Haunting as it is unforgettable, AMC’s “The Terror” pulls out all the stops
"THE TERROR: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON"
Blu-ray and DVD; 2018; unrated (brutal, graphic, violence, thematic elements); Streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes
Best extra: a perfunctory promo short with executive producer Ridley Scott
AS THE credits rolled on the final episode of this 10-part AMC series, my wife asked, “The next time we watch a TV series, can it be uplifting?”
She’s right. “Uplifting” does not describe “The Terror.” Neither do “buoyant” or “breezy.” It’s grim for sure, and disturbing and unrelenting—oh, and compelling. It also lists Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner”) as executive producer, which says everything about its story, casting and production values, and why you owe it to yourself to cue it up.
In the mid-1800s, two British warships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, set off to find the fabled Northwest Passage, but because of hubris and bad judgment, sail into an impassable ice pack. Isolated at the top of the world, their resources dwindling, the men break down physically and psychologically.
That much is based on a true story. “The Terror” pours it on, though, by adding a supernatural twist: When an Inuit shaman is accidentally killed, custodianship of the Tuunbaq, a massive, vicious, Gothic nightmare with the body of a polar bear and an almost-human face, falls to his daughter, who’s called Lady Silence by her would-be interrogators.
When the Tuunbaq begins picking off the men—the leader of the mission, Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”), meets an especially gruesome end—his second, Capt. Francis Crozier (Jarred Harris, “Mad Men”), decides to lead the crew 800 miles, on foot, to what they pray will be safety.
They don’t get far, and their plight soon brings out the best and worst in them. Some are resolute and steadfast to the end, others turn to mutiny and cannibalism.
All hailing from the UK, the cast is superb. Tobias Menzies (“Game of Thrones”) as the conflicted Capt. James Fitzjames, Paul Ready (“Motherland”) as kindly Henry Goodsir, Adam Negaitis (“To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters”) as the traitorous Cornelius Hickey and Ian Hart (“Backbeat”) as selfless Thomas Blanky stand out.
With Tim Mielants, Edward Berger and Sergio Mimica-Gezzan sharing the director’s chair, you might expect “The Terror’s” considerable narrative thrust to wane here and there. Not in the least. Cinematographers Frank van den Eeden, Kolja Brandt and Florian Hoffmeister are in sync, too. Filmed in Hungary and on the Croatian island of Pag, the visuals are unforgettable.
And they’re given a full ride on Blu-ray. Befitting the story’s tone, colors are somber and the lighting, even the natural light, is muted. But both are solid, and the detail in the close-ups is consistently sharp. Take a minute to fathom the epaulets on the officers’ uniforms.
The score by Marcus Fjellström also plays a significant role. Instead of hewing to what was in fashion in the late-1840s, it’s eerie and unsettling and timeless. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless audio track allows for every nuance, and while it may take a minute or two to adjust to the characters’ accents, it’s not through any fault of the sound engineers.
Really, the only bummer is the extras, which amount to three promos about the series and characters as well as Scott’s thoughts on the production. Still, it is Ridley Scott and there is a nugget or two to be mined about the characters.
Given the exceptional story, performances and production, the tradeoff’s fair.
- Craig Shapiro