Snowed In? Binge Watch Gerry Anderson’s UFO on HULU!!

If you are like a great majority of the North East, you are very much snowed in this weekend; so let me suggest something perfect for such a weekend.

HULU offers a bevy of shows worthy of binge watching, here is one of the best:

UFO – This series, the brainchild of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson is them making the leap from their very popular children’s Marionette series to, not only Live Action, but also more Adult fare. This show, embodying many of the obsessions of the late 60s, the Space Race, ESP, the James Bond Spies, A more global, diverse perspective, and UFOs,tells an imaginative tale of a secret cold war between these mysterious UFOs and the Earth’s protectors… SHADO.

A few episodes in, getting past the wonderfully kitschy depiction of the far flung year of 1980 (Sylvia’s designs for dress and uniforms, is at once sexy, ludicrous, surreal, and ultimately captivating), and the crudeness of the effects (which I personally love, Gerry Anderson being the king of marionette and minature based effects, which he would further perfect in SPACE 1999, which itself would inspire some of the effects in STAR WARS) and you quickly realize this is a serious and at times shockingly dire and brilliant show. The scripts are surprising, in that out of this far fetched world comes moments of pathos, and thoughtfulness, and sometimes strivings toward the profound. It was a welcome tone, a morality to the writing that would be even more in evidence in the 1st season of SPACE 1999 (avoid Season 2, and make sure you watch Season 1 in the correct order).

But despite its quality UFO was an unfortunately, but possibly understandably, short lived show.

The unfortunate part because the show when originally broadcast in the US, was done out of sequence, which made it just not work from week to week. A similar fate would befall both UFO’s follow-up series and (as a 21st century example) Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY

HULU thankfully presents the series in order, and it makes all the difference, as you get to grow with the characters as they grow with each other. Treat yourself to this 46 year old, way out 60s infused tale of spies and Aliens in the far-flung future of 1980.

Highly Recommended!

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SPACE 1999 vs MISSION IMPOSSIBLE! and Crop Rotation?!!

Okay I don’t mean to make this the SPACE 1999 hour, but I’m listening to the Gerry Anderson commentary on the first episode BREAKAWAY, and it spurs me to some comments of my own. First it’s not really a commentary, it’s maybe 15 minutes of comments by Mr. Anderson sprinkled throughout the hour long episode.

But the comments he does offer are riveting. He discusses just the immense pressures and issues getting this series made. From trying to acquire American leads, to problems with the first director, to set issues, to basically ITC America telling them what stories they definitely couldn’t do.

Even problems with having stars Landau and Bain stand near each other in a two shot. It seems that Martin Landau wanted to show off his California tan, and Barbara Bain wanted to appear as white as possible, so when the two were in a shot together, grading the film became nearly impossible, as the color film stock lacked the range of the Black and White film stock. Martin Landau would either end up looking Black, or Barbara Bain would end up looking transparent. So they had to compromise a bit, with Landau toning down his tan, and Bain adding some color.

It’s little anecdotes like that that make commentaries fun. Of course today in the age of digital, film grading is not an issue, but in 1975 technological limitations ruled. Yet another reason the show looks better on Blu-ray today than it ever did.

It’s a fun bit of behind the scenes business. And it highlights why the people that move any medium forward be it radio or tv or movies or music, are generally under 30.

Whether it’s Paul Robeson redefining the theater in the 1920s while in his 20s (after also breaking barriers in both academics and sports), or Orson Welles redefining theater, radio and film in the 30s (while in his 20s), or if it’s Steven Spielberg and George Lucas defining the modern blockbuster with their one two punch of JAWS and STAR WARS, while they were 29 and 33 respectively (given Lucas a pass here), changing the face of the world in small ways and large… is generally a job for the young.

Even to this generations JJ Abrams, who started in his 20s changing the face of television and now cinema.

The movers and shakers all start young, because impossible has not yet become part of their vocabulary. It’s young people with hunger and vision and boundless energy, that have to get these visionary shows made around and through and despite the objections or qualms or head shaking of the gate-keepers. The old people, who hold the purse strings, and want to keep attracting/appealing to a new audience but are generally afraid of the new.

