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Koch Vision presents
Terminal City: The Complete Series (2005)

Katie: Cancer...
Ari: Are you sure?
Katie: No. But they are.

- (Maria Del Mar, Gil Bellows)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 08, 2008

Stars: Maria Del Mar, Gil Bellows
Other Stars: Paul Soles, Jane McLean, Katie Boland, Adam Butcher, Nico McEown, Bill Mondy, Charlie David, Ellie Harvie, Andrew McIlroy, Michael Eklund, Malcolm Stewart
Director: Rachel Talalay, Lynn Stopkewich, Kari Skogland, Stephen Surjik

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, nudity)
Run Time: 08h:10m:00s
Release Date: August 05, 2008
UPC: 741952657095
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- B-B-B- C+

DVD Review

Terminal City was a somewhat unusual 10-episode Canadian-made program from 2005 that originally aired domestically on the Sundance Channel. Koch Vision has issued the complete series as an attractively packaged 3-disc set, and right out of the box the biggest sin is that it is presented in nonanamorphic widescreen, something that just seems like a deal-breaking headscratcher here in 2008. Production components aside, what remains is creator Angus Fraser's dark tragicomedy-drama centered on death and family, dressed up and ready to take on a heap of hard-to-top Six Feet Under comparisons (and one doesn't have to look past the DVD artwork to get that initial feel).

Attractive and sarcastic 40-something wife/mother Katie Sampson (Maria Del Mar) is diagnosed with breast cancer, and as the revelation causes the expected emotional stirs and ripples in her complex family life, what really follows is where Fraser launches Terminal City into a completely strange layer. It just so happens the hospital where Katie is having her biopsy performed is the same place from where a popular live television show called Post-Op is broadcast. The show-within-the-show features a dim-bulb doctor (Malcolm Stewart) who is supposed to interview pre-selected candidates—to discuss their maladies, etc—and when the live broadcast accidentally stumbles upon Katie, a star, as they say, is born.

Perhaps it was Katie baring her breast and swearing on live television that did it, but she becomes a media sensation, suddenly drawn in (over the course of the first couple of eps) as host of her own reality series documenting her cancer fight. That's a mighty big leap to take as a viewer, and while I don't know how they do it in Canada, I just couldn't fathom any hospital allowing live television cameras to broadcast patient interviews, let alone one that features such a one-note crew. Sexy, driven director, check; constantly flummoxed floor director, check; dopey production assistant, check; ominous studio head, check and quadruple check. These weak links in the series' structure stand in the way of its greatest strength, which is Maria Del Mar, who is allowed to be completely mercurial as a woman on the verge of death.

While the main supporting players (including Gil Bellows as husband Ari) do help balance out the now unbalanced personal life of Katie, it is really Del Mar that rises well above the others. Her sweeping moods and curious outbursts seem perfectly normal given her terminal diagnosis, and as Del Mar's Katie travels down the dark rabbit hole of breast cancer and celebrity, the way she confronts it all seems somehow naturally unnatural. That leaves Bellows' architect Ari, along with teen daughter Sarah (Katie Boland), teen son Nicky (Adam Butcher) and youngster Eli (Nico McEown) to try and swim in Del Mar's wake, each eventually cursed with their own dramatic decisions as a result. Crusty father-in-law/Holocaust survivor Saul (Paul Soles) is perhaps the closest to Katie's loose canon, as he always speaks his paranoid mind bluntly and to the point.

There are some beautifully unique visuals and camera angles sprinkled throughout, tiny moments that try to tilt the clever/weird ratio in its favor. The image of Katie (love those knee-high white stockings) driving an endless stream of golf balls disastrously onto her neighbors in the premiere episode pushes the message that this one is going to be a little different, or at least is going to try and very hard to be.

And then there is the whole cancer-victim-reality-star premise—entwined as it is with those aforementioned stock TV crew character—that is the both the series' lynchpin and potential stumbling block. Credit creator Angus Fraser for clearly moving into unusual territory with Terminal City, but in hindsight its greatest asset is anchored by the way Katie lives what may be left of her life, and the way it forces new ripples into the lives of her family.

That is truly the dramatic center of this series, and Maria Del Mar ricochets her way seemingly effortlessly as the charismatic and tragic lead.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Big bummer on the way Koch Vision has treated Terminal City, opting for pushing all 10 episodes in nonanamorphic widescreen, which then appears letterboxed on all four sides on a 16x9 television. That indignity aside, the transfers themselves pull up somewhat short, sporting very soft edges throughout. Colors, however, look warm, balanced by generally even and natural fleshtones.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented 2.0 surround; overall a fairly basic mix, albeit somewhat flat, though voice quality is always clear. The lack of any measurable bottom end isn't a major detriment, but occasionally the eerie score elements do not have the kind of dramatic punch that a larger, beefier track might have provided.

Plain, but fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 110 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
3 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This set is packaged in a side-open slipcase, which contains a tri-foldout inner case to house the three discs.

A little light on bonus material, the only supplements appear on Disc 1, and consist of a block of six interviews, one each from the creator, an episode director, the production designer and three cast members. Most of the segments recap the overall series plot or particular character machinations, with the most interesting being the one from production designer Rob Gray (05m:29s). The other interviews Angus Fraser (08m:52s), Maria Del Mar (09m:11s), Gil Bellows (08m:54s), Jane McLean (06m:55s) and Lynne Stopkewich (08m:08s). Curiously, McLean and Stopkewich both have their names misspelled in their pieces.

Each episode is divided into 11 chapters, and features SDH subtitles.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

This unconventional 10-episode series (why is it nonanamorphic??) carries a promising concept that just occasionally misses the mark. Maria Del Mar, however owns this hands down, and if anything it is her rollercoaster performance as a cancer-victim-turned-celebrity that spurs this one on until its potentially daring conclusion.

 


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