Friday, January 22, 2010

Space:1999 Year One Ep1: Breakaway

The stunning visual effects of a Gerry Anderson science fiction adventure produced in 1975.

It's FAB FRIDAY with a look inside the world of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson!

Welcome to the bleak realities of Space:1999. This one has been staring me in the face for quite some time. Most of my science fiction DVDs do that you know. They stare at me in their pretty little cellophane wrappers no less. They are eager for me to watch them. They talk to me. Of course I can only pick one at a time and these are difficult decisions you see. Still, this one has been eyeing me steadily and I have been anxious to rekindle the fire with the old flame.

I absolutely love and adore the Eagle and you will too. When I was maybe seven years old my brother would say to me whenever I said I loved something, "If you love it so much would you marry it?" My answer to the Eagle: "Yes, yes I would."
The old girl of which I speak is the 30th Anniversary Edition: Space:1999. It's a 17 DVD Megaset don't ya know? It stars the one, the only Barbara Bain and Martin Landau released in 2007. This is a Gerry Anderson production. Gerry Anderson, and it's no secret, is the mastermind behind this classic and it's probably his biggest success behind that of the wonderful Thunderbirds series. Thunderbirds was a phenomenon out of the gate in the UK. Space:1999 had a seemingly different response. It wasn't unsuccessful but it was a harder sell. It was also more sophisticated, darker and complex in its science fiction and intentions.

We won't go back in time nearly as far as Lost In Space or Star Trek: The Original Series by any means, but we are stepping back. Space:1999 and the Eagle landed in 1975 for two seasons until 1977. My memories of the series are fond, but certainly few and far between. I do not have the series steeped in the memory banks in quite the same way as Thunderbirds [1965-19566], Lost In Space [1965-1968] and Star Trek [1966-1969]. Perhaps it was the result of being a British-based sci-fi TV series, but then I never had trouble accessing Thunderbirds. For some reason, I just did not get the access to it and it never hit syndication with quite the same repetition as the aforementioned series. I was on a steady diet of Lost In Space and Star Trek reruns as a kid thanks to heavy syndicated rotation. Space:1999 caught my eye a few times. I may have seen more than I remember too. I do recall the alien female who was able to change into any variety of alien or animal lifeforms in Space:1999 Year Two. She came along in the second season and we will cover that more in detail when we get there. The two seasons were referred to as Year One and Year Two.

I love the honkin' shoulder zippers on those uniforms. But, I wouldn't marry them.
For now, let us embark on the adventures of Space:1999. As part of Fab Fridays and all things Gerry Anderson we launch to reacquaint ourselves with this series' highlights and lowlights. I don't know if I will have the same affection for it this time around as I did enjoying it as a child. I certainly loved shuffling around in feet pajamas with a bowl of Jiffy Pop popcorn and a good, old-fashioned episode of Space:1999 back in the day, but will it hold up? Does anything ever hold up? Why certainly, of course some do. Do most series hold up? Hmm, well, I do love Lost In Space despite its cheese and Star Trek is just pure, dead brilliant despite the fact both are over forty years old. The classic Battlestar Galactica [1978] has its stock repetition problems, but it still overcomes most of those annoyances today. Babylon 5 [1994], despite some horribly dodgy CGI, still manages to wow with its tale. So in keeping with Anderson's English heritage, to quote British musical outfit The Beautiful South, "I think the answer's Yes, I think the answer's Yes!"

