Thursday, January 6, 2011

SPACE: 1999 - SEASON 1 (Blu-ray)

In the long-ago, barely-remembered 1970s, the second live-action science fiction program from British television producer Gerry Anderson (THUNDERBIRDS, UFO, SPACE PRECINCT) hit U.S. syndication. The show was eagerly anticipated by genre-hungry sci-fi fans who hoped that it might be the next STAR TREK. As it turned out, SPACE: 1999 (1975-1978) wasn't the next TREK, but while deeply flawed, it still had much to offer to television audiences, especially in the realms of futuristic production design and visual effects.

On September 13th, 1999, a nuclear waste storage facility on the dark side of the moon explodes, hurtling Earth's only natural satellite - and the internationally-staffed Moonbase Alpha, with its 311 inhabitants - out of orbit and into uncharted space at unnatural velocity. Surviving the accident, the inhabitants of the lunar outpost, led by Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau, WITHOUT WARNING, ED WOOD) find themselves at the mercy of a capricious cosmos, tossed about the galaxy like a pinball by space warps and "black suns," always at the mercy of a variety of hostile alien races. Still, they persevere, hoping one day to find a new world that they can call home.

SPACE: 1999 was a technically innovative series, and by far, the best looking science fiction series of the decade, with vast, expensive-looking sets and a wide array of special effects sequences handled by many of the same talents that had realized Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (which was also an obvious influence on the overall look and tone of the show). Highly-detailed miniature spacecraft and alien vistas gave the show a scope previously unheard of on TV. Unfortunately, the scripts tended toward absurd premises that managed to be both silly and pretentious at the same time, and the writers exhibited little regard (or understanding) whatsoever for the laws of physics.

While the cast was talented, the scripts and direction tended to make the characters come across as cold and/or wooden. Still, Landau and his then-wife, Barbara Bain (who had co-starred on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE together some years before), as Alpha's chief medical officer, anchor the show somewhat by appearing to take everything very seriously, indeed. The first season also featured a number of notable British guest stars, including Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Ian McShane, Brian Blessed, Joan Collins, and Richard Johnson, among others.

Previously released on DVD in the U.S. by A&E Home Video, their new HD Blu-Ray edition presents eye-popping new transfers that blow all previous video versions of the show away. Presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio at 1080p resolution, all 26 episodes of the first season have been color-corrected, remastered and cleaned up to a remarkable degree, and presented on the first 5 discs. All dirt and debris has been eliminated, and film grain has been reduced just enough to maintain a nice "film-like" quality while eliminating video "noise."

Supplements - which are spread across all the discs, with the majority located on discs 6 & 7, which are standard DVDs - include extensive image galleries on every episode, Gerry Anderson commentary on the premiere episode“Breakaway;” the trailer for the "feature film compilations, ALIEN ATTACK and JOURNEY THROUGH THE BLACK SUN; textless title sequence; Barry Gray’s theme demo; alternative opening and closing titles; Martin Landau and Barbara Bain US Premiere wraparounds; special effects plates and deleted effects scenes; “Concept and Creation” featurette with interviews with Gerry Anderson, story editor Christopher Penfold, actor Barry Morse and effects director Brian Johnson; a special effects and design featurette, selected individual episode analysis featuring Gerry Anderson, writers Johnny Byrne, & Christopher Penfold, and others; text commentaries on two episodes; a 1975-vintage two-part special on the work of Gerry Anderson; and “Guardian of Piri” Remembered – actress Catherine Schell, who would become a regular in the second season, remembers her time working on the episode. Also included, though not listed on the package, is the HD version of "The Metamorph," the first episode of the second season.

I'm truly astounded at the visual improvement and the extensive bonus materials. If you're a HD-equipped SPACE: 1999 fan and on the fence about picking it up (especially if, like me, you've bought the show on DVD a couple times already), I recommend taking the plunge. The audio and video are vastly improved over the Region 1 DVDs. If you're not already familiar with the program, you may want to sample a few episodes before diving in.

BUY: Space: 1999: The Complete Season One [Blu-ray]