? Why would they deliberately ape Stargate, the series that Tapping is trying to get away from?

    And giving Kandyse McClure such a small role is a freakin’ *crime*.

  • “Why would they deliberately ape Stargate, the series that Tapping is trying to get away from?” -Jester

    Maybe it was an attempt to hit a chord that would be familiar to Stargate fans without their realizing it, thus making them subconsciously more predisposed to liking the show? If that is the case though, it probably did backfire, since no Stargate fan I know who’s watched Sanctuary hasn’t noticed it and pointed it out explicitly.

    (On a side-note, I’m one of the strange, sheltered people who had to be told that the particular cliché you mention IS a cliché. Not in Sanctuary, but back when it was used in a Babylon 5 episode. I just haven’t ever been exposed to it very much yet. It still doesn’t bother me.) :)

  • Jester

    Heh, yeah. I don’t think there’s been a sci-fi series yet that DOESN’T have a theory about that particular historical figure.

    And in most of them, he’s not human. Kinda like we’re trying to distance ourselves from him as a species, isn’t it? ;-)

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