From the primitive era of man’s birth to today’s technologically advanced society, human beings have possessed two of the greatest powers ever: the power to give life, and the power to take it away. When it comes to how we treat nature, man-made climate change continues to jeopardize the survival of people and wildlife alike. Just as people have exacerbated the devastation of climate change, they also face the urgent task of saving planet Earth from that calamitous epidemic.

While that issue remains a divisive one in our politically fractured world, the science fiction genre has combined memorable storytelling with broader perspective on man’s capacity for destruction in films like Soylent Green, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Day After Tomorrow and Snowpiercer. Now, the new Seeka TV sci-fi thriller web series Utopia Planitia places the problem of climate change within the context of a compelling mystery set on a deceptively perfect colony in the 22nd century.

Written and directed by Seeka TV co-founder George Reese and premiering on Tuesday, January 14th on the aforementioned platform, Utopia Planitia follows a trio of investigators – reporter Cala Rodriguez (Nelle June Anderson), lawman Dar Pallas (Jamel Anderson) and intuitive empath Phoebe Nott (Kendra Alaura) – whose probe into the unexplained death of famed inventor/CEO Trinity Geiger (Cynthia Uhrich) forces them to explore how her conglomerate’s climate technology built the Utopia Planitia colony while leaving catastrophic damage on Earth.

George Reese, writer/director of the new Seeka TV sci-fi thriller UTOPIA PLANITIA, premiering January 14th on Seeka TV.

George Reese, writer/director of the new Seeka TV sci-fi thriller UTOPIA PLANITIA, premiering January 14th on Seeka TV.

Fascinated by the dual themes of humanity and inhumanity examined in John Milton’s poetic epic Paradise Lost and the 1987 John Carpenter horror film Prince Of Darkness, Reese explains how man-made climate change and high-tech innovation has only intensified the contrast between life and death – and man’s ability to precipitate both – in Utopia Planitia.

“In Prince of Darkness, you essentially have this idea that there is a Satan but no God, and the characters realize that the battle of good vs. evil is essentially humanity battling Satan, not a battle to which humanity is a bystander as in Paradise Lost,” he says.

“With Utopia Planitia, I take that one step further (in the context of climate change) and emphasize the idea that humanity is capable of both its own salvation and its own damnation. The technology at the core of the conflict—climate management systems—are both capable of making Mars a green paradise and turning Earth into miserable hell.”

Alongside examining man’s diametrically opposed skills for survival and destruction, Utopia Planitia looks at how those skills are put into sharp focus within a society divided between the haves and the have nots. “I believe that good and evil, empathy, and privilege are all intertwined concepts,” Reese adds. “So once that overall heaven/hell structure was in place, I populated with people who exemplify privilege and lack of privilege and constructed a world around them.”

The world of Utopia Planitia is divided between wealthy characters like Geiger and the downtrodden escapees from Earth who try for a better life on the eponymous Mars colony. “This is a world in which one person’s vanity resulted in the destruction of Earth and created a paradise on Mars,” says Reese. “It’s a world in which whether you are a refugee or a colonist isn’t a function of skin color, gender, religion, or anything else we consider aspects of privilege today—it’s a function of how and when you arrived on Mars.”

The circumstances for refugees are far more dire in the fictionalized elysium of Utopia Planitia than in real life, as Reese notes. “The colonists came to Mars through the colonization process before the fall of Earth or who were executives fleeing the fall of Earth as it happened,” he explains.

L-R: Oliver Mend as refugee Zigor Otxoa and Nicolas Lucas as his young son Gotzon (seen here in a flashback sequence).

L-R: Oliver Mend as refugee Zigor Otxoa and Nicolas Lucas as his young son Gotzon (seen here in a flashback sequence).

“The refugees have been arriving by hook or by crook ever since, and unlike today’s ‘unprivileged’/second class populations who can have value to the privileged classes and exploited, the refugees are the ultimate disposable population.”

