June 18, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Dominion”


DOMINION:  Thursday 9PM on Syfy – Change the Channel

Was there really a pressing need to make a TV series out of the schlock horror movie Legion?  It’s not as though the film was much of a hit ($40M total box office in the US, $68M worldwide), nor is it well-remembered even 4 years later.  It would be nice to say that series creator Vaun Wilmott, whose first show this is, had some kind of brilliantly unexpected idea for continuing and expanding on the movie’s story to justify Syfy’s new spin-off DOMINION, but the pilot doesn’t prove that to be the case.  (The pilot is directed by Scott Stewart, who directed and co-wrote the movie, and his presence clearly didn’t inspire Wilmott any.)

What Dominion did inherit from Legion is a ton of backstory.  Those who saw Legion will recall that Paul Bettany played the Archangel Michael, who came down to Earth and protected humans from evil, lower-caste angels led by the Archangel Gabrial, who’d been ordered by God to rid the world of humanity because He’d given up all hope in them.  Michael rebelled at the slaughter, and he had the ability to tell when the evil angels possessed the living in order to turn them into killing machines.  Most of Legion took place at a desert diner (called Paradise Falls, in case things were too subtle for you), where Michael, along with the owner’s son Jeep, were determined to protect a waitress’s baby who was fated to become The Savior.  (There was a weak explanation of why God was sending assassins to destroy mankind while simultaneously having a Chosen One born–something to do with testing the angels–but it’s not worth getting into.)  In the end, Michael and Gabriel flew off and left Jeep, his skin now covered with mysterious tattoos that had magically passed to his skin from Michael’s, to  protect the super-newborn.

Dominion takes place 25 years later, after a war that’s left Earth looking like every other post-apocalyptic story you’ve ever seen.  The remainder of mankind takes refuge in fortified cities, including Las Vegas, now called Vega.  (The series, which is shot in South Africa on what is clearly a minimal budget, does very little to suggest that this setting was a good idea.)  Michael (now played by Tom Wisdom) is still around, but he only swoops in when needed.  On a day-to-day basis, Vega has two human rulers:  the benign military leader Riesen (Alan Dale) and the evil, scheming, rotten, unscrupulous political chieftain Weel (Anthony Head).  Weel plots for his cringing, arrogant son William (Luke Allen-Gale) to marry Riesen’s spunky, beautiful daughter Claire (Roxanne McKee), but she of course pines for the poor but spirited and brave soldier Alex (Christopher Egan), who’s such a good guy that he gives his food to the waifish orphan who hangs around the barracks.  It comes as little surprise when it’s revealed, by the end of the pilot, that Alex is in fact the grown-up Chosen One, and thus the target of all the show’s villains both human and otherworldly.

As silly as all this is, the fantasy-adventure genre has survived worse.  What kills Dominion, at least in its pilot, is the feeble script, a ponderous collection of stilted exposition and occasional, indifferent action sequences (the first 5 minutes as as exciting as Dominion ever gets), as well as a remarkably unimpressive set of performances, even from veterans Head and Dale.  (It doesn’t help Head that he’s forced to speak in a flat American accent, or that almost all his dialogue appears to be post-synched, as is a surprisingly high amount of the pilot in general.)  Stewart didn’t do a memorable job of directing the movie, and operating on a budget shoestring here certainly hasn’t improved his eye.  Most of the CG is a notch above embarrassing, and even the costumes seem to be imported from a 1980s B-movie.

Some of this might improve post-pilot.  Executive Producers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer (Consulting Producers on Syfy’s Defiance and Alphas, for whatever that’s worth) have been brought in as showrunners, and regular episodes may be less boring and cheap looking with their 60-minute length (the pilot follows the Syfy norm by running an hour and a half) and less attempt to fake being well-funded.  Still, there’s little in Dominion to raise one’s hopes.  Syfy has been badly in need of a new signature hit since Battlestar Galactica wound up its run, and all the prayer in the world is unlikely to turn Dominion into the network’s Chosen One.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."