Sunday, 23 January 2022

Back to the future… Space: 1999 - Super Space Theater, Network Blu-ray Box Set


Even in 1975 we had to suspend disbelief watching this series but now you better believe it, because Network Distribution have released the ultimate set of Space 1999 rarities, a set of feature films that mostly remix and recut the original TV series to create a bigger screen experience including, in the first feature, an Ennio Morricone score.

Space 1999 was the culmination of Gerry Anderson’s mix of near future science fiction and fabulous model work – many of his technical crew went to work on James Bond, 2001 and Star Wars – with his sixties series, starting with Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlett, using puppets with the odd human hand to create a vivid vision of a world just around the corner. Growing up at the time, the future seemed to be rushing towards us at an ever-faster rate, and boys like me who read TV 21 felt we were part of an extended universe with all of Anderson’s creations linked in comic form but also through toy lines and a fan club.

By the end of the decade, Anderson, who was encouraged by ITC supremo Lou Grade to keep on producing new series rather than “milk” successful formulae too far, had progressed to live action with the film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969) and UFO (1970-71) which had exciting models and fashions, along with aliens and a cracking Barry Gray score. Space 1999 (1975-77) actually began here, owing much of its visual design to pre-production work for the never-made second series of UFO, which would have been set primarily on the Moon and featured a more extensive Moon base.

Moonbase Alpha

It ended up becoming the most expensive TV series made up to that point for British TV and the production values, including influence from 2001 and those same technicians, made it one of the best looking too. Fashion and set design were also top notch with a number of noted Italians working on the furniture and mise-en-scène in Moon Base Alpha. It set a new standard over two quite different series with Star Trek producer, Fred Freiberger bringing in a change of tone and new characters for a faster paced, space-operatic flavour.

Distribution being different in the 70s, the raw material – filmed on 35mm and therefore eminently restorable for Blu-ray – was reused to create five feature films, four of which featured on the US Super Space Theatre series.

On this new Network box set, each film has been rebuilt from the High-Definition restorations created for the series episodes, re-edited, restoring scenes and adding material not in the original presentation. This has corrected some of the issues with the two American compilations which cut too deep and the restored Journey Through the Black Sun (1982) is 14 minutes longer for example. They are presented here in their original 4:3 full screen aspect ratio alongside new 16:9 widescreen special editions.

It’s interesting that introductions for the restored fuller films look less dated than the 80’s cuts with their basic video tricked introductions.

Prentis Hancock, Barry Mors and Martin Landau

Spazio 1999 (1975) 

A compilation film was first produced in Italy, titled Spazio 1999 to launch the series in cinemas on 14 January 1975, a full year before the series was broadcast in the country. It compiled scenes from the series one episodes Breakaway, Ring Around the Moon and Another Time, Another Place, accompanied by scores from noted soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone. The three stories are edited together at about half their original length and so you get some slightly disjointed narrative and the likes of Roy Dotrice popping up as an extra effectively, his role in the opening episode all but erased.

That said, Space 1999 was always the most cinematic of TV series and its production values translate well aided by Morricone’s music which acts as the glue holding the moods together and culminating in some lovely themes for the poignant final third when the Alphans meet versions of themselves from a possible future.

The film is presented here in 16:9 version with original Italian movie soundtrack and that precious Morricone score.

The Eagles... Gerry Anderson's vehicles never disappoint

Super Space Theater

Following the series' cancellation, four feature-length films were compiled from various episodes for syndication and foreign theatrical release. In all cases, the films are presented in 4:3 version with their original movie version soundtrack and optional original TV episodes soundtrack, as well as 16:9 versions with original TV episodes soundtrack. You also get the trailers which say so much about the marketing excitement of the age. 

Destination Moonbase-Alpha (1978)

Two of the films come from ITC UK Films with the excellent two-parter, Bringers of Wonder becoming Destination Moonbase Alpha, edited by David Withers at Pinewood, and released in late 1978. It involves a species of radiation-consuming aliens who convince the Alphans that they are their friends and relations from Earth have at long last come to rescue them. Only Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau) can see through their telepathic disguise as he’s had some sort of brain frequency treatment following an incident of seeming drunk driving in an Eagle Transporter.

It’s generally tense as Koenig tries to convince his colleagues that what he sees is reality when all they can see are friends… Landau’s made for this gig and it’s one of his best performances of the series, all febrile desperation and frustration. There are also some excellent action scenes as the Alphans, finally freed of the deception, try to stop three of the Eagle pilots from blowing up the reactor core to feed their alien manipulators. 


Moonbase Alpha's control room

Music is from Derek Wadsworth who scored the second season of the series, warmer and more upbeat than Barry Gray’s scoring for the first season, it reflects the changes in approach under Freiberger. A new opening theme was composed by Mike Vickers, and there’s also a closing song from Oliver Onions an Italian pop duo apparently.

The background of the series was retconned, with the events now stated to having taken place in the year 2100 A.D. rather than 1999 in the introductory voiceover which, for this film is done Star Wars style with a running script fading into the horizon of a galaxy not that long ago or far, far away at all. This restoration set includes enhanced special effects for all the films, although the originals stand up remarkably well almost half a century later. 