I suspect my affection is still there for Space:1999 or at least I hope so. Speaking of affection I definitely had a thing for Barbara Bain, but she was definitely an older figure to me. Still, she was sexy to me in my small little world. The things I could do with that zipper. Martin Landau turned out to be a very successful actor working for the likes of Woody Allen in Crimes And Misdemeanors [1989; he was nominated for an Academy Award] and winning an Academy Award for Ed Wood [1994], but that was long after this little science fiction jaunt. I used to implore with people that Landau was once in a science fiction series called Space:1999, but since they had no sense of history when it came to science fiction my attempts to educate were lost on them. Oh well. In fact, Bain and Landau had a little duet going earlier in the ensemble series Mission:Impossible [1966-1967 Desilu Productions; 1967-1973 Paramount]. You'll recall Desilu handled Star Trek initially before being purchased by Paramount as well. Bain and Landau would depart Mission:Impossible to work with Gerry Anderson on Space:1999 [did Bain and Landau have a thing for colons?]. The two starred in Mission:Impossible Season One, Two and Three. They were replaced in Season Four by Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy. Bain played the part of Cinnamon Carter and Landau the role of Rollin Hand. The two were often working together, which began with their wedding to one another in 1957. They were married until 1993. Ironically, both were American actors working for Gerry Anderson. This was by design as Anderson hoped to secure financial support from the American market. Space:1999 could not be funded by British financiers alone. There is great detail given to this topic in John Kenneth Muir's Exploring Space:1999.

This A&E collection is allegedly Complete Uncut and Digitally Remastered. I've heard those promises before via Babylon 5 and the quality on that DVD collection was less than stellar. Still, when you love something you love it despite its flaws. Let the fun begin as I assess the first episode through these "prettiest eyes" [another The Beautiful South reference] to see how it holds up after all these years.


The best miniature sets in the universe.
We are slowly introduced to a number of cast members as the story begins on The Dark Side Of The Moon September 9th 1999. The scene is Nuclear Waste Disposal Area Two. My immediate reaction is positive to the DVD quality. There is a cinematic quality to the visuals. In fact, there is a quiet to it. It feels like Alien which makes sense as Brian Johnson has provided the visual effects. He gives it a certain atmosphere. Johnson also worked on Alien and The Empire Strikes Back. The score provided by Composer Barry Gray is also superb. It suits the mood of the series perfectly. He is to this series what Composer John Williams was to Lost In Space. Two men are entering an electronically fenced in area to dispose of waste from an Eagle transport vessel. Dr. Helena Russell [Barbara Bain] and Professor Victor Bergman [Barry Morse] are monitoring brain activity. One of the men becomes violent and goes ballistic tossing his partner. The man runs into the electrified fence and cracks his helmet only to go into critical condition. We are treated to the opening credits and it is so exciting and brings back such wonderful memories that I must share it. In fact, Gerry Anderson's openings were deliciously good. In both Thunderbirds and Space:1999 a rapid fire series of quickly edited images from the actual episode were inserted into the opening credits. This concept combined with the rousing score or theme song made for a dramatic, exciting teaser for the installment you were about to watch. It's one of the best moments for the show and is inspiration for up and coming editors-to-be. Here is the one for our pilot.

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You'll note the newly reimagined Battlestar Galactica [2004] employed the same methods for its episode openings. So begins Space:1999, Year One, Episode 1, Breakaway. The transport tubes bring back such memories. I LOVE the transport tubes. I completely forgot about them. Russell informs Commander John Koenig [Martin Landau] that people are dying [nine men so far]. Professor Bergman was always a tremendous supporting character. His amazing sideburns were also stars in their own right. The Commander wonders if they will recover from the virus. Russell indicates it's not a virus, but perhaps radiological in affect. It is an unusual form of brain damage. Koenig wonders when the Meta-probe crew will be ready to research the newly discovered Planet Meta. Russell sees great risk in the mission. Bear with me, I'm slightly confused too as I continue to get my bearings.

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The two injured men rest unresponsive in Alpha's medical center. We meet Captain Alan Carter [Nick Tate], always one of my favorite supporting characters throughout the series. By the way, set designs are exceptional. There is a sterile vibe with loads of white, but there are a great many details to enjoy. Koenig reports back to the powers that be, as represented in the form of shifty Commissioner Simmonds, that the Meta launch must be delayed. Simmonds is played with Machiavellian spirit by Roy Dotrice*. . Koenig asks for a halt on atomic waste deliveries. Simmonds indicates it is one of the most pressing problems of our time. Koenig tells him to cease delivery and he will get the probe launched. Koenig is unafraid to take on the brass. Koenig reports he'll be taking a look at the nuclear disposal area himself.

