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SPACE: 1999
30th Anniversary Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Martin Landau, Barbara Bain
Directors:  Misc.
Audio:  Dolby 2-Channel Mono
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  A&E
Features:  See Review
Length:  2496 Minutes
Release Date:  July 31, 2007

"We're all aliens...until we get to know one another."

Film ***

Space:  1999 was a live action, science fiction follow up by Gerry Anderson to his popular Thunderbirds show (also available on DVD from A&E).  It ran in the mid 70s and owed more to the look and feel of Kubrick’s 2001 than to the previous television success of Star Trek.  The special effects, set designs, and overall look were far superior to any other space travel show that came before…in fact, many of them still hold up well today.  What it didn’t have was Star Trek’s sense of character, optimism or humanity, which is why, I think, this show isn’t as etched in our culture today.  It’s approach was a little more sterile, emphasizing the science over the fiction and the events over the people.

Now, with this incredible 30th Anniversary Edition set, containing all 48 original episodes on 17, count 'em, 17 discs, we have the luxury of looking back at a television show from the past that was about a future time we’re now on the other side of.  The series was filled with ideas about how mankind would be using the moon in the future…for manned bases, for radioactive waste dumps, and as a launching point for certain deep space missions.  Anderson and his crew could not have know, nor could we, that we’d eventually abandon all ideas about the moon for reasons unexplained. 

But fresh off the excitements of the Apollo missions, Space:  1999 was remarkable in the amount of accurate detail mixed in with its futuristic fantasy.  The surface of the moon looked just as real, if not better, than the fresh NASA footage.  The astronauts floated and teetered along in a relaxed gravity atmosphere, and even the moon vehicles looked like the logical progressions of ones currently in use in the space program.

The first episode, “Breakway”, set the entire series in motion.  As the new commander of Moonbase Alpha, John Koenig (Landau) arrives to investigate a strange series of deaths, which seemed to be radiation related even though instruments are not showing any signs of leakage.  The base’s doctor, Helena Russell (Bain), believes operations should shut down while they search for answers.  While Koenig agrees, he is also under pressure to launch the new Meta Probe on time, the first exploration device aimed at a planet outside our own solar system.

When it is discovered that a buildup of magnetic radiation is causing the deaths and other malfunctions on the moon, the team tries to correct the problem.  They cannot, and soon an atomic explosion sends the moon, and the base and crew along with it, hurtling out of earth’s orbit and into the unknown.  They cannot make it back.  Their only hope, therefore, is to forage forward, see what they can find, and survive.

Subsequent episodes led to further adventures of the team as they sail through deep space on the uncontrollable moon…they make discoveries, meet new alien life forms, and learn more and more to work together to keep hope alive.

Although the show was out when I was a child (I can still remember the lunchboxes and coloring books), I confess I never really watched it at the time.  This DVD set marks my first real experience with the show.  As a fan of Thunderbirds, I was always impressed with the way Gerry Anderson used his imagination to create fantastic worlds that eased the viewers into suspension of disbelief.  Here, such a trait is not necessary.  He peoples this show with human actors, and the special effects and model techniques he had been perfecting for years really work here.  This is a fantastic looking show, and definitely ahead of its time…few pre-computer animation sci-fi shows could touch its technical superiority.

I enjoyed, too, seeing a younger Martin Landau (later a critical favorite for Crimes and Misdemeanors and an Oscar winner for Ed Wood) and an older but still very beautiful Barbara Bain (from Mission Impossible).  The scripts were generally very well written, with a lot less psuedo-science babble than you’ve seen from Star Trek.

But it’s the impressive visuals that make Space:  1999 a real standout amongst shows.  Fueled by imagination and a passion for the space race, this program created fantastic yet believable worlds by using as much attention to detail as creative license to follow the lost crew of Moonbase Alpha.  And you’ve gotta dig that disco-era theme music, too!

Video ***1/2

Consider me thoroughly impressed…despite being a 30 year old series, this DVD comes extremely close to four star rating territory.  It looks better than I would have imagined in a hundred years! 

The prints are remarkably clean, with only bare instances of telltale marks and debris.  Images are incredibly sharp and filled with detail…no softness or distortion anywhere that I could see.  Colors are vivid and natural throughout, even flesh tones, and show no signs of washing or fading.  The space scenes exhibit deep, true blacks with no grain, and crisp lines separating lighter objects from darker ones, with no bleeding or blurring.  Absolutely outstanding!

Audio **

The 2-channel mono soundtrack is perfectly fine, if not exemplary.  Dialogue clarity is strong throughout, as are the musical cues and special effects (which add a limited amount of dynamic range to the audio).  There are minor instances of noticeable noise often associated with older programs, but nothing distracting.

Features ***1/2

With the Anniversary set, you get a fairly good collection of features to go along with the program.  Included on the disc are vintage interviews with Gerry Anderson, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and othermembers of the cast and crew, a behind-the-scenes featurette for the second season, the rare Blackpool exhibit film, theatrical trailers for two Space:  1999 films (Destination Moonbase and Alien Attack), a trailer for season one, promo spots for season two, alternate sequences from key episodes, and galleries for both pre-production artwork and photo stills.  There are also new commentary tracks for three of the episodes.

Summary:

Space:  1999 holds up well when viewed with fresh eyes.  Though not as culturally significant as shows like Star Trek, 30 years later it remains, I think, a landmark television achievement owing to its advanced special effects and believable science fiction.  Fans of the show or the mildly curious will be more than pleased by these terrific looking discs, assembled here in one complete and handsome set.

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