Sanctuary: Fresh Beginnings

Science Not FictionBy Stephen CassOct 3, 2008 9:20 PM


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Amanda Tapping is tall, which was a surprise to me, even though I've been watching her performance as Samantha Carter on the Stargate franchise for years. I suspect the kind of framing that has enabled Tom Cruise to gaze down at his various female leads. I got the chance to discover the truth about Tapping's height last night at a preview screening for her new show, Sanctuary, which airs tonight at 9/8c on the Sci Fi channel. Sanctuary is a show about a small group of investigators, lead by Tapping's character of Helen Magnus, which specializes in finding sentient mutants and monsters. Some are helped; those of a more aggressive turn of mind are captured. Magnus is, incidently, well over a hundred years old, having become immortal sometime in the Victorian Era via an incident which will be revealed later. Magnus is aided by her bounty-hunter-esque daughter and the new guy (and audience surrogate), a psychiatrist. The show started life in 2007 as a series of eight webisodes, which form the basis of tonight's two-hour pilot. However, for those who've seen the webisodes, from what I could see in the 30-minute edit Sci Fi showed us last night, there have been changes, including a significant revision in the psychiatrist's back story. The show promises to be a lot of fun, and its long gestation period seems to have taught the creators how to use their enormous use of VFX appropriately in the service of storytelling instead of just hitting the audience with flashy gee-whiz scene after scene: Santuary is the first television series to almost exclusively use virtual sets -- apart from the props that come into direct contact with the cast, pretty much everything you see on screen (including furniture) is computer generated. And despite the supernatural connotations of monsters like werewolves, etc., the creators promise that the show will be firmly rooted in science fiction, and explained some of their ground rules at the panel discussion that followed the screening: There is supposed to be a "scientific explanation for everything," said Sam Egan, a TV science-fiction veteran and writer on Sanctuary, "we're at the boundary where science fiction and science fact meet." This involves a certain discipline when it comes to plotlines, with show creator Damien Kindler citing a "no aliens" rule, for example, to keep the tone of the show grounded. A willingness to live within limits is a good sign for a show -- when shows start making it up as they go along (see the later seasons of the X-Files for example), or start invoking endless deus ex machinas to resolve stories (Fringe is really starting to worry me here), it ultimately kills dramatic tension. So far, Sanctuary looks like a show that deserves to do well. Now let's see if the television gods smile upon it...

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