It’s been a long time coming, almost three years since it hit American shores in fact, but finally AMC’s superlative Gothic horror The Terror is getting a UK Blu-ray release from Acorn Media International.
Spanning 10 episodes over two discs with a runtime just shy of eight hours, The Terror is an adaptation of the novel by Dan Simmons, based on the real events of the Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in search of the North West Passage, an expedition which ended with both ships being lost as well as all the crew. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2014 that the wreck of the Erebus was finally found, having come to rest over 50 miles South of their last documented positions. The Terror herself was found in 2016, and both wrecks are still being explored and documented to this day.
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The story begins in September 1846 with two ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, which are approaching the North Pole in their search for the (at the time) near mythical Northwest Passage, a route through the Arctic that would link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to open up trade routes with Asia.
HMS Terror is commanded by Captain Francis Crozier (Jared Harris – Chernobyl, Fringe) and HMS Erebus by Commander James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies – Game of Thrones, Outlander), with the endeavour as a whole being lead by Sir John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds – There Will be Blood, First Man). Franklin has led other expeditions to the Arctic before, but never by sea, and one of his previous expeditions had not ended well. Crozier is an Arctic veteran, but as an Irishman (with something of a love for whiskey that is frowned on by the other Captains) the English Navy Admiralty will not let him lead an expedition on his own so instead he must serve under the less experienced Franklin.
What starts off as a tale of Arctic derring-do and gallant Englishmen doing gallant English things gallantly, swiftly metamorphoses into something altogether darker as the expedition finds their luck turning against them. Against Crozier’s advice Franklin presses North, even when the ships begin to encounter, heavier ice that Crozier is convinced is the Arctic pack. Ending up marooned in the ice for what might be months or perhaps even years, the crews must contend with bad weather, the freezing cold, the isolation, and with something entirely unexpected. Something that lives out on the ice. Something that seems determined to make sure that not one of them will ever make it back home.
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The true circumstances surrounding the fate of the Franklin expedition remain a matter of debate and conjecture, with theories ranging from lead poisoning to scurvy and zinc deficiencies all posited as possible causes for the disaster. Dan Simmons’ novel took what was known and threw in a supernatural twist with the stranded men also being hunted by a strange and vicious creature the Inuit call Tuunbaq. Between the tension aboard ship from bored, cold, hungry men and the ever-present threat of horrible, bloody murder if they set foot outside it wouldn’t be far wrong to describe this series as claustrophobic, to say the least.
All the actors here turn in stellar performances, from the hubris and arrogance of Franklin to the sly and shifty Mr Hickey (Adam Nagaitis – ’71, Chernobyl) or the earnest, hopeful Mr Goodsir (Paul Ready – Motherland, Bodyguard). Each and every chracter feels authentic and believable. The blend of practical sets and VFX to create the Arctic tundra is a marvel of modern technology, most of the filming done within massive sets rather than out on the freezing plains. The ships themselves are as much a part of the cast as the actors themselves, the sets lovingly detailed, the tight interiors adding to that sense of overwhelming dread and encroaching pressure of their situation.
This Blu-ray release is perhaps not as comprehensive as fans of the show might have hoped. There’s a small featurette that accompanies each episode, with cast and crew commenting on the story and their performances. There’s also another featurette looking at the ships, one looking at the characters, and the last features Executive Producer Ridley Scott talking about the story. Each of these runs no longer than five minutes and while each is engaging enough surely there’s more that could be said about this story, not only about the actual making of the show and the adaptation of the novel, but more about the true events that inspired it. There are no commentary tracks trailers, galleries, nothing else added. This is pretty much the bare minimum you can get away with including.
Complaints about special features aside, The Terror is a gloriously dark period horror piece, brought to the screen by a crew with a great deal of love and dedication for the source material, fronted by a superb cast who give it their all, bolstered by the discordant and haunting soundtrack provided by composer Marcus Fjellström, who sadly died during filming of the show. This Blu-ray would make a great addition to the collection of any fan of horror or naval dramas. As long as they don’t mind their nautical nonsense coming with a slice of supernatural dread and a side-helping of cannibalism.
The Terror (Season 1) is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on 26th April from Acorn Media International.