Sense8 review - audacious and ambitious sci-fi from the creators of The Matrix


Sense8 review - audacious and ambitious sci-fi from the creators of The Matrix

In Sense8, eight people from around the world witness a horrific event which somehow binds them together. As they start to feel and experience each others mind and worlds, a complicated narrative weaves them together towards a dramatic conclusion.

Sense8 is a new series set to debut on Netflix on the 5th of June 2015. It was written by the Wachowskis (The Matrix) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) and directed by the siblings and frequent collaborators like Tom Tykwer and James McTeigue. It was shot on location in 9 countries around the world with a massive cast of local stars.

It’s easily one of the most ambitious shows ever created.

We got the chance to watch the first three episodes early and you can read on for some spoiler free impressions of what the show has revealed so far.

Sense8 is, first and foremost, extremely ambitious. In its vast cast and copious locations it really does expand on what we’ve come to expect from TV. And that ambition is evident in every aspect – from the choices of characters to the way the plot moves from one to the other.

It’s also not a show for the impatient; viewers will have to pay close attention to what’s going on at all times. In structure is closest to the Wachowski and Tykwer’s Cloud Atlas – one of the most underrated sci-fi films in recent memory.

In Sense8, everything in fluid. That not only includes character and perspective but also location, time and conceptions of reality. Thematically, even gender and mental states are also slippery, something which is bound to accelerate as the series progresses.

One minute you’ll be working the streets as a Chicago cop who begins to hear dance music from the empty apartment next door. That’s the merest echo of his connection with an Icelandic DJ working the clubs in London who herself might be connected to a bus driver in the heat and dust of Nairobi.

At this early stage, we’ve gotten some glimpses at the way these people are connected, sometimes intruding into the lives of the other sensates. It’s even possible for them to share skills across the miles, an element which is used to great effect during an action packed moment.

That’s right, there’s some trademark Wachowski high octane stuff here, brought to life in a way that’s fun and stylish without being too over the top. The trailer suggests there are more action scenes on the way but don’t expect too many pyrotechnics across the opening salvo of 12 episodes.

Sense8 is really a drama and one that involves an unusually rich cast – including a transgender actress playing a trans character (Jamie Clayton) and local African actors used for the scenes shot in Nairobi.

Their stories are complex and intense and engaging and even funny. There’s a famous Mexican actor with a secret, a businesswoman with her own unique problems, an Indian woman about to get married, a thief, a cop, a blogger, a bus driver and a DJ. And they all have their own lives to lead while their minds are going astray to other places.

And beyond that is the mysterious part played by Daryl Hannah who starts of this cognitive connection and the equally strange Naveen Andrews who move at the edges of the frame. Are they part of some conspiracy? Something less natural?

One thing is certain – you won’t be finding out too soon. Sense8 proceeds at a fairly slow pace, partly because it has so many characters to check in with. We wouldn’t be surprised if that accelerates before the end but the filmmakers involved have said a five season arc is planned, so there’s plenty of time to get to the bigger questions.

For now, these first three episodes are massively compelling – mostly for the mysteries they’ve so far failed to resolve. The sci-fi elements are firmly in the background, leaving plenty of room for a talented pool of performers to draw us into the drama of living with this strange affliction day by day.

One danger of this complex and slow-moving structure is that it does require patience from the audience. It’s certainly the most initially opaque Netflix project yet released and the necessity of flitting between characters so frequently means that forward momentum can seem limited.

But there’s huge potential energy behind each minor revelation, and more than enough to keep us on board at this early stage. Kudos too for opting to shoot as much as possible in real locations – it must have made the production hugely challenging but there’s a grounded feel you just wouldn’t get with a soundstage and green screen.

We can’t wait to see where the rest of the show goes.

Sense8 is written by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, James McTeigue and Dan Glass. It stars Aml Ameen, Doona Bae, Jamie Clayton, Tina Desai, Terrence Mann, Tuppence Middleton, Max Riemelt, Miguel Angel Silvestre, Brian J. Smith, Daryl Hannah and Naveen Andrews.

All 12 episodes of Sense8 will premiere on Friday the 5th of June 2015 at 8pm Irish time.

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