J.D. Lafrance
Harsh Realm DVD Review

Harsh Realm

February 28, 2003

Director: Cliff Bole, Jefery Levy, Kim Manners, Daniel Sackheim, Larry Shaw, Bryan Spicer, Tony To, ,
Starring: Scott Bairstow, D.B. Sweeney, Terry O'Quinn, Max Martini, Rachel Hayward, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Samantha Mathis, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

Platoon meets The Matrix in this action-packed military virtual reality series from Chris Carter (the creator of The X-Files). Harsh Realm has never been seen before in the UK and is available to buy from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Harsh Realm tells the story of a young solider, Lt. Thomas F. Hobbes (Scott Bairstow), who is due to be withdrawing from the armed forces to settle down with his future wife, Sophie Green (Samantha Mathis). However, the military has one last assignment for Hobbes, which takes him into Harsh Realm, a virtual reality war-game created by the armed forces for combat training, to defeat a General by the name of Santiago. It sounds simple enough, until Hobbes realises he is now trapped in the gam and the only way to escape back to the real world is to assassinate General Santiago which proves much more difficult then Hobbes could ever have imagined.

The Pilot episode starts very real, a real-life war sequence. The scenes are brutal, bloody and contain graphic detail. My initial impression was that this series was going to be a war drama. I was right, but for all the wrong reasons. The first scenes of the pilot episode do not give anything away as to what the rest of the series will be like. The episode runs in the usual format of any U.S. t.v show, minor shocks before advert breaks, to keep you watching. The storyline unfolds and we find out more and more about Harsh Realm, there are plot twists and turns around every corner. At the end of the episode we find out the truth of what has happened to Hobbes in the real world, after entering Harsh Realm. The pilot runs as a good introductory episode to the series and arouses curiosity to find out what happens, does Hobbes manage to eliminate his target and make it back to his beloved Sophie?

The episodes run very well, some set immediately after the previous, others a long time afterwards. Little things, subtle, help empathise the line between the real world and Harsh Realm, like the subtitles at the bottom of the screen telling the audience the location of the scenes. The music is haunting and ominous, helping to add to the overall tone of the programme. There are definite themes of being on the run present, being different, outsiders. These are very strong themes being explored throughout the whole series. With each episode, things get more complex; the plot twists and turns more, confusing the audience. While one aspect of the story will be explained, another aspect will become shrouded in mystery. I found the whole series quite addictive, once I had watched one episode I felt I had to watch another. Harsh Realm has so many intricate details, by which some are revealed in each episode, through the fascinating character of Pinocchio. You could watch episodes over and over again, finding new things every time.

Six episodes into the series (Three Percenters) the audience gets the feeling of all the characters being fully developed and the story now seems to concentrate and explore more fully the glitches with the Harsh Realm game. With each episode, it progresses that the main storyline of Hobbes being this “saviour” to the Harsh Realm world is thrown into question. To be honest, the whole series keeps you guessing, making you think, trying yourself to work out what is happening, or what is going to happen. With the last episode on the disks (Camera Obscura) you expect everything to become clear, all aspects explained, this is not so. At the end of this particular episode, if anything, the audience is left feeling more confused about the story, the ending, everything! It’s not until you watch the special features that you understand why.

Special Features

The making-of documentary (Inside Harsh Realm) is a fascinating insight into the force behind the series. One of the most interesting revelations is the knowledge that after tirelessly making this intriguing and addictive series, Harsh Realm was cancelled after airing mere three episodes. Other interesting facts include the original basis for the show and information about the actors and actresses involved in the show. There’s also an explanation as to the musical side of things. Overall a very interesting documentary that can only highlight the positive factors in this brilliantly conceived series.

Other features on this disk seem a little disappointing compared to the mini-documentary, the creating the title and logo sequence seems interesting and is just the right length (just under 10 mins), any longer and the audience would start to get bored. Also included are “t.v spots”, little excerpts and promos for the series but these get repetitive, seen one, you’ve seen them all. I feel they are just there to bulk up the special features part of the DVD.

The commentaries are a highlight, with a choice of two commentators over the same episode (The Pilot). The fist is from Chris Carter, the creator of the series and this is the one to watch if you want more background information on the series and discussion more on the themes of the show. He seems to have got the idea of commentating down anyway, as he offers fascinating bits of information, but leaves short gaps so the audience can still enjoy the episode. Dan Sackheim, the director and executive producer of the series offers the other commentary. This is, obviously, more from the directional side of things, how scenes were shot, how they were produced etc. The only downside is that Dan seems to have started talking and not been able to stop. He talks constantly and there are hardly any breaks in his commentary, so from personal choice, I would choose Chris Carter’s commentary as the preferable one.

Overall I would have to say, a fascinating mini-series, a great shame it remains unfinished and un-resolved and seemingly let down by it’s lack of special features.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


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