1899 A ship with the suspicious name “Cerberus” is sailing from London to distant New York. Crew members and passengers are representatives of various classes, countries and nationalities, who clearly got on the ship for a reason. Among them, for example, the neurologist Mora (Emily Beecham) – she reads a letter from her brother, who offered to meet in New York. True, the heroine has a suspicion that the relative never sailed to the New World. Just in time, Cerberus captain Eyck (Andreas Peachman) receives a distress call from the Prometheus, the infamous ship that disappeared a few months ago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The captain decides to change course and go in the company of Mora to help the unfortunate ship, although there seems to be no one to save there.
Netflix’s main non-English successes are considered to be the Spanish heist thriller The Paper House and the Korean anti-capitalist satire The Squid Game, which has held the platform’s first-month viewership record for a year now. Much less is said about the German “Darkness”, which violated all possible audience algorithms and, by some miracle, became a hit on the streaming platform. If the series about the mysterious disappearance of a teenager at first simply deceived the audience, showered them with physical terms and philosophical concepts, then by the end it became so confusing and complex that it seemed an unrealistic task to understand what was happening without huge family trees, 3D diagrams and even memes. Netflix management seemed to be so impressed with the result that they made the only right decision – to give Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese an unlimited budget so that they would do the same, but on a much larger scale and more interesting. Alas, it was not possible to repeat the success.
Without departing far from the past creations of the authors, it must be said that “1899” is such a maximally spectator and simplified “Darkness”, somewhat predictable and not causing headaches. Even before the release, I wanted to believe that the novelty would cross the best of the European TV industry and American opportunities and become a big-budget implementation of the wildest and most daring ideas of the creators of a truly unique series. It turned out exactly the opposite – a Hollywood blockbuster in a European setting and with an accent that cuts the ear. Most of the twists here are not just read in advance – the characters themselves warn about them with the most significant, but in fact understandable phrases like “it’s not what it seems” or “I think they’re not really dead.” The central puzzle is so obvious that it takes a lot of effort to ensure that your first guess about what is happening is wrong. Add to that an offensively superficial soundtrack composed of the most popular rock songs of the last century, and you have an unremarkable series from the Netflix catalog.
On paper, 1899 seems to be almost an exemplary series in which you can find any scenario device: distracting maneuvers, hooks, twists, cliffhangers, foresadowing, Chekhov’s guns. However, while watching all these traps, they rather tire or even enrage – the feeling of artificiality and, ahem, ahem, the construction of what is happening does not leave. As if the neural network crossed several sources of inspiration (The Matrix, Lost, Westworld, Shutter Island and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) with stories about ghost ships and generated something secondary and extremely faded. Perhaps it’s all about one-sided characters-functions (each of them, as is now customary, is revealed through the tragedies of the past or obsession) or in a suffocating hermetic setting, but “1899” does not cause not only sympathy, but also emotions in general. Probably, this dryness could be forgiven for the puzzle series, if it had a more elegant and unforeseen solution.
It’s ironic, but even if you try to praise “1899”, you can do it only through comparison with something. Technically, the series is on par with other flagship and high-priced Netflix series, boasting high-quality special effects with an abundance of catchy visual characters and creepy sound design. And in its best moments, “1899” is reminiscent of “Lost” – another series about an unsuccessful journey and it is no coincidence that passengers are gathered together; and sci-fi “OA”, which every season had to restart the story. In general, it is better to spend time on them, because both series now need an audience more than ever. The first is undergoing a massive revision – even old fans are giving the classics one more chance to soberly assess the scandalous ending. Well, nobody really watched the second one: it gained a cult status in narrow circles and was closed after the second season. The question is, why waste time on a secondary failure, if you can look at the original and much more successful competitors?