Originally broadcast on the Syfy channel, all 13 episodes of ‘Helix’ are now available on DVD. The idea behind the series is that of a special team of contagion fighters, shoot from the hip medical experts going out into the unknown at the risk of their own lives for the sake of humanity. A bit like ‘The Seven Samurai’, except that there are four of them, sent from an organisation called Centres For Disease Control And Prevention to a secret base purported to be in Greenland. In charge is Dr. Alan Farragut (played by Billy Campbell) who is particularly keen to get to the scene because his brother Peter is one of the people infected by a new and deadly virus.
The base is a huge construction placed in the middle of Greenland. Now, there are one or two things wrong with this scenario, the first being that it’s a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. This takes the onus for the nefarious deeds away from North America, a particularly clever ploy, but would such a base be permitted? The second is that the construction of such a monumental affair would attract too much worldwide attention. Nitpicking aside, the base is the scene of action for the entire series, making episodes somewhat claustrophobic. By the time you have finished watching all 13 episodes, it’s a relief to get back under blue skies and sunshine.
The story itself is nothing new in the realms of Science Fiction. A manufactured virus is rampaging about the base and, by the time the team arrive, it seems to be fairly well established. The outcome of the virus is variable with some victims culminating in a horrible death, their bodies only a skeleton surrounded by slime, but others seem to be coming through a stage which on survival mutates them into changed beings with extraordinary powers. Peter is one such victim! However, just as we were thinking that the plot was straightforward and boring, it becomes much more complicated and difficult to fathom. It seems to be the case that manipulation is taking place, probably by the changed beings who are using Farragut’s team to their own advantage.
When it comes to characters, there’s not much to choose between doctors and soldiers. The resident chief doctor, Hiroshi Hataki (actor Hiroyuki Sanada), has the appearance right from the start of being a shifty character with an interest in one of the team, Dr. Julia Walker (actress Kyra Zagorsky), but is this interest based on her good looks or something else? Maybe he wants her body but it may not be for lust alone! As the episodes unfold before our eyes, it’s evident that Hataki is a villain with a hidden agenda and that Dr. Julia is a pivotal person in the plot.
One of the main characters is a young lady called Dr. Sarah Jordan (actress Jordan Hayes). Unfortunately, her accent is rather high-pitched, which is okay for most American audiences but not for others around the world. With the added background music, she becomes almost indecipherable. This is likewise true of some of the other characters but that’s nothing unusual today where delivery of speech in movies seems to lack proper pronunciation. Is this caused by a lack of training or a desire to appear natural? While there is no difficulty in understanding what people are saying in the BBC, ABC and other channels, maybe we do not want movies to appear like news broadcasts but there should be a happy medium between the two.
In what is essentially a good idea for a Science Fiction series, a sense of direction is a bit lacking especially towards the end, leaving the viewer rather confused. Nonetheless, this is probably a part of the plot. It’s another one of these series which is inconclusive and, not surprisingly, another season is planned to be released next year. Maybe some of the answers will come but I wouldn’t bet on it. From what starts out as a relatively straightforward contagion confined to a base in the Arctic, we arrive at an all encompassing dilemma which could effectively involve the world and all its people. Is this the next stage of evolution? Will it be a manufactured state of evolution and, if so, is it a valid one which doesn’t end up in a cul-de-sac?
As mentioned previously, one of main points about ‘Helix’ is that it is claustrophobic. It’s a feeling which permeates every episode. From the beginning where people are crawling through ventilation ducts, to the endless corridors with security gates at each turn, it’s an enclosed atmosphere from which there seems to be no escape. Even outside, the Arctic wilderness provides a barrier and with the nearest airport some distance away, it’s not just the base but the entire scenario which is claustrophobic. Indeed, who would want to be incarcerated inside such a place at any time but with the rampaging virus on top of this, there seems to be no end to the terror. This is the environment that Dr. Farragut and his colleagues enter. Will they escape, that’s the question?
This is a DVD package that comes with plenty of extra material. Before the series was made, they tried out a pilot episode. That’s included along with its commentary plus another commentary by Billy Campbell on one of the other episodes. The main extra was an interview with the creator, Ronald D Moore, who also created ‘Battlestar: Galactica’, on his thoughts about writing a Science Fiction series. There were also three separate features, one on diseases in particular ‘Helix’, another about the dissection of characters and finally a feature about the creation of isolation which is a main part of the series. Along with the normal episodes, they go towards making this a very comprehensive package.
While this isn’t the best Science Fiction series I’ve ever watched, it’s certainly not bad at all. Overall, the episodes are well-written and the continuing story, while slightly disappointing, is well worth future development. Although ‘Helix’ has already been on TV and has appeared on Channel 5 UK, it’s convenient to have all the episodes in one package, along with the substantial extra material. It’s the latter which makes the presentation a worthwhile purchase. I’ll be looking forward to the next season possibly to see what has really happened in the first!
(region 2 DVD: pub: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 3 DVDs 509 minutes 13 * 39 minute episodes. Price: £17.00 (UK). ASIN: B00JAJDOAK)
subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English
cast: Billy Campbell, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kyra Zagorsky and Jordan Hayes
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