Fan favorite: Nick Tate.
During Koenig's review from the air it is notable there are vast areas of toxic nuclear waste mounds from all of the dumping on the moon. Area One is full. They are approaching Area Two. The pilot is twitching a bit.

The Space:1999 retro look actually looks space age today. I love the bell bottoms.
Two men, Jackson and Ellis report no radioactive leakage. Meanwhile, as Bergman and Koenig look on, their pilot is quickly falling apart and begins rubbing his eyes. Men have been dying but why? Collins, their pilot, is definitely on edge as Koenig turns to him. He has a white eye and begins going berserk. He attempts to crack a window with his helmet which could kill them all sending them into the vacuum of space. Koenig stuns him with one of those snazzy Space:1999 laser guns. WOW! I remember those guns. I actually had a toy weapon as a child. No one could stop me. My weapon and my sheer agility bouncing across the living room hassock were no match for my brother and cousins in battle. Koenig and Victor subdue Collins and get out of harms way in a nick of time. The glass explodes into space. The men in the medical center have died.

Russell observes the latest victims have succumbed to Stage 5 mutation. All brain activity ceases and the patient dies. No one knows what is killing the men. Earth has tried to downplay the deaths as minor setbacks. Koenig is far more concerned as any good commander would be. On Earth, sinister Simmonds insists nothing will stop them.

Koenig figures out the common denominator. Men are flying over Area One to get to Area Two. Pilots are also performing flight training in that region. Koenig makes a correlation. A camera review of the area results in a destroyed camera. Koenig flies to the area. He gets into trouble and crashes in his Eagle. I love the Eagle. I love the Eagle even when it's crashed. They never did make a die cast Eagle in a crash mold. You may recall I also love crash landings. This entry has a great one. A rescue ship is sent out.

Returned to the medical lab, Koenig is checked out and released. Dr. Russell is less than pleased with Koenig's decision to venture out and risk his life like that. Could this be the start of something special between them both? I suspect there is an undeniable romantic connection. No better time than the pilot to get things started.

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Bergman is concerned about magnetic energy. The magnetic field is building. The professor believes Area Two could be next. An Eagle is equipped for monitoring via remote control. A magnetic surge occurs and crashes the Eagle. I have a feeling Space:1999 has a great many Eagles at their disposal. Koenig confirm's Russell's findings. It was radiation indeed - magnetic radiation. He confirms they are sitting on the greatest bomb man has ever made. The nuclear dumping has caused a very big problem for those located on home away from home, the beloved Moonbase Alpha.

Commissioner Simmonds arrives on Moonbase Alpha from Earth. Simmonds is updated on the existing problem. Four Eagles are sent to the area. Carter heads out in an Eagle One. Koenig gives Simmonds a piece of his mind. Here is a display of Koenig's leadership opposite Dotrice.

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A major nuclear explosion occurs as an Eagle explodes knocking personnel everywhere and the moon off its gravitational orbit. Carter attempts to reach out to Koenig and company. The moon is breaking away from the Earth's orbit as a result of the explosion. All are literally hostage to the g-forces of the moon's movement. Our team cannot move as a result of the planet's movement away from the Earth. The acceleration is overwhelming. Deceleration occurs as everyone regains body control. Carter is en route and headed back to base. He's going to make it.

Koenig reviews a plan on Moonbase Alpha dubbed Emergency Operation Exodus. Decisions will need to be made as a result. The situation certainly seems dire to the citizens of Moonbase.