At first, Utopia Planitia was outlined for 10 episodes before budget constraints reduced the amount of shows to 5.

While Reese restructured the scale of his series to fit its limited financial funds, he realized that there was little room for him to examine the subject of societal inequality within the initial 5 episode allotment.

During production of those episodes, Reese penned two more scripts – one based around one of the refugee characters. “It’s a flashback episode that examines the voyage of the owner of (nightclub) Taberna T-Bone in the refugee sector (Gotzon Otxoa, played by Noah Gillett),” Reese responds. “In the ‘present’ (2120), he is in bed recounting his voyage to his lover (Akiko Wilder, played by Reyna Rios) that took place in 2099.”

Episodes 6 and 7 were brought to life when Reese partnered with acclaimed producers Rose of Dolls and Oliver Mend through their prod-co A Film To Kill For. Production of both episodes (on top of the original 5) took place in Bilbao, Spain, marking the first international co-production between the United States and the Basque Country. The latter location also happens to be Gotzon’s former home, as seen in Utopia Planitia.

“I had been talking to Rose and Oliver about it and thought the Basque Country would be an ideal place for this refugee to come from,” remembers Reese. “So, I worked with them and they worked through some grant options from the Basque Country and were able to get funding to shoot the two additional episodes. I think the combination really helps paint the contrast between the utopia of the colonists and the hell of the refugees.”

Filming episodes 6 and 7 of Seeka TV's new sci-fi/suspense thriller UTOPIA PLANITIA on location in Bilbao, Spain.

Filming episodes 6 and 7 of Seeka TV’s new sci-fi/suspense thriller UTOPIA PLANITIA on location in Bilbao, Spain.

With the show’s Mars-set sequences shot in Minnesota, Reese found Bilbao’s long-dormant industrial factories to be a perfect cinematic representation of Earth’s desolate state in Utopia Planitia.

While Bilbao’s changing economy has visibly affected its metropolitan landscape, Reese and his production crew were thankful for the facilities that remained untouched.

“The city has seen an amazing shift from industry to the arts and a lot of those old industrial buildings are disappearing,” Reese comments. “We’re lucky to be filming in a period when they are still there.”

While Reese committed to keeping the dramatic structure of its first season arc consistent, the production design and other visual elements of Utopia Planitia needed to fit the story’s constant time shifts and varied settings. “In the 7 episodes of season 1, we’re showing four very different worlds: the colony, the refugee sector, pre-apocalypse Earth, and post-apocalypse Earth. There’s a lot going on in the way we lit the sets that tries to communicate the feeling of those worlds.”

Set in the years 2079, 2099 and 2120, Utopia Planitia‘s technical staff created specialized cosmetics and visual effects for each backdrop. “You’ll notice the make-up, in particular, is very different for the scenes in 2120. But also, the tech changes, as well,” Reese says. “Displays are flat-panel displays in 2079 similar to what we have now, but we’re into holographic displays in 2120.”

Further enhancing the look of Utopia Planitia is its impressive cinematography, an element Reese believes makes the series stand out strikingly from other digital episodic content. “Perhaps the most interesting technical element for cinephiles is that we used anamorphic lenses to shoot the series,” replies Reese. “It’s not something that is at all common in the web series world.”

IMG_4202While Utopia Planitia is a powerful and entertaining sci-fi suspense series, Reese stresses that only we have the power to protect both planet Earth and ourselves – for neither human nor animal life can be replaced, and that there is no such place as a ‘planet B’. That, and the themes of Utopia Planitia, are encapsulated by these reflective words written by another of literature’s most storied poets.

“Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.” (John Donne, “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII). I like that quote because it captures the need for empathy, the harm of privilege, and the internal responsibility of an individual towards the whole in one simple quote.

NOTE: Regarding closed-captioning/subtitling of Utopia Planitia, Reese says: “It will launch with English captions and (at least) French subtitles. I will add more languages as time goes. I’m totally committed to accessibility and, in fact, Seeka TV requires native language captions for all shows.”