Back in the 1950s Professor Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group would regularly save the world on Saturday nights, drawing in up to five million viewers for his BBC outings, Not bad considering how few people owned a telly back then. On top of that a little known film company called Hammer produced a film version of The Quatermass Experiment, called The Quatermas Xperiment (1955) to emphasise its adults only certificate and kickstarted the British Horror boom,
However after three sets of Adventures (The Quatermass Experiment 1953, Quatermass II 1955 and Quatermass and the Pit 1958) creator and writer Nigel Kneale got cheesed off with the BBC and went freelance, but in the late 1970s Euston Films, a subsidiary of Thames Television decided to bring Quatermass out of retirement and bang up to date. Or rather into the near future. In the Quatermass future dystopia civilisation has broken down and rival gangs, the Badders and the Blue Brigade, control the streets while ‘pay’ police try to maintain order. There’s still TV and space exploration though, so when the prof is invited to take part in a historic broadcast to celebrate a joint Soviet NASA space link-up he’s only too happy to come down to London, More so as it gives him an opportunity to look for his missing granddaughter who he thinks has run off with the Planet People, a badly wardrobed youth cult who believe they are about to be whisked off to a better life on another world.
As you would expect the space link up goes horribly wrong when the Russian and American spaceships get zapped by some kind of alien energy. Quatermass falls in with radio astronomer Joe Kapp (Simon MacCorkindale), who invites him to come to his observatory close to the Neolithic stone circle of Ringstone Round. Now these stone circles are irresistible to the Planet People who think they are some kind of interstellar gateway, obviously some kind of hippy dippy nonsense eh?
No of course it isn’t and Quatermass and Joe turn up just in time to see a whole bunch of Planet People get evaporated in a beam of celestial light. NASA confirm it’s happening all over the world as groups of young people come together and are harvested by some kind of alien intelligence. So what’s going on and how can the Prof and Joe save the world?
I somehow missed seeing Quatermass the first time around so I was delighted when Network announced the remastered Blu-ray release of the series. Kneale’s future dystopia was clearly influenced by then current events such as the Cold War, strikes, the oil crisis and the troubles in Northern Ireland together with the rise of youth cults like hippies during the 1960s and 70s and the big problem with Quatermass is that the unconvincing way that the young people in both the street gangs and the Planet People are portrayed, especially when you consider that by 1979 punk had come along. To be fair this was a common problem whenever youth cults turned up in film or TV drama or comedy during the 60s and 70s and no doubt partially due to what the middle-aged production design people thought these youngsters would be like rather than from any direct interaction with them.The science is a bit dodgy and Simon MacCorkindale proves that men also sometimes get acting jobs on the basis of their looks rather than their talent too.
That being said Quatermass is an entertaining piece of Sci-Fi hokum with nice performances from Sir John Mills as Quatermass and Margaret Tyzack as the feisty District Commissioner who helps him escape back to London. Watch out also for early career performances from Oscar winner Brenda Fricker and Toyah Willcox together with Ethel from Eastenders (Gretchen Franklin) and Coronation Street‘s R Brian (Chris Quinten).
The high-definition Blu-ray transfer used teh orihinal negatives and looks stunning although it does show up some of the pre CGI effects.
An enjoyable 70s Sci-fi romp I give Quatermass a 444/666
Quatermass is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 27 July from Network
2nd BLu-ray featuring a fully restored version of the theatrically released edited version in theatrical aspect ratio
Music only tracks
Trivia: Quatermass director Piers Haggard is the great, grand-nephew of novelist H Rider Haggard
The original Quatermass serials, well the first two episodes of The Quatermass Experiment (the BBC didn’t record episodes 3-6 when they were broadcast live), along with the whole of Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit are available on The Quatermass Collection from BBC DVD. the hammer film versions are available in a whole variety of DVDs and DVD collections so shop around for the best bargains
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