AMC makes a dramatic, thrilling, and horrifying foray into anthology television with The Terror. Based on the novel the novel by Dan Simmons, audiences are thrust into the deadly world of arctic exploration aboard the doomed vessels the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror. The show is ten episodes of perfectly blended historical fact and fictionalized horror bringing together all of the theories of what possibly happened to the fateful expedition into the unknown northern reaches of the planet. Lionsgate brings The Complete First Season of The Terror to Blu-ray in terrific order featuring a stellar A/V presentation that is, unfortunately, extremely light on meaningful bonus features. This show is the perfect companion for a cold, dark winter's evening -- Recommended
"Tell those who come after us not to stay."
Historical films and shows are rarely to-the-letter accurate. Some leeway for dramatic license to make events and characters more cinematic and ultimately entertaining to an audience must be made. This is especially the case when dealing with events such as the doomed Franklin Expedition to explore the final reaches of the Northwest Passage with the royal naval vessels the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus. As both ships were lost sometime around 1848 and remained lost for the next 160 years, dramatic license had to be taken. While there are various elements and events that are historically accurate, others should be taken with a grain of salt. However, even at the show's most fantastic; episode by episode it builds an ever-growing sense of dread and horror recalling the various theories about what possibly could have happened to the ships and their crew.
The Northwest Passage is nearly within reach. Only a few thousand miles of uncharted territory remains and man will have conquered the arctic. Under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds) aboard the HMS Erebus and his second Captain Francis Crozier (Jared Harris) of the HMS Terror, with 129 men set sail for the arctic leaving their homes and families behind. Fitted with the latest steam engine turbine propellers, they believed they will beat the ice flows and complete their expedition in a matter of weeks. But when the ships became jammed in the ice, the two captains must find a way to survive the onslaught of sub-zero temperatures, tainted food, disease, mutiny, and an ancient spectral force that hunts the men.
For those looking for an honest and earnest retelling of events of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition and what happened to the two ships' captains and their crew, at best you're going to get about half of what you're looking for from The Terror. Everything that can be verified as accurate is presented in some way along with the speculative theories about lead poisoning, scurvy, tuberculosis, and exposure. These scenes are often horrifying on their own and there are enough moments like this to keep the mood of each episode grim with an appropriate level of tension to match. The fantastical elements surrounding an ancient demon may be a bit much for some to swallow.
Admittedly, the demon that takes the form of a gigantic Polar Bear was a bit tough to take in initially. It's a sudden break from everything that is to some extent historically verifiable. As my wife and I picked through each episode and this demonic presence became more prominent we went from feeling like it was a bit too much of a stretch to appreciate it as a terrifically creepy thematic element that buttresses the idea that these men should never have been there and their expedition was doomed to failure. I can see some folks getting hung up on this point, but it ends up working better than one would normally think.
Between the terrific cast and the show's exceptional production design, The Terror proves to be one hell of a creepy and often disturbing endeavor. With a runtime just under eight hours, the show doesn't overstay its welcome while also feeling complete -- which isn't easy to do considering there aren't any definite conclusions as what caused the deaths of the crew members. As there is only anecdotal evidence and speculation to fall on, the show does a terrific job of covering all the possible theories from the most likely to the absolute extreme. Each episode just keeps building and building at a breathless pace that makes clearing the series an easy task. That eight hours flies by. Each episode ends with a "you're not going to end it there?" moment that forces you to keep going -- even when you should have long gone to bed. Alongside The Thing and The Shining, I now have a new favorite piece of entertainment to pull out in the dead of winter when the snow is packed high and the temperatures are blisteringly low. I can't wait for Season 2 and I'm hopeful it's just as successful.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Terror arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate in a three disc set. All ten episodes are pressed onto three Region A BD-50 discs and housed in a sturdy three-disc case with identical slipcover. Each disc gets its own tray without being stacked on top of one another. The discs load to static image main menus with traditional navigation options. Discs Two and Three load an option to continue with the "play all" function subverting the main menu if you're planning on binging a number of episodes without having to select and play them individually.
The Terror arrives with a pleasing 1080p 1.78:1 transfer that really brings the image to life. As much of the series was filmed inside a refrigerated studio, it really is an impressive visual undertaking. I appreciate that the first episode really allows you to take in the incredible details of the two ships, the crew, costuming, and the impressive production design work. For the few brief flashbacks to England prior to the sailing of the expedition, the Victorian era clothing and design is tremendous and the image allows you to fully appreciate intricate details and the impressive colors. Once the two ships become ice-logged and trapped, the image becomes notably more drab with muted colors as much of the lighting is used to evoke flickering candles or oil lamps. As such details can falter a little bit and become a bit softer but it fits the scene. When the men are out on the ice contrast is spectacular allowing for brilliant whites without any blooming troubles.
Colors are adequately robust, reds get a particular prominence considering the number of wounds and horrifying amputations. Flesh tones are accurate and healthy. The only trouble spots occur during some heavy CGI sequences, a scene underwater and a chase scene later in the series lead to some iffy softness coupled with skewed colors, but that is really the only negative to speak of. The series as a whole is pretty great looking and it's very clear a lot of work went into creating intricate practical sets and effects so as not to rely entirely on digital trickery.
Each episode of The Terror enjoys a fairly robust and active Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout without any issue with the score or sound effects dominating big moments of conflict. Atmospherics are impressive as inside the ships there is a constant creaking of wood beams under pressure while outside there is a constant whipping wind that makes the vast icy landscape just as foreboding. Through it all there are terrific dissonant low tones that keep the sense of dread alive. Ice storms, blizzards, a carnival, the roars of the bear all add to the creepy tone of the show as each episode makes terrific use of sound - or the lack thereof. As a whole, each episode gets underwater audio mix without any problems. It would have been something if this show had been given an object-based mix, but as is it's pretty damn impressive.
The unfortunate lack of any genuinely meaningful bonus features is the only true failing of this Blu-ray set. Three features barely totaling nine minutes is hardly enough when you consider everything that went into the making of the show and the continued mystery surrounding what happened to the Franklin Expedition. All bonus feature content is found on Disc Three of this set.
The Terror is a hell of a television series. By taking a true life event shrouded in mystery and spinning a few horror elements into the mix, AMC has managed to create a tight and riveting survival horror story. With a terrific cast and exceptional direction, the series breezes by fast making for some terrific binge-worthy entertainment. We'll just have to see how well Season 2 fares to see if AMC's foray in anthology television is worth the ongoing journey. Lionsgate delivers the Complete First Season of The Terror to Blu-ray with a technically excellent video and audio presentation. Sadly the bonus features are extraordinarily lacking and may inspire viewers to do some Wikipedia reading to learn more about the Franklin Expedition. It's a hell of a series and you're going to want to watch it with the lights low on a cold dark night. Recommended.