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Human decision required indicates Computer. Computer is capitalized because it is essentially a character in Space:1999. The cast often refers to "Computer" for information despite their seeming lack of faith in the technology that supports them. I like that. "Human Decision Required." The human interface is the key to the series. Inevitably, good science fiction comes down to character and Space:1999 delivers enough to satisfy if I recollect correctly.

Style is another unique aspect to Space:1999. It clearly presented an alternative science fiction universe and choice to anything that had graced television up to this point. Set design and the uniform of choice is clearly retro 70s in style still holds up and looks pretty damn good today. It was confident and self assured thanks to its vision which does borrow some inspiration from the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fairness, Space:1999 would have a similiar impact later on Alien as many of its special effects people including Special Effects Director Brian Johnson worked on both. Credit is even given to fashion designer Rudi Gernreich in the opening of every episode further highlighting the strength of Gerry Anderson's plan. In much the same way Star Trek uniforms still impress, those found here are equally memorable if less cartoonish. In fact, there is a kind of grounded, earthy allure to these outfits that Star Trek escape with its more fantastical, varied and vibrant colors.

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Back on Earth, the magnetic explosions on the Moon have caused significant loss of life on Earth and much damage too. Moonbase Alpha receives enough of a transmission to know they have lost contact with Earth. Earth's fate is unclear. It is believed there are no survivors. With the space dock gone and the moon's acceleration away from Earth a fact, our band of Earth explorers are very much alone. As the transmission fades the base receives a signal from Meta and Koenig believes that may be where their future lies for the 311 lost scientists and researchers alone in the vastness of unknown space. "Yes, maybe there." This ending actually sets up the overall theme of Space:1999. The series was very much about the great unknown as the moon is thrust into places we know very little about. This sets up the footing, or lack thereof, of each story and challenge week to week that would face the denizens of Moonbase Alpha. The trio of Bergman, Koenig and Russell are perfect representatives for the viewer. Their lack of understanding is ours and we are all in the dark going forward. Where other science fiction adventures seem to have tidy answers, Space:1999 always pounded home the fact that these people were essentially homeless and armed with little information in combating the unusual forces of outer space. This was always an uneasy show to grasp because it took us out of our comfort zones. As children, we certainly never fully appreciated the strange phenomenon in play.

The science fiction was actually fairly solid, the acting very good and the film quality of the DVD itself impressive. It is a visually and technically interesting series. The introductory episode of Breakaway is certainly a solid table setter of things to come. It has some nice moments, but I expect to see some improvements on the whole. It brought back some memories, but left me a little underwhelmed. I suspect it will improve on character development and story with notable highs throughout like most serial television. It was good to see so many familiar faces I had long since forgotten. It was like revisiting old friends. Now that Moonbase Alpha is alone in space hurtling toward an abyss of questions let the fun begin.

The Philosophy of Space:1999: "A giant leap for mankind... it's beginning to look like a stumble in the dark." [Koenig]

Breakaway: B-
Writer: George Bellak [re-write provided by Christopher Penfold]
Director: Lee H. Katzin*
*

Director Footnote: Lee H. Katzin [1935-2002]. Katzin was also filmed the pilot to Man From Atlantis [1977]. Gerry Anderson had these comments regarding Director Lee H. Katzin's handling of the pilot in his wonderful, authorized biography What Made Thunderbirds Go!: The Authorized Biography Of Gerry Anderson [2002] by Simon Archer and Marcus Hearn. "The New York office assured me that Lee Katzin was "the best pilot director in America",' remembers Gerry. 'The schedule to shoot the first episode was ten days, but it overran and we were soon tens of thousands of pounds over budget. Katzin finished editing his footage and screened the completed 'Breakaway' for Gerry. 'It ran for over two hours,' he remembers, 'and I thought it was awful. He went back to America, and I sent a cutting copy of the episode to Abe Mandell. Abe phoned me in a fit of depression, saying, "Oh my God it's terrible - what are we going to do?" I wrote a lot of new scenes myself, and these were filmed over three days. I'm pretty sure I directed them myself. I then totally recut the episode to 50 minutes, integrating the new footage." Given these remarks it is surprising Katzin returned for Anderson on the series third episode, the wonderful Black Sun. The book is now out of print and fairly difficult to find. I was fortunate to find a second hand hardcover copy.
*

