Release Date(s)1975 (November 30, 2010)
Studio(s)ITV/Network (A&E/New Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: A
You know... when I was a boy, the year 1999 seemed a LONG ways off. It was totally plausible to my young mind that we could have a huge base on the Moon by then, and plenty of nifty spaceships to get there and back. Of course, we’re more than a decade beyond 1999 at this point, and none of that has yet come to pass. But back in 1975, it all seemed certain to me.
I was living on my grandparents’ farm in North Dakota then, way up on the Canadian border. Now, there’s not a lot to do on a farm in the middle of what some in this country consider the American equivalent of Siberia. So I watched TV science fiction voraciously and let my imagination take me to places like the Moon and beyond. In that long ago age, before cable and satellite TV, we could only tune in a couple of fuzzy, over-the-air stations. One of them was a CBC channel that carried Space: 1999.
If I were to describe Space: 1999 to the uninitiated, it might go something like this: Imagine the high-concept stories of original Star Trek but with a British flair (which is to say slower and far more cerebral and fantastical – think Trek on LSD). Mix this with ground-breaking special effects and production values heavily influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey (and created by Brian Johnson, who later worked on Alien and The Empire Strikes Back). Then toss in Martin Landau (Ed Wood) and Barbara Bain (Mission: Impossible – that’s the original TV series for you youngsters) in bell-bottom uniforms, and tie it all up with a funky disco guitar soundtrack. No kidding – that’s Space: 1999 in a nutshell.
The basic premise of the series is simple – on September 13th, 1999, the Moon gets accidentally blasted out of the Earth’s orbit by a gigantic nuclear explosion and is sent hurtling into deep space. Because of the disaster, the 300 plus men and women stationed on Moonbase Alpha must struggle to survive, encountering all kinds of strange planets and bizarre alien life forms, in the hopes that they’ll some day find a new place to call home.
A&E Home Entertainment and New Video hold the U.S. video distribution rights to this series, and they’ve already released it on DVD in an excellent complete series set. Now, working with ITV and Network in the U.K., A&E and New Video have released the series’ first season of 24 episodes in HD on Blu-ray Disc. Let me tell you, if you’re a fan of Space: 1999, you’re going to be thrilled with the results. All of the episodes have been fully remastered in 1080p from newly-created IP elements. (You can learn more about the HD restoration here.) Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio (with black pillar-boxing to preserve the 4x3 broadcast format), the quality is just stunning. I’ve never seen so much detail in this show! The improvement is evident right from the start, in the fine textures of the Moon’s surface around Alpha in the opening credits. Colors are wonderfully vibrant too, from the show’s bold orange and yellow space suits to the light buff hues of the crew’s uniforms. The contrast is also excellent, with deep black spacescapes and well-detailed shadows. Audio is much improved as well, thanks to new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless mixes. The 5.1 isn’t what you’d call immersive or lively, as this is a surprisingly dialogue-driven show. But the clarity is excellent, with great dynamic range, and the rear channels do kick in for action sequences and atmospheric effect. Better still, the discs include the original mono broadcast mixes as well, for those who prefer them.
When this HD release was first announced, there was some controversy in that it appeared from the press release that the U.S. Blu-ray set wouldn’t include all of the extras from the U.K. Network Blu-ray release. The set was originally going to include only 6 discs (5 BDs and a DVD of extras), but that was expanded to 7 discs (5 BDs and 2 DVDs) to allow more of the content to be included. The good news is that ALMOST everything from the Network release IS included here, save for just a few things that A&E and New Video weren’t able to obtain the U.S. rights to. So what do you get? Feast your eyes on this: Music-only tracks on all the episodes (except Breakaway and Dragon’s Domain), audio commentary by series creator Gerry Anderson on 2 episodes (Breakaway and Dragon’s Domain), extensive HD galleries of publicity stills and behind-the-scenes images for each episode, HD galleries of Space: 1999 promotional gum and cigarette cards, the restored/textless title sequence, alternative opening and closing titles, the These Episodes clips (expanded from the DVD versions), 4 featurettes (Memories of Space, Concept and Creation, Special Effects and Design and Guardian of Piri Remembered), an interview with Sylvia Anderson, text commentaries on 2 episodes (The Last Sunset and Space Brain), the Clapperboard two-part 1975 special on the work of Gerry Anderson, Barry Gray’s theme demo (this is quite the trip!), Martin Landau and Barbara Bain’s U.S. premier intro and outro clips, trailers for Alien Attack, ad bumpers, and SFX plates and deleted scenes with music. The BD also includes a digitally-restored version of Season 2 episode The Metamorph in HD on Disc 5 as an unlisted extra (minus the DTS soundtrack). All in all, it’s a very nice batch of extras and it’s FAR more than was included on DVD previously. For the record, missing from the U.K. release are the Horizon behind-the-scenes clips, the trailers for Journey Through the Black Sun, the episode script PDFs, the Lyons Maid ice Lolly advert and the booklet. Really only the Horizon footage (which, along with the Lolly adverts, were on the U.S. DVD release), the PDFs and booklet are missed.
One note: If you’re wondering whether you can sell your previous DVD set in favor of upgrading to these Blu-rays, and still retain all the DVD special features, that’s hard to say at the moment. Not all of the extras from the DVD release are here on the Blu-rays (including various interviews, the Message from Moonbase Alpha short and much more). We would assume that material will carry over on the eventual Season 2 Blu-ray release, but since we don’t know for sure yet I would recommend hanging onto the DVDs for now if you care about such things.
Space: 1999 is certainly not for everyone, but if you’re open it and you enjoy vintage British TV sci-fi, it’s an awful lot of fun (even if it’s also a bit cheesy in retrospect). Is it just me, or is the Eagle Transporter STILL one of the coolest fictional spacecraft ever seen on film or TV? In any case, no matter how big a fan of Space: 1999 you might be, I absolutely guarantee you’ve never seen the show looking and sounding as good as it does here. For fans, this is a rare and highly recommended treat!
- Bill Hunt