Harsh Realm-Season 1 (1999)

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Released 9-Aug-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Chris Carter (Writer/Producer) - Pilot
Audio Commentary-Dan Sackheim (Director/Exec. Producer) - Pilot
Featurette-Inside Harsh Realm
Featurette-Creating The Logo & Title Sequence
TV Spots-5
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 381:37
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Daniel Sackheim
Cliff Bole
Jefery Levy
Kim Manners

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Scott Bairstow
D.B. Sweeney
Terry O'Quinn
Max Martini
Rachel Hayward
Sarah-Jane Redmond
Samantha Mathis
Raymond Cruz
Michael David Simms
Cameron K. Smith
Steve Makaj
Brad Greenquist
Case ?
RPI $44.95 Music Mark Snow
Jeff Charbonneau

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French Titling
English Audio Commentary
English Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    As The X-Files drew to a close, series creator Chris Carter put into motion a couple of other new series that he had had on the drawing board - the X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen, and this show Harsh Realm. Sadly, neither was a success and were cancelled after only a half season each. The interesting question is - Why?

    For its part, Harsh Realm is a combination of The Matrix, a variety of military thrillers and the not-so-good conspiracy elements of The X-Files. It follows veteran of the NATO mission Bosnia, Lt Thomas Hobbes (Scott Bairstow), who is called back into service for one last training mission - to test a new military virtual reality program called Harsh Realm and take out the current ruler of the game, General Omar Santiago (long time Chris Carter collaborator Terry O’Quinn). Once in Harsh Realm, Hobbes learns that (surprise, surprise) he has been lied to by the military, and this VR world can actually kill you. Worse yet, it seems that hundreds if not thousands of military personnel have already been sent on this mission, some of them many years previously, all of them now comatose in a lab hooked up to IV drips and wired into the program. Not only does Hobbes have Santiago to kill, but also his heavily armed military entourage that is now in control of the virtual world. But never fear, because Hobbes quickly teams up with long time Harsh Realm survivors, Michael Pinocchio (D. B. Sweeney) and Florence (Rachel Hayward), whose jaded cynicism is finally overturned by Hobbes' passion to destroy Harsh Realm. And back in the real world, Hobbes's wife Sophie (Samantha Mathis) tries to uncover what has really become of her husband.

    Despite a few plot holes and some clichéd conspiracy plotlines, Harsh Realm is not a bad show. Based loosely around the comic book of the same name, which apparently preceded The Matrix, it has some interesting and intriguing elements, and is often engaging. That said, I can see why it failed.

    First of all, unlike Scully and Mulder's poetic over voicing from The X-Files, Bairstow just doesn't have the voice for it, and his attempts at philosophising monologues a la The Thin Red Line come off as trite, then silly and finally annoying. Secondly, this show is just way too sci-fi for the mass market audience, and Chris Carter's fan base in particular. The X-Files had a firm grounding in science fiction, but its best episodes were those that dealt with real life freaks of nature and unusual psychotic killers. Its conspirators were also, generally human, and generally identifiable government shadow figures that could be easily related to by the mass market audience. Thirdly, it's too much of a Matrix clone. The elements of the Harsh Realm comic book that distinguished it from The Matrix were those very elements that were changed by Carter to make the show more like The Matrix. Certainly, The Matrix was enjoying a commercial success at the time, but sci-fi audiences these days do not want "more of the same" – they want variety. And with that third instalment of The Matrix just ruining the concept for everybody, well, Harsh Realm was always going to be hot on its heels into the bin as far as the studios were concerned. Only 3 episodes were ever aired on commercial TV in the US, and the remaining 6 were aired on Fox’s own Fx Channel.

    Certainly, there are some great elements of this show – some excellent action set pieces, a few interesting characters, particularly Pinocchio, some decent production values, and some interesting plots, subplots and story arcs that keep the viewer raising questions. I liked it. But as a whole package it just doesn't glow, its cast never quite gels together to make a lovable ragtag team (certainly not in the way that the cast of Firefly did in their meagre 13 episodes), and in all fairness to its creator, it did deserve to fade into the background of cancelled series (one of the many that Fox deleted from its production lines that year).

    For fans of sci-fi and Chris Carter, however, I do recommend this as being worth a look. It's no Battlestar Galactica (either new or old series), and its definitely no Firefly, but it has its moments.

    The entire series is set out on this 3 disc set. You can find a full list of episodes and episode summaries at TV.com. All episodes are approximately 41 - 45 minutes long.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    Presented in 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, this is the original aspect ratio of the series.

    I watched this show split between my 42" Sony E-Series 3LCD Rearpro HDTV upscaled at 720p via HDMI and on my 100" projection screen using my Sony VPL-HS60, upscaled at 1080i.

    The image is particularly grainy and a little soft despite the grian – potentially a side-effect of the scaling, but this tends to smooth out graininess rather than exacerbate it. The colour saturation is a little too glaringly yellow (though some of this could be an intentional choice by the producers), and shadow detail tends to be a bit murky blue, which can be distracting because there are a lot of night scenes.

    There are some obvious compression artefacts, including aliasing, a touch of moire, and some background pixilation. All in all, I put this about on par if a little less quality than Stargate: SG1 - Season 1 (consider when that set of discs was cut).

    The dual layer pauses are between the episodes.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in both English and French, this is a stock standard audio track. I spotted no glaring sync issues. Dialogue is clear.

    Surrounds were used in some of the action set pieces, but not to a full enveloping effect.

    There was a little subwoofer use, but that has more to do with where my crossover is set. There was no real LFE on the audio track.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    All menus are in 1.78:1 Full Frame. The main menu has a 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtrack of the show’s theme. All other menus are static and easy to navigate, and some also have a different theme from the show.

Commentary: “Pilot” (Disc 1)

    Presented in 2.0 Dolby Surround, this an innocuous and fairly technical commentary, unfortunately I don’t find Carter to be an entirely engaging presenter on these things.

Featurettes (Disc 3)

    The set contains the following two featurettes, presented in 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, with 2.0 Dolby Surround audio:

FBC “Pilot” TV Spots (Disc 3)

    Presented in 1.33:1, Full Frame, with 2.0 Dolby Stereo audio:

Fx TV Spots (Disc 3)

    Presented in 1.33:1, Full Frame, with 2.0 Dolby Stereo audio:

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Content wise, R1 and R4 appear to be completely identical. Without an R1 copy, I cannot do a direct video-to-video comparison for you, so I have no way of knowing which has the better video transfer. It’s just a question of whether you prefer NTSC at 480i/60Hz or PAL at 576i/50Hz and whether you have a region free DVD player.


    This is an enjoyable show, but not without its faults. It would have been interesting to see what would have been made of this if it had been given a longer run. But it’s hard to tell if it would have improved significantly. Well worth it for Chris Carter fans, though.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Edward McKenzie (I am Jack's raging bio...)
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVPNS92, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 WXGA 3LCD Cineza Projector (10,000:1 contrast ratio) with 100" Longhom Pro-Series Micro-Textured White Matte PVC 1.78:1 16:9 Fixed Mount Screen with Black Velour Trim. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersJensen QX70 Centre Front, Jensen QX45 Left Front & Right Front, Jensen QX20 Left Rear & Right Rear, Jensen QX-90 Dual 10" 250 Watt Subwoofer

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