“Insipid, random, nonsensical piece of television SF”
This review is going to start with the honest and heartfelt observation that it’s probably not a good idea to get anyone who knows even a smidgeon of science to review Helix. Mind you, most people who are going to watch something like this are probably going to know at least a little bit of science. The production team of Helix, however, seems to have managed the quite remarkable achievement of not having any of them involved with the production of this insipid, random, nonsensical piece of television SF.
So what’s it all about? Charisma-bypass victim Dr Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) and his team are sent off to a research base in the Arctic, where a series of experiments has resulted in a nasty oozy oily virus infecting some of the outpost’s scientific members. Dr Farragut’s team has been put together with all the sensitivity and originality of a bored soap opera script editor badly in need of a caffeine hit. There’s his annoying ex-wife Julia who caused the marriage breakup by banging Alan’s brother, Peter. Peter, by the way, is on the viral research team and just happens to have been one of its first victims. Also tagging along is Dr Farragut’s younger, sexy Dr Farragut-obsessed assistant Dr Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes) who presumably gained her PhD in mooning about as she seems to have very little in the way of laboratory experience. The place is run by Evil Boss Dr Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada) who might as well be wearing a big hat with ‘VILLAIN’ written on it.
The thirteen episodes of Helix’s first season consist of soap-opera fumblings, random conspiracy elements, and a sense that the virus is going to change to suit whichever writer has been forced to put together an episode this week. Of course, this could all be tremendous fun if done with the right touch. In fact it’s hard to believe that this po-faced effort is from the same television channel that gave us the Sharknado films. But it’s even harder to believe that this is the latest production from Ronald D Moore, the man who was heavily involved in reboots of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.
Every now and then there is an impressive moment. A scatter of frozen monkey bodies outside the base provides a shiver, and anywhere that’s as confining as an Arctic research centre is bound to evoke a sense of claustrophobia. It’s all been done so much better before, though. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of television SF will be yearning for something approaching the Ice episode of The X-Files‘ first season, or countless episodes of Dr Who. To suggest comparison with John Carpenter’s The Thing or Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain would be unfair, but even Norman J Warren’s Inseminoid is better than this. Helix star Billy Campbell even seems to be trying to ape Robin Clarke’s mumbling semi-intelligible performance from that 1981 British horror picture. In a world where modern fantasy television means The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, something that doesn’t even have the redeeming entertainment value of Dinocroc Vs Supergator should be avoided like the plague it tries, and fails, to convincingly tell us the story of.
Sony’s three-disc DVD set has a number of extras, including cast and crew commentary tracks on two episodes, out-takes, deleted scenes and four short featurettes. An ultraviolet copy completes the package so you can spread Helix to five friends or family members if you want to.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
Creator: Cameron Porsandeh
Starring: Billy Campbell, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kyra Zagorsky, Jordan Hayes
Running time: 531 minutes
Release date: 30 June 2014
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