If you are anything like me, the moment you saw the trailers for AMC’s new show, The Terror, you couldn’t help but be intrigued. The horror. The history. And the name Ridley Scott at the end, I was sold long before I even knew the plot. The show is based upon the novel of the same name by Dan Simmion, which provides a fictionalized account of the ill-fated expedition by the British Navy to map the Northwestern passage trough the Arctic.
In real life, Sir John Franklin brought two ships – the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus – into the Arctic Circle in the 1840s, only to disappear. Those ships, and their crew of 129 sailors were lost for more than 160 years. Simmons books, published in 2007 (a decade before the real-life discovery of those two ships), provide a fictionalized account of what may have happened. However, the books are more than just historical fiction, they provide a supernatural-horror account of how the expedition may have met its grizzly end. Needless to say, when the first two episodes premiered, I simply had to watch.
As a period-piece, set in the under-belly of sailing ships, everything on screen is really made through the art direction. The sets are beautiful and well crafted. The smallest details are included throughout the sets, and they pop against the canvas of blinding-white arctic ice. The cinematography is bold. Through the shot selection, the ocean is transformed into a barren wasteland. We are constantly reminded how alone the sailors truly are, and how unforgiving the Arctic is.
While the acting was good, I didn’t feel much attraction to the characters. Ciaran Hinds plays the arrogant and glory-seeking Captain Sir John Franklin. Jared Harris plays the “pessimistic” Captain Francis Crozier, the second-in-command of the mission. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters – simply sailors in uniform – seem to blend together. None of them stand apart this early in the show.
The pacing of the show, is slow. While this speed is deliberate and intentionally controlled to build tension, it is noticeably slow at times. In fact, parts of the first episode felt less like an experience, and more like a chore. Part of this disappointment was of my own fabrication. Watching the trailer for The Terror, I imagined something akin to Alien – and it is not. In my mind, Alien is about as perfect as a horror film can be. With Scott as Executive Producer, I was expecting the “arctic creature” to torture the Royal Navy in the same way that the alien tortures Ripley. It doesn’t play out that way. It doesn’t have the same suspense, the same tension, and that same sense of claustrophobic, gut-wrenching, panic that Alien does. And I imagined that it would. Given that this is from the same network which produces The Walking Dead, I guess I was just expecting more. That is not to say that the show will not evolve into something more horrifying, but it is not this in the beginning. So, if you plan on watching The Terror to give you the chills, you will be very disappointed.
For me, I am not ready to call this one quits just yet; there just looks like there is too much wrapped up in this one to give up on it so soon. My recommendation is you watch The Terror, to see how it evolves. It has all the right ingredients to make something really great. I plan on hanging around a bit longer.