on 20 August 2004
With Harsh Realm, Chris Carter tried to hit off his third television show after "The X-Files" and "MillenniuM" back in 1999. For reasons that were never really explained, the Fox network cancelled the show after only 3 (in words: THREE!!!) aired episodes, because ratings did not seem to be what they had expected (after three episodes, please keep in mind!). So, although nine episodes had been produced, only three had been aired. Of course, this DVD-set contains all the nine produced episodes.
In short, this is what the show is about: Lt.Thomas Hobbes, portrayed by Scott Bairstow, returns from military duty in Sarajevo after rescuing his friend Waters there, asking himself what exactly guides his life. He now lives on a military base with his beautiful fiancé Sophie, played by Samantha Mathis, only to be called to a secret meeting in the middle of the night. There he is told by a general, played by Lance Henriksen, that there actually is a virtual computer simulation created by the US government, which had the purpose of serving as an almost perfect virtual environment for training soldiers and had been obtained through scanning of the real world, so that, in a sense, a true parallel world exists: Harsh Realm, a synthetic world filled with virtual characters in the image of real people in the real world. The problem is that a certain Omar Santiago, played by Terry O'Quinn, has entered Harsh Realm, basically conquered it and now rules part of it as a Hitler-esque General in his very own city complex, Santiago City. This city is shielded from the rest of the realm, so that the people inside can live by his cruel rule of intellectual suppression, yet in material richness and pompous lifestyle, while the world outside is a Mad Max-like postwar wasteland, parts of which Santiago tries to conquer to expand his empire. After several soldiers had been sent into the realm to assassinate Santiago but did not succeed, Hobbes is the next one to be sent, and so he enters the realm. Here he meets another hard-ass soldier, whom he finally finds to be an ally: Mike Pinnochio, played by D.B.Sweeney. He also meets his old friend Waters, played by Max Martini, whom he had saved in Sarajevo, only to find out that he is now Santiago's right hand and husband of his fiancé Sophie, who does not recognize him, and who, in the real world, is told that Hobbes has been killed in action. There also is the mysterious character of Florence, portraied by Rachel Hayward, who is mute, but who can heal a wound inflicted on Hobbes with her bare hands. Where does she get that power from within this game? In the end, Hobbes must accept and deal with his new situation, try to survive, to kill the tyrant Santiago and somehow get back to Sophie or at least to let her know he is still alive. This brings the character Inga Fossa, played by Sarah-Jane Redmont, into action, a mysterious double-agent working for Santiago, but also aiding Hobbes. Also, she knows how to cross between the real world and the realm, so that she is Hobbes' only possibility to reach Sophie outside. To make the drama perfect, in the final shot of the pilot it is revealed that not only Hobbes and some other "real people" exist along the virtual characters in the realm whilst their wired bodies are lying in a secret facility in the real world, but literally thousands of them.....
This plot marked the beginning of an incredible show, which had a greater impact on me with just it's first, and sadly last, nine episodes than any other first nine episodes of any other show ever. The X-Files/Mad Max/military feel is just perfect and gives the whole thing a wonderful post-apocaliptic, pessimistic, yet adventurous and thriller-like feeling, paired with a truly wonderful cast and crew, who supply superb work on par with other Carter productions, right down to the writers and to Mark Snow, again the brilliant composer that he always was. The drama is intense and lets you really dive in and feel with the characters, so that even within the small number of episodes a true bond is created between the characters and the audience, just like it should be. Several mysteries are begun to be explored, but sadly, as said before, the show was surprisingly cancelled, so most of them, as well as the premise of the show, are never solved or explained.
All in all, it is completely idiotic and not at all understandable why this show was cancelled, at least not in my opinion, and also not in Mr Carter's, I guess. But that sadly is what happened, at least in the real world, and is therefore something the fans of the show and of Carter's work have to live with. It is a small miracle that this show ever made it onto DVD, so please do not hesitate to buy and experience it. You will not be disappointed, believe me! Maybe the Fox network will finally realize that this unprecedentedly premature cancellation was a mistake after all!