Wednesday, March 14, 2007

SPACE ACADEMY – THE COMPLETE SERIES

Another favorite Saturday Morning television program from my childhood, Filmation Studio’s live-action SPACE ACADEMY – THE COMPLETE SERIES (1977) has made its way to DVD due to the fine folks at BCI Eclipse.

Set in the "Star Year" 3732, the short-lived series (it mutated into JASON OF STAR COMMAND a year later) chronicled the adventures of a group of young space cadets lead by handsome Chris Gentry (Ric Carrot, THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS) and his telepathic sister Laura, (popular 60’s and 70’s child actress Pamelyn Ferdin). Other cadets include Brian Tochi, Ty Henderson, Eric Greene and the incredibly hot Maggie Cooper (AN EYE FOR AN EYE). Under the tutelage of their teacher, Commander Isaac Gampu (Jonathan Harris of LOST IN SPACE), the earnest young cadets learned important lessons about honor, duty and life while exploring the galaxy and unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

Shot on a very low budget, SPACE ACADEMY is surprisingly well crafted, with good production values, set and costumes, not to mention high-quality, pre-CGI special effects that rival those produced for other 70’s sci-fi projects, including the vastly more expensive SPACE: 1999. Nowadays, it’s common to call such handcrafted, painstaking miniature work "cheesy," especially when compared to today’s hi-tech, computer-created effects, but that’s just insulting, ignorant and inaccurate. SPACE ACADEMY boasts damned fine effects work and it adds immeasurably to the show’s charm. In fact, effects supervisor Chuck Comisky went on to supervise the effects on Roger Corman’s BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, and some of his crewmembers worked on STAR WARS and its sequels.

Scripts are a mixed bag – ranging from some thought-provoking sci-fi and effective character studies to childish kid’s space adventures, but the cast is likeable and every half-hour episode is entertaining, each delivering the obligatory moral just before the end credits.

BCI/Eclipse’s DVD set includes all 15 episodes of the single season on 4 discs. The full frame transfers look very good for their age. Not pristine, but much better than the ARK II episodes that BCI released on DVD last year. Like their previous Filmation sets, BCI has included plenty of nostalgic bonus features, including a half-hour documentary/cast reunion and two episode commentary tracks with producer Lou Scheimer, cast members Carrot, Tochi and Greene, and effects supervisor Comisky. There’s an extensive still gallery, all the episode scripts on DVD-ROM, commercial bumpers and more.

The only disappointment in this fine DVD set is that neither Pamelyn Ferdin (Laura) nor Maggie Cooper (Adrian) were involved in the reunion/documentary. It’s a shame, because Ferdin was one of the most prolific and familiar child actresses of the era and probably has some great stories, while Maggie Cooper was… well, a babe.

For anyone who bought the company’s previous ARK II release, this would make a great companion set (and not just because frugal Filmation recycled the fiberglass nose section of the Ark for the "Seeker" spaceship!). Highly recommended for fans of 70’s sci-fi television, and aging genre buffs like me.

BUY: Space Academy: The Complete Series