While I consider myself a pretty solid sci-fi junkie, I’ll have to admit to some ignorance to all things SANCTUARY. I distinctly remember watching the series pilot episode, as well as a handful of episodes from their first season. The only lasting impression I can cull from memory is that I wasn’t impressed enough to hang with it – after all, time is our most perishable resource. I didn’t find the characters early on all that interesting, and, while I enjoyed the premise of the show, it just seemed like it would have limited flexibility so far as any longer story arcs were concerned. I pride myself on entertainment that requires some measure of investment on the part of the viewer – no matter how small – and early SANCTUARY, for whatever reasons, just didn’t do it for me.
So, I watched SANCTUARY: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON in its entirety, figuring I could come at it from the perspective of a ‘newbie,’ someone who might have a little bit to add critically by being an outsider. I’m safe admitting that this fourth season really didn’t convince me that my original perception was all that far off-the-mark; in fact, I’d mostly say that early assessment was vindicated.
Dr. Helen Magnus (played by the lovely Amanda Tapping) uses her creative cunning and scientific mind to track down and secure the monsters that live above us. No, I’m not talking serial killers, unless the serial killing is a raving carnivore with a fur-covered body, claws, and the eyes of a mutant. These are monsters – literal monsters – of the sci-fi and monster-movie variety. Along with her counterparts, Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), wolf-thing Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins), and Bigfoot (Christopher Heyerdahl), her weekly installments took her anywhere around the world where CGI could lead, the cutting edge visual special effect which the program made impressive use of regularly.
In fact, I’d read somewhere that CGI was SANCTUARY’s saving grace. CGI could be used to great effect in studios to create the settings and locales needed to tell these monster stories. And use it they did! SANCTUARY, in its four seasons, has been nominated and won accolades consistently. This crew has been recognized for excellence in series direction, special effects, costuming, sound, and acting. If there’s an award out there for a sci-fi TV production, SANCTUARY has no doubt been in contention for it, and that alone speaks wonders for the work these smilers have done over the years.
The central problem I had with the program was that, at its core, I just didn’t care about these characters. Growing up, I was a huge fan of monster movies, and I’ve probably forgotten more hours that I can honestly remember watching any film that came on television that had a monster. Even if that monster was in an ‘Abbott & Costello’ flick, I was there – not for the comedy, but for the monsters. SANCTUARY was, probably, the type of show created with me in mind. So far as I can tell, I must’ve grown a little too jaded and maybe a little too disinterested with monsters these days to be interested in following the program with any serious eye. What I saw when I watched this fourth season was still a program dedicated to these four leads – all a little too goody-two-shoes saccharin for my palate – and their various exploits that just HAPPENED to involve monsters. Instead of focusing on the monsters, SANCTUARY told me how these people ‘felt’ and ‘capture’ and ‘caught’ and ‘explored’ monsters. What I wanted to see was more about monsters and less about these people.
However, I honestly contend that, if I were that eight, nine, and ten-year-old boy again, then I probably would’ve loved SANCTUARY. The series pilot and quite a bit of this fourth season had an immensely ‘friendly’ environment for children. Clearly, the central premise of the show was that as much as mankind needing protection so did these monsters, and that’s a message any kid with a thing for monsters can grasp, understand, and appreciate. Whereas the older, (hopefully) more mature viewer I’ve grown into gets jazzed about even re-runs of THE X FILES, SANCTUARY seems to me very much like THE X FILES FOR KIDS, and, on that front, I applaud their efforts.
Quality-wise, the first few episodes of this fourth (and final) season were actually very compelling. These few dealt with Magnus’s departure from the third season (and, no, I wasn’t at a loss to follow it all even though I hadn’t seen so much as ten seconds of the third season), as she’s slipped back in time all under the machinations of a monster she’s bent on capturing. Once she did, she found herself lost in time, missing all of the resources of her impressive ‘Sanctuary’ network, but it was all righted (maybe a little too cleanly) within a matter of installments. The latter half of the season, I felt the quality dipped quite a bit, almost as if the creative staff were struggling to find a way to tie all of the threads they’d dangled – the loss of funding for the Sanctuary, the pregnancy of a recurring character, an entire society of subterranean creatures – into a cohesive plotline that they could tie-up before the season finale. Again, for my tastes, it didn’t work all that well – much of the relationships were obviously deliberately thrown into disarray, friendships were broken – and it resolved itself with even less grace under pressure.
Still, while not a regular viewer, I enjoyed it for what it was … except that all-musical episode. Really? Really? Why must EVERY respectable genre program these days HAVE to HAVE a musical episode?
THAT’s a real monster!
SANCTUARY: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON was produced by Sanctuary 1 Productions and Stage 3 Media. DVD distribution is being handled by E1 Entertainment (aka Entertainment One). The DVD looks and sounds excellent; it’s pretty clear that the producers spared no modest expense at cultivating the look of the program – lots and lots of CGI done in some large, expansive set formats – and I can only guess that fans loved how it all went together so seamlessly. As a set, the discs also boast an impressive amount of special features, including a ‘day in the life’ with series star Amanda Tapping, a few ‘making of’ exposes, the usual bloopers/outtakes/gags, deleted scenes, and audio commentaries provided by acting and behind-the-scenes personnel. I would imagine that any fan of the program or maybe even fans of even TV production might learn a thing or two by investing some time in the material presented here.
RECOMMENDED (obviously) for fans of the series, folks who like ‘lighter’ sci-fi fare, and it’s definitely kid-friendly (maybe on purpose?). SANCTUARY offers up few legitimate scares, though it reaches more than a few times to be heavier. Still, the best it did for me was show me some pretty special effects alongside some pretty people and pretty monsters all a bit too safely for my tastes. The latter episodes felt a bit rushed – did they know it was their last season? – and, as a result, they lose their narrative focus. As I’m not a long-time fan of the show (this was my first significant exposure to it), I couldn’t comment on whether or not the finale served as a satisfying wrap-up to all that the showrunners hoped and promised: my gut instinct is that it didn’t, but those who followed it more closely could probably tell you otherwise.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at EOne (Entertainment One) provided me with a DVD screener of SANCTUARY: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON for the expressed purposes of writing this review.
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