Run Time: 10 Hrs
What To Expect: Decent historical wilderness survival thriller. Good acting, but suspect effects
In the 19th century, Captain Sir John Franklin departed England aboard two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, in an attempt to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage. The expedition was a disaster, with both ships and all hands lost. Only a note left and some artifacts were to be found, until the wreck of the Erebus was discovered in 2014. This year, AMC has presented a fictionalized TV show based on the events, produced by Ridley Scott.
Since details of the actual events are scarce, the show is based on the 2007 novel of the same name by Dan Simmons, with a good deal of artistic license at play. The show stars Ciarán Hinds as John Franklin and Jared Harris (son of Richard Harris) as Francis Crozier. Their expedition is doomed when Hinds attempts to boldly go between ice shelves, only to have both ships lodged and stuck, unable to move at the onset of winter. Worse, like the movie The Edge (1997), they’re stalked by a gargantuan polar bear that is almost paranormal in its ferocity as size and intellect. The only recourse is to attempt to move out on foot over the ice.
The Terror is kind of a mixed bag. On the upside, there is truly superb acting. Especially from Harris and unsurprisingly from Hinds too. For instance, there is a power struggle between the Cpt. and his XO that is similar, but superior, to that seen in Crimson Tide between Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. These character relations and others like them throughout the crew keep the show tense and easily watchable. And wilderness survival, which this very much is, is always a manly thing to follow on screen.
Mind you, as the men venture south on foot into a featureless landscape of gravel, tension is increasingly replaced with misery and even depression. Men fighting for survival is good to watch, men simply laying around dying, less so. The first half of the series is better than the second half. One is great, the remainder is merely watchable.
The biggest problem with the show however… suspect special effects. From the first episode, the nasty problem of CGI backgrounds is immediately apparent. The entire show was filmed in a sound stage in Hungary and it shows; the skies, the polar icecaps, it all looks fake. Now I’m sure as far as computer wizardry goes, the producers et al probably consider it quite sophisticated, and maybe when your eyes and glued to it during post-production for 500 hours it probably looks real. But to fresh eyes, it’s poor, almost ruinous. And for this type of thing, you know the deal, fake backgrounds also required fake lighting, which is an even bigger giveaway. That yellowy, overly strong, electronic bulb-like glare is here, too much.
It’s like we’re going back in time to the 1950’s with this fake background stuff. We’re seeing it everywhere now, even in Steven Spielberg’s The Post. And for a show where icy isolation atmospherics play a big part, it really does create a negative distraction.
Otherwise though, and all said, the show is worth one watch.