BluRay/DVD Reviews

SPACE 1999

By • Jan 30th, 2001 •

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Set 1: Color, 2 discs, approx 312 mins, + photo gallery of production stills. Episodes: ‘Breakaway’; ‘Matter of Life and Death’; ‘Black Sun’; ‘Ring Around the Moon’; ‘Earthbound’; ‘Another Time, Another Place’. Guest stars include Christopher Lee, Joan Collins, Brian Blessed.

Set 2: Color, 2 discs, approx.312 mins. + photo gallery. Episodes: ‘Missing Link’; ‘Guardian of Piri’; ‘Force of Life’; ‘Alpha Child’; ‘The Last Sunset’; ‘Voyager’s Return’. Guest stars include Peter Cushing, Catherine Schell, Julian Glover.

PASSABLE / RECOMMENDED

It’s interesting to see episodes of the original Star Trek series, made in the mid-60s, with their flimsy sets, often paltry special effects, tv lighting, and yet with powerful emotional stories and sympathetic characters audiences responded to. Then came 2001: A Space Odyssey with, among its many state-of-the-arts achievements, the dehumanizing of the genre. Following that, in the 70s, there was Space 1999, a sci-fi series attempting to emulate 2001‘s virtues, loaded with production value, often top-of-the-line effects, but bereft of coherent stories (which 2001 replaced with metaphysical subtext) and totally lacking in sympathetic characterizations (which 2001 may have pulled off, but it never would have flown as a series).

Looking at it today, so thoroughly and uniformly misguided in not only casting and story but pacing, cutaways, and new age effects concepts, Space 1999 is somehow terribly compelling. You can’t take your eyes off the stars, not because they’re good, but because of what they aren’t. Martin Landau appears in each episode’s titles, posing somberly and holding his arm as if he’s feeling the stirrings of a coronary. He’s the weakest male protagonist since Omar Sharif in Dr. Zhivago; Barbara Bain turns toward us in her title intro mannequin-like, as if the flexing of a single facial muscle will shatter her entire face; then there’s Barry Morse, rattling around the set like a whirling dervish to compensate for the other two stiffs, kind of like Brian Cox on acid. It’s clearly influenced on every level by Kubrick’s emotionless epic, but they really didn’t hope to capture that kind of genius on a weekly series by just replicating the surface… or did they?

One of the major recurring characters – the reconnaisance ship(the Eagle)’s pilot Alan Carter – is called upon to take his vulnerable vessel up to investigate each formidable new threat to Moonbase Alpha’s existence, and as the episodes progress, he gets more and more noticeably pissed off about it, even telling Landau he doesn’t want to do it at one point. Very amusing. Another recurring source of amusement is the title credit “Moon City Costumes – Rudi Gernreich”. I mean, the guy’s no H.R. Giger. Victoria Alexander, I’m sure, would have some lascivious theory explaining how he rated that title.

What makes this four-disc double set occasionally recommendable (note the double rating above), aside from the irresistable oddity of it, is the blinding beauty of the transfers. A&E has released peerless renderings of the shows, longer in some cases than were aired in parts of the US, and the quality is mesmerizing. Such quality control makes one want to own them. The rest is dependent on group screenings. The first episode is a riot. Some of the succeeding ones grow wearying once the freak-appeal wears off. An hour with such misdirected, suppressed emotions is always fascinating at the outset but before long you yearn for the barebones shenanigans of Shatner, Nimoy and Kelly. I’m making my way through them at the rate of about one per week, and what throws me a bit is that they’re not in order, except for the first epsode, which establishes the series’ plight – a moon base full of astronauts are stranded when Earth’s moon is thrown out of orbit and sails off into the universe. After that, you get random installments of the series, with the rest hopefully to come, based on how these two sets sell.

As examples of the good and the bad (and in ways already described, they’re all ‘the ugly’) we have “Ring Around the Moon” (which incorrectly describes the phenomena encountered in the episode), in which a space entity approaches Moonbase Alpha, manifesting itself as an orange orb within which an eye periodically appears. The eye effect looks like a sixth grade child’s drawing. Most of Star Trek‘s matte work was far superior. So here’s the exception to generally good effects and miniature work. My guess – the writing may have been on the wall about the show (ratings, reviews, etc), and budgets were paired down as the season wore on, though the intitial sets, space suits, etc. had already been constructed, so general production values stayed consistent.

That’s an example of the bad. For the good, we have an episode called “Earthbound”. This one has Charles Crichton as director (1946’s Dead of Night, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Titfield Thunderbolt, A Fish Called Wanda), and he manages to pull together all the contrary elements of the show and put them in remarkably manageable order for a first rate epidode which sidesteps all cliches, surprises us with horrifying twists (some rendered in so little as a line of dialogue), and features Christopher Lee as the regal leader of a wandering race of aliens searching for a new home and unluckily landing on Moonbase Alpha. After boarding the alien craft (which looks like something out of the Warners cartoon Duck Dodgers in the 21st and 1/2 Century) and assuming all the humanoid bodies to be dead, Landau and friends drill one of the hybernation chambers open, promptly disentegrating the reposing alien to ashes. When Lee and the others then arise and survey the damage (they’ve been travelling thousands of years without incident, only to have these imbeciles obliterate one of their six members), Landau, Bain and Morse continue to stand around guiltily, not knowing what to say. In any other hands that had directed the show up to this point, the sight of these moonbase boobs trying to be inconspicuous after what they’d done would have been riotously stupid; under Crichton’s direction, it’s quite upsetting. Without knowing enough about Lee’s contingent to anticipate what their reaction will be, a sense of imminent disaster builds, but simultaneously one also feels terrible for Landau’s entourage for having tried to do the right thing and completely blown it – just as Earth’s representatives will probably do if an actual situation of this sort ever arises. And that’s in the early stages of the episode, so I’ve ruined almost nothing in the way of surprises. (Note: there is a rare glaring faux pas at 50:30. Go back and find it after you’ve enjoyed the episode.)

P.S. I wouldn’t double bill two of them in an evening. It could work, but an episode of Space 1999 might be best as the second of three hour-long shows spread over an entire night. The first would have to be an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, available in a seven disc set that outlines your choices clearly, so that you might be able to match suitable subject matter for the Space 1999 episode to come. The Cosmos installments have been updated with the latest findings on space history, which makes visiting them a surprisingly fresh experience. And then there’s time for one last treat. You could make it The Prisoner. A&E has released four discs representing seven chapters of the unique, mind-teasing British series starring Patrick McGoohan, with the rest obviously to follow. Think of it: This way you can have sci-fi nights once a week, without running out of either of the three series for several months.

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One Response »

  1. How can i orderd The movie space 1999 in the Nethelands.
    Maybe can tell you it for me.
    I see no ordnerlist.

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