For better or worse, Gerry Anderson became synonymous with puppet-based television series for children, his word ‘Supermarionation’ conjuring up an entire genre of wholly memorable action-packed programming which has been a source of thrilling entertainment for generations of young viewers over many decades.
Yet Gerry had far loftier ambitions, as he wanted to actually be a filmmaker working in live action, but the puppets that had made him a household name were also something of a millstone around his neck at times. He did manage to get a chance to branch out into working upon projects featuring real live people (although some were perhaps no less highly strung than his usual stars, with performances arguably no less wooden at times), fulfilling his ambitions with UFO and Space: 1999.
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ITC Entertainment, the company which had commissioned Anderson’s productions, took the opportunity in later years to re-edit episodes from some of his TV series into feature-length versions, some of which were intended for theatrical release, with others set for sale to cable television stations. Making ersatz movies out of TV episodes has been common practice for some time, with programmes like The Man From UNCLE having spliced stories together for theatrical release internationally.
The same thing was also later done to Battlestar Galactica, which saw a number of episode compilations being put out as movies, such as Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack and Conquest Of The Earth; these were created in response to the success of Star Wars at the box office, and ITC seems to have had some similar thoughts, when it realised it could put out movie-length editions of Space: 1999 at the cinema, which it subsequently did, under the titles Destination Moonbase Alpha and Alien Attack.
A few years later, ITC’s American office decided to capitalise yet further upon its stockpile of Gerry Anderson material by putting together TV movies for screening on cable; as well as mining Thunderbirds, Stingray and UFO, there were also an additional two Space: 1999 compilations: Journey Through The Black Sun and Cosmic Princess. In total, there ended up being a dozen such re-edits produced, taken predominantly from Anderson’s work, which were packaged together under the umbrella title Super Space Theater.
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These editions are very interesting pieces of curios, as they have any reference to the year 1999 stripped away, instead shifting the action forward to 2100 for some reason. Alien Attack even had some specially-filmed new material, made to plug gaps in the narrative, and help link things together. However, the Super Space Theater TV movies are perhaps not fantastically representative of Anderson’s work, as the film prints were transferred to NTSC videotape for editing, with garish VFX being added, along with some additional – and sometimes relentless – music.
For some fans, however, these versions have a very special place in their hearts, as these would end up being their first ever exposure to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s output. Now, thanks to Network Distributing, these Space: 1999 movie-length features have been nicely spruced up for our HD age, and put out in a brand new limited edition five-disc Blu-ray set – Super Space Theater – including a collectable booklet with an introduction from David Hirsch, who masterminded the original Super Space Theater compilations.
Whereas the original versions of Journey Through The Black Sun and Cosmic Princess in particular looked rather shabby, due to the picture murkiness from having been produced on 525-line American format videotape, all of the films look far better here, having been rebuilt rather beautifully using the existing HD restorations of the original episodes. For anyone who had ever seen Cosmic Princess or Journey Through The Black Sun before, the difference in the viewing experience is now night and day, rather akin to when Star Trek: The Next Generation was remastered for Blu-ray.
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A mere restoration is not enough for Network, however, as in addition to each of the movies appearing on this set in a 4:3 version, there are also special widescreen editions with the original TV episode soundtrack, enhanced VFX, and material excised from the original edits for timing or creative reasons. For the completists, in addition to the trailers for each of the movies, the set also has the original, unreconstructed NTSC titles from Cosmic Princess and Journey Through The Black Sun, presented in glorious murk-o-vision, showing just how much improved the picture quality is on the main features.
David Hirsch is featured in a half-hour featurette, in which he talks about his involvement in the original Super Space Theater project, including how he made his way through the ranks from being a fan of the show to actually being given an opportunity to work on these re-edits. Hirsch‘s passion is so evident to see, and his enthusiasm is both infectious as well as engaging. By hearing the story firsthand from somebody who was involved in their production, it does make the story of Super Space Theater really come alive.
Of course, you have probably never truly experienced Space: 1999 until you have seen it in the original Italian. While that may sound like being a rather curious thing to say, the series actually had its global premiere in Italian cinemas in January 1975 as Spazio: 1999, seven months ahead of the rest of the world. Space: 1999 was in fact a co-production with Italian broadcaster RAI, so seeing it get an outing in that country is perhaps not as unlikely as it might otherwise seem, although the series proper did not actually hit Italy’s TV screens until a year later.
This Italian-language dubbed feature film – which was a heavily-truncated edit of the episodes ‘Breakaway’, ‘Ring Around The Moon’ and ‘Another Time, Another Place’ – is perhaps the real highlight of the set, not only for its rarity value, but also because it has a soundtrack from the most unlikely of sources: composer Ennio Morricone. Yes, from the man who scored Sergio Leone’s iconic Western movies comes a rather unexpected set of compositions, offering a stark contrast with Barry Gray’s work on the show.
Space: 1999 – Super Space Theater shows plenty of love and TLC to what must surely be an oft-overlooked, maligned part of Space: 1999’s mythos, certainly giving plenty of spit and polish to make the contents of the set shine. You can only wonder if this release happens to do well enough, whether the same level of attention may be given to all the other Super Space Theater flicks still languishing in the archives.
Space:1999 – Super Space Theater is out now on Blu-ray from Network Distributing.