When a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control travel to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic to investigate a possible disease outbreak, they quickly find themselves pulled into a terrifying life-and-death struggle that holds the key to mankind’s salvation or total annihilation.
One of the big selling points of SyFy's original series 'Helix' is that Ronald D. Moore's name is attached. Moore, of course, is the man who brought the successful reboot of Battlestar Galactica to the network, back in the days when it was still called 'The Sci-Fi Channel'. However, it is important to note that Moore is only one of the Executive Producers on 'Helix' and didn't come up with the original concept for the show (that would be fellow Executive Producer Cameron Porsandeh). Moore is just one of the cooks in this series' kitchen, so he doesn't have (or want, I suspect) the same kind of showrunner control on 'Helix', nor has he gotten writing credit on any of the first season's episodes.
I only bring Moore's contributions to 'Helix' up because this series pales in comparison to the type of quality sci-fi we have seen from him in the past, although thanks to a string of really bad programming, 'Helix' is still one of the 'smarter' shows we have seen on SyFy since 'Battlestar Galactica' left the air. So while this isn't the next big thing when it comes to science fiction on TV, I'm guessing what creativity and fun do exist on 'Helix' are in large part thanks to Moore's presence and input.
The premise of the series is one that will be quite familiar to followers of both science fiction and horror. A group of scientists are investigating a unidentified and deadly virus at a base in the Arctic. If John Carpenter's The Thing immediately pops to mind (or even the 1951 film or 2011 reboot), that's completely intentional – regardless of how many times in the bonus features on this set the cast and crew insist that their show is vastly different.
Billy Campbell stars as Dr. Alan Farragut, a scientist who works for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who gets a visit from his ex-wife, Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) asking him to come and investigate a virus outbreak that has occurred at a research facility in the Arctic. Farragut isn't being asked just because he's the best man for the job, but also because his brother, Peter (Neil Napier), is one of the scientists at the facility who has been infected with the virus.
Farragut takes his own team to the lab, which includes Julia as well as Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes), a young understudy of Alan's who definitely has the brains for the mission, but is lacking any field experience. They're also joined by Dr. Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux), who's kind of the Dr. McCoy of the group – intelligent, but with a warm, southern charm about her. The military is part of the operation as well, and represented by Maj. Sergio Balleseros (Mark Ghanimé), who proves to be hiding a few secrets of his own. No one, however, may be hiding more secrets than the head of the Arctic facility, Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada), who may – or may not – be the true villain of this story.
The virus manifests itself with a black goo-like substance (not all to dissimilar to the black alien oil seen on The X-Files), which then turns its victims into an almost zombie-like state (again, if you're going to borrow from others, zombies are where it's at these days), although the human side is still present and fighting to maintain control. While the series is never too gory, it does have fun ratcheting up the tension, although after a handful of episodes there's only so many attacks/threats by the infected that can take place before the show feels like it's repeating itself.
My biggest gripe with 'Helix' is how the cast of characters is supposed to be made up of the brightest scientists on Earth, yet ones that do incredibly stupid (or, at the very least, out of character) things just to add some thrills to the proceedings. Take Billy Campbell's character, for example. He's established in the pilot as the leading mind on virus outbreak control, yet at least once an episode he seems to put himself at risk of infection, sometimes for no good reason. The show also excels at 'technobabble' (as it used to be called on Star Trek: The Next Generation), with characters spouting off scientific terminology and theories left and right. Not being a doctor or a scientist, it's all Greek to me…but I often wonder if real scientists are tuning in at home and laughing at what is being said.
'Helix's problems, however, aren't exclusive to this series. They're the same kind of issues that occur with most new shows, especially those with a science fiction slant to them. Yes, the show has a lot of problems, but it contains a lot of promise as well. Hopefully, Season 2 (which, without giving away too much, has the possibility of being less claustrophobic and much more 'global' than Season 1) will address some of those issues. I didn't like 'Helix' enough to completely recommend it, but I didn't dislike it enough to say it's a total waste of time. If the show's premise sparks your interest, I can think of worse shows to binge watch over a rainy weekend.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Helix: Season 1' arrives on Blu-ray in a slightly thicker than standard keepcase with hubs capable of holding multiple discs. The inside left of the case holds the third disc in the set, while the inside right holds discs one and two on top of each other. Two inserts come inside the case. The first contains the code for an UltraViolet digital copy of Season 1, while the second insert is just an announcement that Season 2 of 'Helix' is coming in 2015. The reverse side of the keepcase's slick (seen from inside the case) contains a list of episodes and special features for each Blu-ray, with a brief synopsis of each episode. The first disc in the set carries five episodes (plus special features), while the remaining two discs contain four episodes each (plus special features). A slightly embossed slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase slides overtop.
There are no front-loaded trailers on any of the discs, just the standard Sony logo, followed by the main menu – which is a still of the box cover photo with menu selections running along the bottom of the screen. All three Blu-rays are 50GB dual-layer discs.
The Blu-ray has been encoded for Region A only.
Each episode of 'Helix' has been shot on digital cameras and is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. As transfers of modern TV shows go, this one ranges from slightly above average to very good, as details are solid throughout and skin tones and contrast are consistent. The main problem here is the setting of the show, which features a lot of drab, dark backgrounds in a very (dare I say it?) sterile environment. This leads to many shots that are softer looking than they should be. Several times during the series run, however, they get outside the facility's sets (incluiding in the pilot and in the final episode), and those scenes really shine. Fortunately, with all the dark corridors and surroundings that are part of the sets, black levels here are pretty decent throughout (although never super strong or inky).
In terms of any glitches, like banding or aliasing, I was hard-pressed to find any problems with this presentation. A nice, if not quite outstanding (again, due primarily to the series' setting) transfer from Sony.
The only audio option here is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and it does a nice job of enhancing the frequently creepy moments that this series has to offer. What the track lacks in aggressiveness, it more than makes up for in distinctness, as the smallest of noises have a clear, crisp sound to them. Dialogue is almost exclusively up front, with the rears used to enhance the soundtrack, which is usually either pulsating with impending doom or playing a whimsical tune (one of the ongoing ironic ideas the producers have placed in each episode, including the series' overall theme song).
The audio is immersive when it needs to be (for example, when characters exit the base into the Arctic wasteland), and also provides some noticeable directionality in each episode. In terms of any glitches, like popping or dropouts, there's nothing obvious to report. Like the video, this is a pretty solid job by Sony.
Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and French.
'Helix' is far from a great show, but it can be quite watchable at times, thanks in large part to decent performances by stars Billy Campbell and Hiroyuki Sanada, and by a premise that pays homage to a lot of classic sci-fi and horror that came before it, most notably The Thing. This first season is pretty uneven in quality, though, and for every solid episode there's one or two that fail in terms of logic and believability. Still, there's enough here to make for a good binge-watching weekend, and the first season's ending holds a lot of promise for what might transpire in Season 2. Rent it.