Sanctuary, the new series from Stargate producers Damian Kindler and Martin Wood premieres tonight at 9 p.m. the SciFi Channel. Starring Amanda Tapping, the show concerns itself with all the creatures you were afraid to see in your bedroom when you opened those cute little eyes of yours. We got a sneak peak at the two-hour premiere last night at the Paley Center, and after the jump, we hash out what you can expect from the two-hour premiere of the show, which is shot almost entirely without physical sets of any kind. Plus a clip of Amanda Tapping talking about the show.
Executive producer Damian Kindler (left) wrote the concept for Sanctuary as a spec after his agent told him his West Wing pilot wasn't in his own voice. For those who haven't sampled the web version, Sanctuary is about Dr. Helen Magnus and the monsters she keeps in her stately mansion overlooking the fictional 'Old City.' Her team features the quirky tech guy (Battlestar Galactica's Ryan Robbins), her murderous daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), and nemesis Jack the Ripper (Christopher Heyerdahl). The show's 11 webisodes marked a first for a series with a budget and cast of that stature, but the experience didn't necessarily hearten the show's producers. What distinguished Sanctuary on the web was its high production values, and the upgrade for television is startling. This is one of the best looking and most ambitious series ever done, and at a price "equal to catering budget for Battlestar Galactica," Kindler joked.
Look at how much greenscreen the final product uses! Fellow executive producer and star Amanda Tapping describes the process as "a lot a like doing theatre." She's worked with considerable greenscreen before on Stargate, but really, no one has to this extent:
The castle-like facility that is home to the team of monster-hunters doesn't exist, except digitally:
This process requires a different skillset from every member of the production team. The number of special effects shots is a new one in the television format, and the amount of SFX is staggering: "When you watch, you'll think, they would have built that," Sanctuary director Martin Wood said of the elaborate digital sets. Filling in the green is special effects supervisor Lee Wilson, who said that the opening shot in the premiere took three months for his Vancouver-based company to put together. "On Stargate we'd do 12 [special effects shots]," Wood said. "Here, we did 486 shots." The show's broad array of monsters bears that out. What Wood calls "a computer with a lens" creates stunningly detailed mermaids, lizards, Neanderthals and all manner of misunderstood creatures. While the writing in the premiere is slow at times, Sanctuary is almost never not fun to look at.
The revolutionary special effects will attract fans of science fiction, Kindler believes, but the show won't stop there. "I was trying to find an interesting common ground - this will satisfy really hardcore passionate sci fi fans, but not be such an amazing suspension of disbelief that you there would be tuning out it's about people flying around in giant spaceships that make noise," he said. That's fair enough, but with a 157-year cryptozoologist and her hot mercenary daughter as the protagonists, there's some question of where "the suspension of disbelief" barometer sits at the moment. Sanctuary's two hour premiere happens tonight in the Battlestar Galactica timeslot, and from what we've seen in the premiere, the show is sufficiently different from its competition that it warrants a look. Sanctuary plans to add to the graphic novel feel by debuting Sherlock Holmes in subsequent episodes, and Kindler promised a serial staple in the form of a cliffhanger in the season finale. We won't render judgment until the series starts going, but there's reason to be excited. You can watch Samantha Tapping on The Today Show here: