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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 2/19/01



Space: 1999

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Space 1999: Set 1


Space: 1999 - Set 1
1975 (2001) - ITC/Carlton (A&E/New Video)

Program Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B-/D

Specs and Features

312 mins (6 episodes at 52 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 2 single-sided, dual-layered discs (each disc contains 3 episodes - no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging with slipcase, gallery of production and promotional photos for each episode, disc credits, animated program-themed menu screens with music, scene access (6 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: none


Space 1999: Set 2

Space: 1999 - Set 2
1975 (2001) - ITC/Carlton (A&E/New Video)

Program Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B-/D

Specs and Features

312 mins (6 episodes at 52 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 2 single-sided, dual-layered discs (each disc contains 3 episodes - no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging with slipcase, gallery of production and promotional photos for each episode, disc credits, animated program-themed menu screens with music, scene access (6 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: none


You know... when I was a boy, the year 1999 seemed a LONG ways off. It was totally plausible to my 8-year old 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, none of that has yet come to pass. But back in 1975, it 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 science fiction on TV 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 get a couple of fuzzy, over-the-air stations. One of them was a Canadian channel that carried Space: 1999.

If I were to describe the show to anyone, it would be like this. Imagine the high-concept stories of Star Trek (only British, which is to say slower and WAY more cerebral - think Trek on LSD), mixed with ground-breaking special effects and production values (heavily influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey and created by Brian Johnson, who went on to do Alien and The Empire Strikes Back). Throw 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 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 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 Video has obtained the U.S. video distribution rights to a whole host of classic British TV series, and has recently begun releasing them to DVD, including the complete Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Avengers and The Prisoner. Space: 1999 is the most recent of these to arrive on DVD, in 2-disc boxed sets that very closely follow the model established by A&E with their earlier TV releases. Each set contains 2 discs, with 3 episodes each (for a total of 6 episodes per set, presented in broadcast order). Space: 1999 was only on the air for 2 seasons (of 24 episodes each), so with these first 2 sets, fully one quarter of the series is now on DVD (the rest of the episodes will follow at a rate of 2 sets every couple of months until they're all out). Let's take a look at the episodes so far:

Set 1

Breakaway (1x01) - In this series opener, Commander John Koening (Landau) arrives to take charge of Moonbase Alpha. Shortly thereafter, a nuclear accident blasts the Moon out of Earth's orbit, sending the inhabitants of the base on an unforeseen journey through space.

Matter of Life and Death (1x02) - A space probe sent to a nearby planet the Alphans wish to colonize returns with Dr. Russell's (Bain) long-dead husband on board. And he's come to deliver them a warning.

Black Sun (1x03) - Things look bleak for Alpha, when it appears that the Moon is on a course that will draw it into a deadly black hole in space.

Ring Around the Moon (1x04) - Aliens from the mysterious planet Triton begin taking remote control of Alpha crewmen for purposes unknown... and Dr. Russell falls victim.

Earthbound (1x05) - An alien spacecraft passes the Moon on its way back to the Earth... and the visitors offer to take one Alphan back with them.

Another Time, Another Place (1x06) - The Moon passes through an inter-dimensional time warp, causing the Alphans to experience alternate timelines in which some don't survive.

Set 2

Missing Link (1x07) - When Commander Koening's Eagle spacecraft crashes on the planet Zenno, his soul is captured and studied by the planet's inhabitants, who believe that humans are their "missing link".

Guardian of Piri (1x08) - The Alphans find a paradise planet and begin plans to abandon their Moonbase to live there. But life on Piri comes at a cost... exacted by the planet's mysterious Guardian.

Force of Life (1x09) - An Alpha crewman becomes possessed by an alien force that feeds on heat. Soon it threatens all life on Alpha by killing other crewmen and feeding off the energy of the base's power generators.

Alpha Child (1x10) - The first child is born on Alpha since leaving the Earth's orbit and it's cause for celebration. But things go badly when the child ages mysteriously and begins using strange mental powers to bend the Alphans to his will.

The Last Sunset (1x11) - When the Moon approaches the planet Ariel, alien probes arrive and give the Moon an atmosphere. But when it's discovered that the Moon isn't going into the planet's orbit, but is heading out into deep space, the Alphans realize that their new atmosphere will condense into an ice cap and crush the Moonbase.

Voyager's Return (1x12) - The Alphans discover a space probe sent from Earth to gather information on the stars. But the probe's stardrive has malfunctioned and now threatens all life on the Moon.

So those are the episodes. In terms of production quality, these DVDs are every bit as good as you'd expect from A&E, given their past work. The episodes have been digitally remastered directly from the series' original 35mm film elements, and the result is a really amazing image. Color is rich and accurate, contrast is deep and true with amazing blacks and detail is generally very good. The picture does look a little soft on occasion, owing to the age of the series and the quality of the film stocks used, but it's never distracting. I was particularly surprised at the lack of print defects - hair, scratches and the like. You'll see some, but not nearly what you'd expect. All in all, this is really impressive video, and it's WAY better quality than I've ever seen this series in.

The audio is also generally good, with surprising subtlety for a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. Dialogue is always clear and clean, and ambient sound effects abound. The series' disco/classical soundtrack is extremely dated, but it's a hoot to hear it again after all these years. The music is the only place where the discs' audio really fails - in the louder passages (particularly in the show's theme song), you get a little bit of distortion. But it's not a big deal and generally I was pretty happy with the audio.

The extras are virtually non-existent, and that's a shame. But it's also not unexpected (and I'm certainly not going to complain). You do get a gallery of production photos for each episode (just a few each) and a page of production credits. There is one thing worth mentioning here, however, and that's that each episode is presented in its original, uncut form for British TV. What that means is that if you've only ever seen this show in its North American broadcast run, you've missed as much as 12 minutes per episode that was edited out to allow the inclusion of commercials. All that's back in here, and it's a major treat for me to see all this footage for the first time. One last note on the subject of extras - fans of this series will know that the show was only on for 2 seasons and never had a "farewell" episode to close the story. A few years ago, a company called Kindred Productions shot an authorized, 7-minute mini-episode, Message from Moonbase Alpha, which was shown at "Fanderson" conventions. Using props from the show, and one of the cast members, they basically tied up the series by revealing the fate of Alpha. Kindred also produced a great documentary on the making of Space: 1999, and I'd love to see A&E include both of these programs somewhere on this set of DVDs (just a suggestion).

Space: 1999 was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, who also produced The Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet, UFO and a host of other great British Sci-fi shows of the 1970s (many of which are also on their way to DVD from A&E). It's certainly not the best Sci-fi series ever to appear on TV, but it definitely succeeded in firing my imagination. And watching it again after all these years, in terrific DVD quality, has really been a blast. If you think you might be interested, I'd definitely recommend checking it out. I'm guessing you'll get a kick out of it.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Space: 1999 - Set 1


Space: 1999 - Set 2


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