Blu-ray Review Helix

Bioengineered Blu-ray Review: Helix: The Complete First Season

July 11, 2014Ben MK

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Going viral

By Ben Mk

For those who don't know his name, Ronald D. Moore has been involved in some of the most seminal science fiction television programming of the past two decades. From Star Trek: The Next Generation to the revamped Battlestar Galactica, he's helped to shape the landscape of modern sci-fi TV as we know it. And with his latest project, Helix, he's teamed up with the filmmakers behind Lost and the upcoming Interstellar to bring a new vision of sci-fi terror — in the same vein as The Thing, The X-Files and Resident Evil — to the small screen.

It's easy to see how the comparisons to other works of contemporary sci-fi arise, as the show's premise should feel instantly familiar to genre fans. Helix echoes the Arctic isolation of The Thing, wherein — with shades of Resident Evil — a viral outbreak at an underground research facility (owned, in this case, by Arctic Biosystems, not Umbrella Corporation) has claimed its first victims, turning some into feral, zombie-like creatures who spread the infection via their black blood (à la The X-Files).

After a debriefing at the Center for Disease Control's headquarters in Atlanta, Special Pathogens Branch head Dr. Alan Farragut (The Killing's Billy Campbell) and his rapid response team — Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hughes) and Dr. Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux) — learn that Alan's brother, mutagenics research scientist Peter Farragut (Neil Napier), is among the infected. Soon, they and army liaison Major Sergio Balleseros (Mark Ghanimé) are being whisked to the Arctic Circle aboard a Raptor 47 helicopter, where they meet with the man in charge, the mysterious Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (47 Ronin's Hiroyuki Sanada), and his head of security, Daniel Aerov (Meegwun Fairbrother).

Although Alan and his team have a clear mandate — to identify the pathogen — they find that achieving it proves to be more difficult than anticipated. Complicating matters even further is Dr. Hatake's less-than-forthcoming demeanor, which presents them with confounding questions at every turn. What they soon learn, however, is that they're actually dealing with two strains of the (so-called "NARVIK") virus. Those who are infected with strain A are doomed to certain death (by way of gruesome liquefaction), whereas those infected with strain B, like Peter, become carriers — "Vectors" — who are compelled to commit violence and propagate the infection.

Despite their best efforts to quarantine the infected and contain the outbreak, more and more of the facility's 100-plus roster of scientists and support staff are soon transformed into Vectors, turning each passing hour into a fight for survival. And before long, a third party enters the fray: Arctic Biosystems' parent company, the Ilaria Corporation (no doubt a not-too-distant cousin of Weyland-Yutani), led by its ruthless Chief Operating Officer, Constance Sutton (Jeri Ryan). But as Alan and his team probe for the truth, shades of a conspiracy begin to emerge — and like the base's subterranean levels, it reaches even deeper than any of them ever imagined.

Season one of the Syfy original series runs thirteen episodes long and takes place almost exclusively within the confines of the Arctic research facility, which may prompt potential viewers to wonder how the filmmakers behind Helix — creator Cameron Porsandeh and executive producers Ronald D. Moore and Steven Maeda — have managed to fill thirteen episodes worth of story taking place in such close quarters. The answer lies in the way the show commingles traditional television melodrama with a constantly-evolving mythology, which is how Helix tries to bend genre conventions. The relationships between the characters are fraught with complicated histories and hidden agendas, and the twists and turns come fast and furious, with each episode building on the labyrinthian plot developments of the previous. It all culminates in a season finale that brings season one's story arc to an explosive resolution, while setting the stage for a new dynamic and a new conflict in season two.

Helix: The Complete First Season infects Blu-ray with a slick A/V presentation that looks and sounds exactly as any modern TV show should. Contrast is strong (as demonstrated by the inky black Vector blood and the bright, white arctic snow), colors are nicely saturated (as seen in the vibrant blues and purples of scenes bathed in ultraviolet light) and fine detail is readily apparent (such as in the texture of fabrics or in facial features). As the show progresses, series cinematographer Stephen McNutt (Person of Interest, Battlestar Galactica) shifts the focus of his lens from the facility's sterile-looking upper levels (characterized by a largely white, grey and orange color palette) to the darker, dingier environments of Level R and Level X. And Sony's hi-def transfer handles the shift in visual tone with ease, displaying excellent shadow detail in these low light surroundings. Meanwhile, the discs' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack does an impressive job of channeling the tension and terror of the story. The snarls and screams of the infected, the bursts of gunfire and the howling of the arctic winds all come through with vigor. The same goes for the show's kitschy theme music and composer Reinhold Heil's pulsing, electronic score, which permeates nearly every scene.

Sony's three-disc Blu-ray release includes UltraViolet digital copies of all thirteen season one episodes, audio commentaries on the series premiere (with actor Billy Campbell and creator/executive producer Cameron Porsandeh) and season finale (with actor Billy Campbell and executive producer Steven Maeda) and nearly one hour of special features.

Disc one begins with Ronald D. Moore: The Outlier of Science Fiction, a 7-minute piece that speaks to Moore's approach to episodic sci-fi storytelling via interviews with him, Porsandeh, Maeda and Campbell, as well as executive producer Lynda Obst and one of the series' directors, Jeffrey Reiner. This leads into the 5-minute The Future of Disease, in which many of the same contributors discuss how they grounded the show's nightmare scenario and used it to explore interesting themes and deeper questions. There are also 5 minutes of Deleted Scenes (three for the pilot episode, and one each for episode two, 'Vector', and episode four, 'Single Strand').

Disc two houses the 6-minute (Blu-ray exclusive) featurette, Writing the Tension, which looks at how the filmmakers used the setting, the characters, music and pacing to create the show's tension. Another 6-minute segment, The Art of Isolation follows suit, turning our attention to the research facility that is the show's setting. The bonus features on disc two are rounded off with 3 minutes of Outtakes and 1 minute of Deleted Scenes (one each for episode six, 'Aniqatiga', and episode eight, 'Bloodline').

Last but not least is disc three, where you'll find Dissecting the Characters, an 11-minute look at the show's characters, their motivations and what they bring to the story, the 6-minute Fabricating the Plague (another Blu-ray exclusive), which sheds light on the special effects used to create the Vectors, and 5 minutes of Deleted Scenes (four for episode ten, 'Fushigi', and two for the season finale, 'Dans L’Ombre'). This disc concludes with previews for season two of Helix (coming in 2015), season two of House of Cards, Afflicted and Deliver Us from Evil.

What's a television drama these days without conspiracies, paranoia and (most importantly) zombies (or zombie-like creatures)? Helix has all of these things and more, executed with enough sci-fi twists and turns to send the heads of even the most hardcore genre die-hards spinning. And with season two not slated to go viral until 2015, there's ample time to catch up on season one via Sony's Blu-ray release. Its A/V presentation is solid and so too are the bonus features, so there's no need for a quarantine: Helix: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray is just what the doctor ordered.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★½
Special Features  —  ★★★½

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