Harsh Realm: The Series

For about two minutes in the fall of 1999, Chris Carter's Harsh Realm debuted on the Fox network and except for the creator, the cast's families and a few ex-X Files fans, no one seemed to care. The series scored the lowest ratings ever for a premiere on Fox and was pulled after three episodes. The remaining six shows briefly found a home on the FX network but the show was relegated to a dismal time slot where it was never capable of capturing an audience. It also didn't help that the movie bore an uncomfortable resemblance to a little sci-fi film that had been released that summer called The Matrix, a fact that, of course, appeared in almost every dismissive review for the show prior to its premier. Now that's harsh. Despite all that, enough time has now passed to reissue the series and give it a fresh look. An adaptation of an obscure sci-fi comic book, the series was billed as a sort of "cyber-punk Apocalypse Now" and not unlike its inspiration, followed the journey of an army officer, Hobbes (Scott Bairstow), who is given orders by a mysterious puppet of the Pentagon (Lance Henriksen in yet another creepy role) to hunt down and defeat a madman, Santiago (Terry O'Quinn), who has set up his own private empire. In this version, however, instead of a journey down the river, our hero heads down the rabbit hole of a virtual reality simulation program entitled, appropriately, Harsh Realm, and the journey undertaken is anything but metaphorical. With his physical body resting in a prison hospital, Hobbes finds himself becoming mentally imprisoned inside the dangerous game and, in no time at all, discovers other captors, is identified as their saviour and sets out to release them from the game. All of this in the pilot episode, no less! As with the X-Files, creator Chris Carter has spent much of his effort making each of the nine episodes as visually striking as a feature film, a fact he points out ad nauseum on the disc's commentary. But no matter how stunning and nightmarish the sets, or how fantastic and dark the premise for the series, when you have characters say lines like, "You are the One," you have got to have the story to back it up. Carter and his team of writers take valiant stabs at establishing a complex and involved plotline, specifically focusing on the interplay of the real and virtual worlds, but their desire to be clever greatly undermines the material and leaves the audience feeling confused and, ultimately, bored. D.B. Sweeney is excellent as the foul-mouthed sidekick Pinocchio, whose sense of what has got to be done is awakened by Hobbes, but the rest of the performances fall flat due in no small part to the cheesy lines the cast are forced to deliver. Though there is a lot to be admired here, in the end, it is a case of too much, too late. Plus: "making of" featurette, more. (Fox)