And Gerry Anderson, who started producing shows at 28, talks a bit on the psuedo-commentary about the hurdles involved in creating the show.

This isn’t to say only young people change their respective mediums, there are tons of people late in life who decided to change the world… and have.

George Washington Carver comes immediately to mind, who in addition to finding hundreds of uses for food byproducts including dyes, oils, charcoal, conditioner, glue, bio-diesel fuel, etc., pretty much single-handedly saved the economy and agriculture of the south. It was his creation and tireless implementation of a program of crop rotation, that kept the Southern United States from destroying its soil and looking like what Haiti has become [a country that can’t grow its own food due to soil depletion].

But geniuses like Mr. Carver aside, as a general rule it’s the young who blaze the trail into the new. Be it science or architecture or… tv/cinema.

You see what I did there? Like how I brought it back on track? Yeah I though it was nifty too. 🙂

All this to say. it’s a fun commentary. Go pick it up and give a listen. 🙂

Oh and a few words on the stars:

Martin Landau, who it’s worth mention at 84 is still going strong, has 5 films in production! Wow! In addition to SPACE 1999, he’s known for Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, ED WOOD his 4 year run on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, the recent stints on EVIDENCE, ENTOURAGE, and WITHOUT A TRACE, and memorable guest spots on shows as diverse as OUTER LIMITS, GUNSMOKE and SIMPSONS.

Barbara Bain- The lovely Ms. Bain who is also going strong, and like Landau, has forged an amazing career. From the film AMERICAN GUN to PANIC to Zack Horton’s POLITICAL DISASTERS to GIDEON to ANIMALS WITH THE TOLLKEEPER to SAVAGE(also stars Landau and directed by Steve Spielberg) to GOODNIGHT MY LOVE (doesn’t appear to be on DVD yet, but has great reviews) to the RICHARD DIAMOND television series to her 4 years on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, and mountains of shows and movies between and since. CSI, DIAGNOSIS MURDER, the list goes on.

You can see why the studio pushed hard to get the two of them together in SPACE 1999. They wanted to capitalize on the two actors previously starring together in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. Instant marketability.

However that said I have to agree with Sylvia Anderson the co-creator and producer, who didn’t feel Martin Landau or Barbara Bain were right for the show. I think the show worked in-spite of the leads, particularly Martin Landau, not because of them. There are some shows you look at the cast, and say ‘Well I can’t see anyone else doing those roles. That’s perfect casting!” You can say that of the first STAR TREK series (even in light of the movies etc, that first crew is perfect, seminal casting) and FARSCAPE, etc. You can’t say that of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, I think numerous actors could have done the role of Commander Koenig to equal or better effect.

Particularly when you hear Sylvia Anderson’s interview (which is available on the Blu-Ray) and Gerry Anderson’s commentary and the concessions they made to get Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, and the problems they had, it makes you question whether the roles would have been better served inhabited by unknown actors, etc.

Well those are questions beyond the answering. What is known is that with the departure of Sylvia Anderson, at the end of season one, the show lost its rudder and its way.

Sylvia Anderson fought hard in the first season for script conferences and to give some sense of weight and seriousness and cohesiveness, a heart if you will to an admittedly fantastic show. But I think she understood that the more fantastic the show, the more important it is that the little things, the connections and reactions of people ring true and be grounded and relatable. And with her out as producer, the show also lost its voice of reason in front of the camera… Barry Morse, and ultimately the show succumbed to dumbed-downed storytelling and pandering to audiences with spectacle and rubber monsters… rather than craft and story.

And that difference is clearly seen in the first episode of season 2, METAMORPH (kindly included on the Season 1 Blu-ray’s special features). Devoid of Sylvia Anderson and Barry Morse, and anyone to fight the cliched ideas coming from the American office of ITV, the show increasingly looked like a poor man’s Buck Rogers.

But hindsight is always 20/20. Hurdles and politics and all, the 1st season of SPACE 1999 was pulled off, and flaws accepted, it’s ambitious television, it is television that tries to say something. And that is television to be proud of.

And since I’m talking about the show thirty five years after its cancellation, it seems that it is also television… that endures.

That’s all for now. Come back later for more reviews!

Space: 1999: The Complete Season One [Blu-ray] – Buy it here!