Alien Attack (1979) 

Unsurprisingly, given its origin, Bringers of Wonder makes for a coherent 100-minute feature, but much effort goes into making Alien Attack work as well. This was an expansion of the show's pilot episode Breakaway as well as War Games, containing new footage, scenes set on Earth, though not involving the TV cast. The background of the series was retconned, with the events now stated to having taken place in the year 2100 A.D. rather than 1999 in the introductory voiceover.

Nick Tate and Zienia Merton

The paring with War Games makes for a more coherent kickstarter the Italian film, as the latter is the kind of existential alien encounter that was a trademark of the series' finest moments. Anthony Valentine and Isla Blair guest as aliens tryinig to teach the Earthmen and women a lesson.

Barry Gray’s at the helm for this one and for me he’s the classic sound of Anderson’s finest moments with a mix of dynamic themes and electronica that complement the atmospheres perfectly.  This film also features new special effects which I'm not sure it needs given the excellence of the original work and it being an exemplar of the state of the art at the time.

ITC New York Films

Included on the first disc is an interview with David Hirsch, the mastermind behind the US Super Space Theater versions. His memories of Gerry Anderson go back to Fireball XL5 and her even wrote a thesis on the director’s work at collage. As part of Robert Mandell’s ITC compilation films, the Super Space Theater series, which also included the two British films above, Hirsch was given the task of cutting the two US films, for syndication on US networks having previously produced Invasion UFO, the film version of several UFO episodes. His editing is meticulous, and he was at pains to not lose any of the narrative meaning, a tricky job at the best of times but under pressure here. 

As Hirsch says, the picture quality is now much improved, especially from the US versions initially released on NTSC videotape, and, for many in the US, this was their first exposure to the series and better remembered than he thought especially given the number of cuts he had to make.

Tony Anholt and Catherine Schell

Journey Through the Black Sun (1982)

Hirsch says that the metaphysical elements of the two episodes made Collision Course and Black Sun right for merge. They’re certainly two of the series most interesting and in the first Landau’s Commander Koenig is once again left as the only one who knows the truth about an impending collision with a huge planet on which a higher form of life is about to evolve. Not even his romantic interest Dr. Helena Russell (Landau’s wife, Barbara Bain) or wise best buddy, Professor Victor Bergman (the great Barry Morse) believe him and it’s a genuinely suspenseful case of hope versus logic.

Other valuable players are Eagle No. 1 pilot Alan Carter, played by Nick Tate, a fan favourite who was in 42 of the 48 episodes, and Sandra Benes aka elfin Zienia Merton, a big feature of my teen fascination who also survived into series two, being in 35 episodes. There was also medic David Kano (Clifton Jones) and Paul Morrow (Prentis Hancock) who always seems to be the first to kick back against Koenig’s commands; the characterization was good if a little clinical across the regulars from Series One.

Up next is another collision, this time with a mysterious black hole, with Paul Jones guesting as an Eagle pilot and this is another slightly spooky episode. Music is Barry Gray again with a bizarre disco end sequence... yes the series was a little camp but it was also elegant in its way. 


Mr and Mrs Landau

Cosmic Princess (1982)

The link here was the first two episodes featuring alien shape-shifter Maya played by the excellent Catherine Schell, who’s red hair really stands out on these blu-rays, I never noticed on our TV at the time. The Metamorph was her introduction at the start of the second season alongside Tony Anholt as Tony Verdeschi, second in command, head of Security and Command Center controller. Anholt brought a more action-oriented heroism, and his character and Maya had an entertaining frisson throughout; all a little less earnest than the first season.

Brian Blessed blasts in as Maya's misguided father Mentor, ruler of Psychon, a failing world attempting to use psychic energy to revive it. As you do.

This episode is segued into Space Warp, episode 15 of the 24 in season two, in which Maya develops a fever of unknown origin and loses control of her meta morphing powers turning into a variety of monsters for the Alpha team to battle. Meanwhile Carter and Keonig get lost in an eagle and have to hope they can salvage something from an abandoned space station to get back.


Alphans, dedicated followers of fashion and Commander Keonig

As with all things Anderson, you have to make allowances and ignore the likes of the legendary Isaac Asimov who pointed out the obvious flaws in the whole premise. Space 1999 may have had some of 2001’s look and feel – written by Asimov’s great friend and fellow scientist turned writer, Arthur C Clarke, but it is unquestionably science fantasy not speculative fiction! For all that, it’s a nostalgic treat filled with many great moments and, yes, a crater full of holes!

Dusty Verdict: Five star style and action!

This is a fantastic set and essential for any member of Fanderson or anyone interested in this period of film and TV history. There’s a 24-page commemorative booklet which gives great context to the projects and helps to position the series where it should be: visionary entertainment.

The series is available on Deluxe Limited-Edition Blu-ray exclusively from from 31st January and you can pre-order with an early bird offer £40 (£50 afterwards), so get in quick and party like it’s (Space) 1999!




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