Tony Scott’s “The Hunger: Sanctuary” Episode (1999)

In 1999, Showtime greenlit another season of Tony Scott’s television adaptation of his own film, THE HUNGER (1983).  Tony Scott returned to direct “SANCTUARY”, the second season’s first episode, and takes full advantage of the new resources bestowed on the production from the success of the first season.

Full disclosure: I haven’t watched any other episodes of this series besides the ones that Scott has directed, but with SANCTUARY, it seems Scott radically tinkers with the show’s format.  He dispenses with Terence Stamp as the de facto Master of Ceremonies, choosing instead to place the original film’s star, David Bowie, in the spotlight.  What’s interesting though, is that Bowie seems to have been worked into the narrative itself– not just as a host, but as a main character.  He plays a long-haired, eccentric artist-turned recluse who nurses the wounds from a recent scandal within the stone walls of his converted prison estate.

Giovanni Ribisi appears as the story’s other main character– a young man seeking the guidance and mentorship of Bowie’s artist.  However, he’s nursing a gunshot wound and harboring secrets of his own.  Overall, the performances are remarkably strong, making the most of admittedly pulpy genre material.

Bernard Couture serves as the Director of Photography in his first collaboration with Scott.  He frames the action in the television-standard 4:3 aspect ratio, while mainly keeping in line with Scott’s signature aesthetic: high contrast, even colors that favor the blue/green end of the spectrum, light through curtains, etc.  The camerawork is much more frenetic, keeping pace with Scott’s evolving techniques.  He makes use of wild pans, trucks zooms, spins, time-ramps, etc.  When he doesn’t cover the action in a standard medium-to-wide shots, he cuts in for extreme close-ups of lips, eyes, hands, etc… all of which lend an air of mystery to the piece.  The second season no doubt received a much bigger budget than the first, and it’s on full display here with the camera trickery and production design.

Scott’s adoption of music-video editing techniques continues, beginning with the same SE7EN-inspired opening credits as the first season.  He also builds on ENEMY OF THE STATE’s (1998) surveillance imagery, and introduces a new signature technique:  abruptly freeze-framing the action with a timestamp, effectively turning it into a black and white snapshot.  It’s an incredibly literal way to depict the time-honored cinematic notion of “the ticking clock”, but it works well enough within his style.

Scott re-teams with Harry Gregson-Williams for a hard rock-inspired musical score that’s appropriate enough for the setting.  It’s fairly generic and unremarkable, but it’s effective in capturing the tone and sustaining our interest.

SANCTUARY paints a disturbing portrait of a psychotic artist’s downfall.  Bowie’s character desperately wants to create a work of lasting art that will bestow upon him immortality– but the price he has to pay will be higher than he ever imagined.  With its macabre twist ending, it’s easy to see why this story would be included in an anthology series like “THE HUNGER”.  The imagery is provocative, gory, and oftentimes over-the-top (a naked woman on a crucifix comes to mind).  There’s plenty of nods to the original film as well, with a flashback to a nightclub-esque art show that recalls the punk stylings of the original film, as well as the overtly homosexual imagery (Ribisi is seen performing oral sex on a man).  There’s even references to Scott’s other work, such as mentions of Elvis that bring to mind Christian Slater’s preoccupation with him in TRUE ROMANCE (1993).

With SANCTUARY, Scott finds ample opportunity to experiment with the limits of his newfound aesthetic.  It’s a far, far cry from his early works like LOVING MEMORY (1971), but the development of Scott’s unique style is palpable and easily traced.  By this point in his career, Scott was already 55 years old, but his work has the energy and attention-span of a man half his age.  This flashy style would serve him well in his upcoming commercial ventures, as well as allow him to carve out a comfortable little niche of his own within the action genre.

THE HUNGER: “SANCTUARY” is currently available in its entirety via 2 parts on YouTube, as well as via Netflix streaming.