Colourisation is a subject matter to make purists’ teeth itch at its very mention. Thoughts of the earliest attempts to use computer technology to add artificial colour to monochrome productions bring to mind those controversial efforts by the likes of Hal Roach Studios and Ted Turner, who were accused of philistinism after giving black and white stars the kinds of awful dayglo hues not ever found in nature, and certainly not outside of the fallout zone of Three Mile Island.
Some of the counter-arguments revolve around the fact that some of the movies and shows in question were only made in black and white in the first place because colour film or video were not available at the time, rather than it having all being some conscious artistic or creative choice by the makers. The debate about the relative merits – or otherwise – of carrying out this kind of process on old movies and TV shows will rage on for some time to come, although advances in technology in recent years have actually ended up improving the quality of the end product quite considerably.
Such state-of-the-art computer software has been used to colourise episodes of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s early TV series Four Feather Falls, Supercar, and Fireball XL5, all of which were made before UK broadcasters had made the big switch over to colour transmissions in the mid-to-late ‘60s. Some of these were premiered by Network Distributing as part of two live streaming events over the last year: You’ve Never Seen These and Space City Specials, two evenings of Anderson-based programming with specially-produced in-character linking material.
Now, Network has brought both of these online streaming events to physical media, in the form of brand new Blu-ray release Presented In SuperColorisation. These colourised episodes are not as jarring as you might perhaps expect, all thanks to careful use of reference material taken from the original productions, with photos taken at the time used to ensure the colours added here are as authentic and accurate as possible. By taking these colour references as the basis of the work, and adding to restored HD versions of the original film prints, the episodes look truly remarkable.
Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5 all happen to be significant in the history of Supermarionation, as you are able to see the Andersons and their creative team learning – then honing and finely tuning – their craft as they go along, making great strides in each subsequent production. To see the formative process unfolding is fascinating stuff, but the three shows sadly never seem to attract the attention which they deserve, chiefly by virtue of the fact that they all suffer from having been filmed in black and white, and so tend not to be repeated, unlike their colourful successors.
It may be seen as heresy in some circles to even countenance such a notion, but going against the native hues of all these shows’ resolution actually makes a world of difference, and makes them come alive in a way it never seemed possible. It must be said that some of the earliest Anderson productions can be challenging to watch, lacking some of the polish – not just visually, but in terms of storytelling and characterisation compared to what came later – so adding splashes of vibrant colour really helps to make them far more palatable and give an extra level of appeal, including hardcore Fandersons who will know these episodes intimately.
Interestingly, the online streaming events – which make up the Blu-ray set’s second disc – are not focused purely on the Andersons’ exploits with puppetry. Included for their rarity as well as curiosity factor are a pair of orphaned episodes of an otherwise-missing early live action ‘factual’ production, entitled – appropriately enough – You’ve Never Seen This. Hosted by Pete Collins, a man with all the on-camera skills and ease of someone in a hostage tape, the series highlights a range of weird, wonderful and wacky subjects, in this show which oddly feels to have been ahead of its time.
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Network’s presentation of the material frankly puts so many other companies to shame, as the loving care and attention devoted to putting this package together truly deserves the highest of praise. Not only do they look to ensure that all the episodes are restored to the highest quality, but their effort and creativity in crafting the linking material incorporating a range of characters from the Anderverse is tireless. With the recent untimely and sad passing of Network’s founder, Tim Beddows, Presented In SuperColorisation truly is a fitting testament to his vision of giving archive material the respect it deserves, and this release has done him proud.
Each colourised episode is also presented separately on the Blu-ray set’s first disc, as well as two others not included in the compilation features, a move which helps to soften any possible feelings of doubling-up and not adding anything of extra value. It may likely be prohibitive on cost grounds just now, but hopefully it will be financially viable to colourise the rest of Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5 in the future, as the difference this work makes to each of the shows is truly remarkable, and doing the same thing to the remainder would potentially potentially open them up to a much wider audience.
Presented in SuperColorisation is out now from Network Distributing.