As Anderson pointed out, getting Breakaway completed wasn't easy. Ian Fryer offered these additional insights in FAB 65. Lee H. Katzin had shot "too much material." The footage was "dull and slow." Gerry Anderson "was able to supervise the re-editing of Breakaway down to the required length, he personally wrote and directed twenty linking scenes to the by-now disjointed story together." In the end, "it all flowed perfectly and worked as a piece of drama."

Author John Kenneth Muir offers more glowing remarks about the pilot in his book Exploring Space:1999. "One of the most refreshing aspects of this first 1999 episode is its simplicity." He compares the beauty of this episode to the unncessarily long and overly complicated pilots of both Battlestar Galactica [classic] and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Moonbase Alpha is established with stunning detail as are the ships and miniatures thanks to Gerry Anderson's amazing team. He's right when he points to the characters being remarkably distinguished especially with the established leads of Landau, Bain and Morse. The visual effects are superb. I agree with him on all counts especially the miniatures and visual effects. They are simply splendid in their detail and hold up extremely well today. He points the "tension" & "attraction" between Koenig and Russell and this does make for one of the high points of the introduction. Muir gives this entry higher marks than myself, but it is a solid opener. Still, Muir's analysis is exceptional reading.

Year One cast:
Commander John Koenig [Martin Landau]
Dr. Helena Russell [Barbara Bain]
Professor Victor Bergman [Barry Morse]
Paul Morrow [Prentis Hancock]
Captain Alan Carter [Nick Tate]
Sandra Benes [Zienia Merton]
David Kano [Clifton Jones]
Dr. Bob Mathias [Anton Phillips]
Tanya Alexander [Suzanne Roquette]

Special Guest: Roy Dotrice [1923-present]. Dotrice appeared in Babylon 5, Season Two, Episode 22, The Fall Of Night. You can see him here. I had captured an engaging clip of him opposite Bruce Boxleitner. He also appeared in Hellboy II: The Golden Army [2008]. His film and TV credits are fairly extensive.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love Space:1999,i use to watch it all the time,many moons ago :) exellent serise !!!,Did you hear about Jeff Conaway(Zack on B5) fell down some stairs and fractured his hipand had a brain hemorge,its terrible :(

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I know Conaway has had a rough go of it. It's really unfortunate. Things are not looking up for the man. It is sad.

Anonymous said...

Yea,I just heard that he is telling everone at the hospital that he wants to die at home :(

TFKoP said...

I loved this show as a kid. Watched every week. Characters sort of came and went without explanation, but the show was fun. I had the Eagle model (you know...a million pieces that you put together with model glue, then apply the stickers), I had a toy phaser that lit up when you pulled the trigger. I have got to get this on DVD. I imagine it's campy as hell nowadays, but so what? Here in Maine, I'll just say I'm goin' upta-campy.

--joe

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Ya know, it's really not. It's not as campy as you might think. I found it looked very good. I thought it was fairly substantive in its science fiction attempts. It wasn't campy like The A-Team or anything like that. In fact, it's as campy as Star Trek might be campy and that's still bloody amazing.

Oh, and I had that phaser too. It rocked. I still have a bunch of the diecast ships. I have 5 different version of the Eagle. My son has one he plays with through the house. So far, I'd say it's well worth revisiting if a little slow by today's standards.

Anonymous said...

Ditto,so I guess we are campy,I love it this way !!! :)

Robert Wood said...

There is a new book about Space: 1999 on the market now that I'm sure you would enjoy: "Destination: Moonbase Alpha". You can learn everything about it at www.destinationmoonbasealpha.net