The distant voiceover, the immersive title sequence with its rotating tunnel and red DNA Welcome to the pilot of The Outer Limits ! 1995 can only feels like yesterday considering the many occasions a sci-fi fan has to remember The Sandkings. I have to admit that I haven't read George R. R. Martin's novella yet but this first episode proves that TV shows can be as hardcore and fascinating as their dusty old paper counterparts.
The very first seconds thanks to the narrator you understand that it's going to be about the eternal battle between science and religion. What is a human capable of in order to be recognized by its peers ? How far can you drift when your emotions have taken over your reason ? The extraordinary story of Doctor Simon Kress (Beau Bridges) serves to cover these fascinating questions and restrain our desire to become gods. Playing Populous is way safer in my humble opinion ! His introduction as a brilliant scientist is everything but original because the entrance in a military guarded base and identity recognition systems were already dj vu elements back then. Things really become exciting when Simon's project, studying ground samples with eggs from Mars, takes a major turn. Then what was told in the opening is finally expressed by a pivotal sequence featuring Simon in his pyjamas ! Using the barn and his outfit as a metaphora for a church and a monk was brilliant even if now I find it a little too literal.
From there Simon's transformation accelerates and his passion becomes an obsession. His relationships with his lovely wife, played by the gorgeous Helen Shaver, his son and his father magnifies the changes within that inevitably overflow and finally alter his physical appearance. Of course it's nothing like Jeff Goldblum's cult metamorphosis in The Fly but the bathroom sequence is definitely disturbing. In general there're also plenty of horrific elements, from the nightmare to some frightening scenes featuring the sand creatures. In fact their unpredictable and agressive behavior reminded me of Screamers (1995). At some point there was also something yin-yangish about them so it proves the deepness of the writing and that all viewers should find something to satisfy their needs.
As for the production it's nothing stellar but the special effects are good enough. In the visual department we have some believable creatures that quickly move and the animatronics even allowed for some close-ups. Only the CG versions jarred with the rest at times even if the traditional approach wouldn't have been appropriate for some scenes. You have to understand that back then the studios were operating a transition from the old school to the new one when these days the digital has become the norm. Just check out Primeval to better understand the benefits ! As for the sounds they also have to be praised. They definitely contributed to make us believe that the Sandkings could actually exist, a bit like in Arachnophobia (1990) but with a more serious approach. In fact they're similar to the scorpions, spiders and other friends of the dark cellar but with a twist I let you appreciate. Last but not least if there was one thing to remember it's definitely the sand castles. These structures are so bizarre and well designed that they should teleport you on a planet far, far away ! Their evolution is actually linked to Simon's one so it makes their connection even more controversial and captivating.
Note : This review was first posted on Kritikenstein, my weblog.