BluRay/DVD Reviews

SPACE 1999: SEASON ONE

By • Jul 12th, 2012 •

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Last year I had the great pleasure of interviewing Martin Landau at the Saturday Nightmares horror film festival. At one point in the interview I congratulated him on the quirky sci fi TV series SPACE 1999. The audience burst into applause, and Landau acknowledged the response, but after the clapping had died down, he asked me “What do you mean by ‘quirky?” I explained that unlike, say, STAR TREK, the British series had an odd vibe which mutated from season to season. Not that I didn’t like it, but it was unlike anything I’d seen on TV up until that point. At this he seemed to see the light, and explained that there was such a turnover of key personnel that it was impossible to sustain a consistent tone. For the purposes of the live event, I accepted his explanation.

But while the commentary tracks on the earlier DVD release of the series, and the other commentary tracks on the new BluRay release, attest to Landau’s declaration, I see something much more essentially conceptual about the series that is off kilter. It’s in the lighting, it’s in the art direction, in the directorial blocking, the scripts, even in the way Landau and then-wife Barbara Bain play their roles – like something out of an over-stated existential play.

And I like it; I just don’t know what to make of it.

I’d heard that in the BluRay commentary it became clear that Landau and Bain were egomaniacs dictating their terms to the production staff. I listened with great interest to both the DVD and BluRay commentary tracks, and found nothing to support these opinions. The duo did seem intensely concerned about the quality of the show, and went the extra mile to give it substance. Perhaps that’s been misinterpreted as egomania by some. It often is, but this time, it seems within the parameters of genuine concern for the endeavor they were embarking on and struggling through.

On the BluRay, recorded in 2005, an elderly Gerry Anderson, with all his wits and memory intact, intermittently comments on episode one. His recollections of negotiating a contract with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain is tension-filled, funny, and horrifying – particularly a last ditch call to financier Lord Lew Grade…after Lord Lew’s bed-time. Also mind-boggling, the whole moon concept was hatched to accommodate distributor fears. Much of my perception of the series’ oddity is explained by his outrageous stories of distributor meddling. (Eg: The US distributor arm was concerned about an absence of monsters. So, the Andersons complied, putting a monster in “Dragon’s Domain,” only to be told that monsters were now passé.)

In the stills section, there’s a wonderful pic of Lord Lew Grade standing near a towering Christopher Lee (with his weeping willow chest-length white wig). There are lots of shots of Lee, having to endure yet another make-up for his art.

Fascinating, in Sylvia Anderson’s commentary on the former DVD release, she reveals that her original choice for the lead was Robert Culp. Culp arrogantly pitched himself as writer and director as well. Rather than being off-put, she liked his ‘edge,’ but Lew Grade wanted Landau/Bain. Later in the series, at Episode 19, another co-star was introduced – Giancarlo Preti. This led to some sticky moments with Laudau. The nice shading each of the creators’ memories give to each others’ commentaries make a compelling case for owning both collections.

The DVD and BluRay releases look similar to me. Not a vast difference in either picture or sound quality. The BluRay is better on shelf space, but I’m loathe to give up the DVDs since, as noted above, the commentaries on them are different from those on the BluRay.

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