Sunday, March 25, 2018

AMC's The Terror

It's a scene that, though made slightly fanciful, brings together all the elements of the essential mystery of the search for Sir John Franklin and his lost ships: a white explorer, working through an interpreter, asks a "Netsilik man" if he has seen any white men, especially the one they know as "Aglooka." Only here, there's a twist: out of a fur pouch onto a caribou skin come three of the infamous Dageurreotypes of Franklin and his officers (here showing, of course, the actors who portray them in the series: CiarĂ¡n Hinds as Franklin, Tobias Menzies as Fitzjames, and Jared Harris as Crozier). With no hesitation, the Inuk informant points to the third and last portrait: that, that one, that's Aglooka.

It's hard to imagine a better way to set the stage for a series that, like the novel by Dan Simmons on which it's based, builds a tissue of horrific fiction around the armature of historical fact. For those of us who already find the factual story endlessly fascinating, a certain additional suspension of disbelief will be required. We'll have to let go of our idealized version, for instance, of Franklin, and let Hinds's masterful performance of Sir John as an ambitious commander who throws caution to the winds, take its place; our Fitzjames will, as Menzies portrays him, be less whimsical than the lively young fellow evident in his letters home; our Crozier, above all, will be darker: feeling that his sense of the perils of the ice is not being taken seriously, he turns to drink and grim warnings: "Our situation is more dire than you may understand." Jared Harris's performance is, so far, the highlight of the series for me; no other actor I know so perfectly combines -- and balances -- darkness and light. All these new characters, though drawn differently from the way we've seen them before, serve this show's narrative as faithfully as the original officers served their nation's Navy.

I won't be giving any spoilers here -- though I will be doing an episode-by-episode recap and commentary on Canadian Geographic's website -- but I will say that, despite the fact that its horror is of a different and more fantastical kind, the show captures the bleak realism of Franklin's ill-fortune with remarkable clarity. Part of this is thanks to an excellent production crew and visual effects team, who worked magic with the look and feel of the ice, as well as having the expert advice of ship-modeler extraordinaire Matthew Betts which has made the structure and shape of both ships remarkably accurate, far more so than your usual "Master and Commander" fare. And these three actors, along with a brilliant supporting cast, well portray the essential human drama at the core of it all -- it's not "man vs. ice" but "man vs. man vs. himself vs. ice" -- a far more psychologically vexed formula, even before we meet the horror.

13 comments:

  1. Looking forward to the show! Thank you for the preparation

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  2. I never knew anything about this Franklin Expedition but as soon as I saw The Terror trailer I was hooked. I never watch series. I'm watching this ine though

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  3. I'm very glad you're doing the follow up on the Canadian Geographic website. Not being a fan of modern fantasy or horror, I'm sad the only film portrayal of Franklin's expedition will likely be this and it will be based on the Dan Brown book, which I hated, but on the other hand, I hope this brings in lots of people who would otherwise give it a pass, and I'm glad that their is close attention to the quotidian details of on-board life. I'll probably watch just to see what happens before all the crazy starts. At least in our modern culture it seems only horror, myth, super-heroes, etc., can broach topics that other forms of art and fiction used to carry, and there is something to be said for that ability to tell stories in ancient yet modern ways.

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  4. Hello i'm putting together a small exhibition at the museum I work for in Torquay Devon.
    I was wondering what biographical information you have on the ships officers i.e date and place of birth.
    I have information of birthplace for
    Franklin
    Crozier
    Goodsir
    Le Vesconte
    Fitzjames
    Reid

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    1. Most dates and places of birth. are available in Richard Cyriax's book on Franklin's Last Expedition -- a copy of the reprint can be had for a modest price. You should also get in touch with the Devon and Cornwall Polar Society -- they could be of enormous help!

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  5. It's hard for me to imagine a more exciting television show. A family member called me in to see the commercial and I could hardly believe my eyes. It's very interesting to see the ships depicted this way, and I think they picked a phenomenal cast.

    Thanks again for the wonderful blog, Dr. Potter.

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    1. Agreed! And thanks for your kind words, as well.

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  6. Thank you for your reply I have contacted the Devon and Cornwall Polar Society directly as well as Royal Greenwhich Maritime Museum.

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  7. Sorry a final question.. Is there any real proof that Francis Crozier was a drunk??

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    1. There's no evidence I know of that Crozier was a heavy drinker. He was, however, known at times to be of a melancholic disposition -- Simmons's novel extrapolates from that to the drinking, and the show follows his lead.

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  8. I just finished the book, and really enjoyed it. However I watched the first episode, noting that the first hour deviated wildly from the book, until [SPOILER ALERT] Lady Silence began to speak and I turned it off. What gives with her having the power to speak? I want to watch just for the sets but don't know if I
    can stand it after reading the book

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  9. Well, I must say, the series is compelling and well made. I hope it brings others to the saga. I didn't like some of the way characters were protrayed or developed, but see the necessity for a drama. Much better than the book.

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