Review: ‘Sanctuary’ Season One On DVD

Sanctuary is a unique series in many regards, but foremost because it began life as a web series and generated such a fan following that it was essentially a hit before it ever aired on television. Originally debuting in early 2007 eight episodes (each 15-20 minutes in length) were released and sold on the Internet at roughly bi-weekly intervals. Based on the success of the webisodes, Syfy (then SCI FI) commissioned the show for a thirteen episode series. As a further testament to its continued success this first season set arrives about three and a half weeks before the second season premieres. Plenty of time to get up to speed before new episodes air.

As described by Syfy, “Sanctuary follows the adventures of the beautiful, enigmatic and always surprising Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping), a brilliant scientist who holds the secrets of a clandestine population — a group of strange and sometimes terrifying beings that hide among humans. Along with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) and her fearless daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), Magnus seeks to protect these threatened phenomena as well as unlock the mysteries behind their existence.” As you would naturally expect wacky hi-jinks tend to ensue.

Another way in which this series is unique is that it is shot almost entirely using green screen using an innovative camera called the RED camera. As shown in more detail in the Making Of featurettes the RED camera saves straight to hard drive at 4K resolution, which is nearly four times the resolution of HD. The green screen technique allows the show to utilize virtual sets to place the action literally anywhere in the world. Pretty handy when adhering to a TV budget. The added bonus of all this is that the writers and directors are essentially only limited by their imaginations when creating and visualizing scripts. This virtual set approach has the additional affect of giving the show the look of being a living graphic novel and, at times, very theatrical, almost Shakespearean, in tone. All of this combines to make the episodes look stunning on disc and even the standard DVD looks very HD on my LCD High Definition TV.

However, all that cool technology is worthless if it isn’t backed up by solid writing and terrific acting. Sanctuary readily delivers both. Tapping is the big surprise here, not in her acting ability (she’s more than proven that), but how markedly different she plays Helen Magnus from Stargate SG-1‘s Samantha Carter. She’s played Carter since 1997, but Magnus is an even more complex character than the very three dimensional Air Force officer. Those watching the show having followed Tapping from her most famous role will undoubtedly be caught off card by her raven hair and British accent, but by the end of the first hour you may just forget she’s a blond-haired Canadian. Robin Dunne does a great job playing Will Zimmerman, a forensic psychiatrist who seems derailed not only in his career, but also his life. Zimmerman brings a sceptical eye to the proceedings that not only provides the audience an way in to the narrative, but also helps give a new perspective to the characters that take the ultra-normal for granted. Rounding things out are newcomer Emilie Ullerup as Magnus’ daughter Ashley, who starts out a little rough, but makes great strides acting-wise over the course of the season, Ryan Robbins as the resident computer geek Henry Foss and the always terrific Christopher Heyerdahl in the dual roles of villain John Druit and Magnus’ Friday-esque Bigfoot. Also, keep your eyes open for some notable guest-stars.

The special features are not as robust as I would have liked, but definitely do the job of providing all the requisite information in the three-part Making Of featurette. There is a very entertaining set of bloopers that includes some great goofing around by the cast and crew. All thirteen episode feature a commentary track with many of the actors and creators involved and they are just as entertaining as the show and, at times, considerably more irreverent. There is a behind the scenes photo gallery and a very brief trailer for season two that also plays at the beginning of the first disc. However, the crown jewel of the fourth disc has to be the original webisodes. These are no longer available on the Internet, so it’s a real treat they were included. It’s interesting to note that some of the footage shot for the webisodes actual makes it into the televised version.

All in all, this is a great set for a strong first season. Sanctuary is a show that you will watch multiple times and the fact that they released this set this far ahead of the second season premiere is an added bonus. Fans of the show will enjoy being able to rewatch the episodes. For those of you just discovering this show, “Welcome to the Sanctuary!”

sanctuaryDISC ONE:
“Sanctuary For All 1 &2”
“Fata Morgana”
“Folding Man”
“The Five”
“Revelations, Part 1”
“Revelations, Part 2”
*Making of Featurettes
-Welcome To The Sanctuary
-Sanctuary Residents
-Sanctuary Visual Effects
*Sanctuary: The Original Webisodes
*Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery
*Season Two Sneak Peek