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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 10/5/01



Ultraviolet
1998 (2001) - World Productions/Channel Four (Palm Pictures)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Ultraviolet Program Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/D

Specs and Features

306 mins (6 episodes - approx. 51 mins each), NR, letterboxed widescreen (approx. 1.66:1), 2 single-sided, dual-layered discs (3 episodes each), dual-disc keepcase packaging, booklet, Code V Easter egg on each disc (containing personnel files, a dictionary of terms and an audio interview with series creator Joe Ahearne), DVD-ROM weblinks, animated program-themed menus screens with animation and music, scene selection (5 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: none

If you love high-concept science fiction as much as I do, you've probably been frustrated by all those films and TV series that promise to be really daring, but end up falling flat under the trappings of what filmmakers often mistakenly assume science fiction to be all about - over-elaborate production design, cheesy aliens of the week, etc.. But it's even more frustrating to me when a film or series shows up with really terrific potential, a good, high-concept idea and interesting characters... and then completely fails to take advantage of any of them. That latter problem describes Ultraviolet in a nutshell. This 6-episode British TV miniseries is such a cool missfire. Just as it really starts to get going... it's over. There's no more. And that drives me absolutely crazy.

Ultraviolet follows the efforts of a top-secret British government team (known as CIB), who are working in the shadows to prevent humanity from losing a war it, by and large, doesn't even know it's fighting - a war against vampires. It seems that for centuries, vampires and humans have coexisted peacefully on the Earth. You see, thanks to a strange symbiosis, the vampires need us - we're their food source. But as the 20th century draws to a close, humans are destroying the biosphere at an alarming rate, and Nature is fighting back with all kinds of viral epidemics - AIDS, Ebola, TB - you name it. In other words, we're polluting the vampires' food supply... and they're having none of it. The vampires have gotten a lot more aggressive and they have a definite agenda. Only CIB is up to the challenge of figuring out what they're up to before its too late for us all.

Into this mix comes a young police officer named Michael Colefield (played by Jack Davenport). Colefield's best friend is "turned" by vampires on the night before his wedding, and Jack's forced to kill him. The experience leaves him shaken... and ripe for recruitment by CIB. But joining the fight has a price - you've got to cut all ties to friends and family, lest they be "turned" to work against you. So the ranks of CIB are filled with emotionally-damaged and angst-ridden individuals who have all lost loved ones to the cause. In addition to Colefield, there's Dr. Angie Marsh (Susannah Harker), an emotionally cold Scully clone (ie: scientist) who uses her medical knowledge to figure out what makes vampires tick. There's Vaughan Rice (Idris Elba), a Gulf War veteran who lost all his squad mates to the leeches during the war and now lives for revenge. And there's Father Pearse Harman (Philip Quast), a Catholic priest who seems to be hiding more than he lets on, and who leads the fight against the vampires in the name of God and out of a pure belief that vampires are fundamentally Evil.

But are they really Evil? Or are they just as much a natural product of evolution on Earth as we are, with every bit as much right to exist and fight for their lives? That's one of the interesting questions raised in this series. Unfortunately, that's all it is - a question raised. The morality is never explored more fully. And that's the problem with this series as a whole - NOTHING here is explored more fully. These 6 episodes are almost completely plot-driven. None of these characters has much of an arc - they start off as cold, emotionally-closed off people, and that's still what they are at the end of the last episode. Given that they can't really have relationships with anyone outside of CIB, you'd think their relationships with each other would be that much more important. But don't expect that aspect of this story to be explored either. You get little hints of deeper interaction between these characters, but that's it. In fact, even the cover of this DVD is misleading. That's Michael and Angie in the picture there, clearly meant to make us think of The X-Files' dynamic between Mulder and Scully. But these two characters hardly interact with each other at all in the series - they have maybe 3 or 4 scenes together.

In an audio interview on this DVD, series creator Joe Ahearne talks about why Ultraviolet never went beyond 6 episodes. He felt that the story and concept wouldn't sustain a lasting run on TV, and because he wrote and directed all the episodes, he was too busy to think about what might happen next. I submit that Ahearne either got really lucky in coming up with this idea, really lacks imagination as a writer or is just not very motivated. Make no mistake about it - Ultraviolet is an extremely cool idea for a TV series, and it absolutely could sustain several seasons' worth of episodes. There are countless plot threads here that could be developed. In the few hours I spent with this DVD alone, my imagination went into overdrive coming up with literally DOZENS of cool storylines, plot directions and character arcs for this thing. The producers of this series REALLY dropped the ball. Ultraviolet could be every bit as cool and successful as The X-Files, and every bit as complex and entertaining. But it really needs to be reinvisioned from the ground up, by people with the imagination and passion to do so. Hell... Todd and I could easily come up with a few dozen episodes' worth of stories for this, all by ourselves. Seriously, we've got TONS of ideas - someone give us a call! Anyway, I've already written WAY more than I intended about Ultraviolet. But it just drives me absolutely crazy to see so cool a concept so poorly explored. Shame on those who left this series to gather dust.

This 2-disc set from Palm Pictures delivers all 6 episodes in very good video quality, converted to NTSC from the original PAL masters. It's letterboxed at about 1.66:1, but isn't anamorphic - too bad. Still, you don't lose much. The video looks quite good. Ultraviolet is dark and stylish in a bland, British TV kind of way (and I don't mean that as a slam against British TV - just that the visual style here is every bit as underdeveloped as the story). Colors are muted but accurate and the range of contrast is generally excellent. The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix which is understated by atmospheric (2.0 sound is also provided). I occasionally had to turn up the volume to make out what was being said, but as often as not, that had more to do with the accents of the actors. A subtitle track would have helped, but none is included.

Extras are limited and are all hidden as Easter eggs on these two discs. But if you click left from the "The Prison" selection on the main menu of each disc ("The Prison" being some extremely unimaginative way of saying "Scene Selections"), you'll find character profiles, a glossary of terms and the aforementioned audio interview with Ahearne (split over both discs). It's not a lot, but whatever. This series doesn't give you a lot in general, and if you want to enjoy what it does give you, that's the price you have to pay.

So is Ultraviolet on DVD worth picking up? Absolutely - especially if you can get it on sale. I enjoyed it a lot. Just be prepared to be very frustrated with it. By the end of the last episode, I was pulling my hair out over this series. As I said at the beginning of this review, just as Ultraviolet starts getting good, it's over. And that's a real shame.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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