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The Hammer version of this BBC teleplay used to scare the sh*t out of
me as a child . The BBC broadcast episode 3 as part of a 50th
celebration for the corporation in November 1986 and I was very
impressed but also rather sad that the rest of the series wasn't shown
. Jump forward to May 1988 and I was flicking through The Radio Times (
the BBC's TV guide ) and there was a page advertising the latest video
releases from the BBC with the teleplay of QUATERMASS AND THE PIT being
one of them . This astounded me because I thought the beeb would have
released it in a blaze of publicity , we are talking about a television
legend that used to empty the streets when broadcast in the 1950s so
what was it doing being released along with a bunch of anonymous series
on video ? I sent off for the video and bit my fingernails waiting for
it to arrive . You know when you're a child you look forward to Xmas ?
Well that was me as a 21 year old adult in the spring of 1988 ( The
most bitter sweet year of my life but that's another story ) I only
hoped I wasn't going to be disappointed with this television
After seeing it I wasn't disappointed at all , it was every bit as good as I possibly expected and more . Nigel Kneale has written the most thought provoking science fiction drama in the history of television . Unlike his previous teleplay QUATERMASS 2 there's no episodic quality to the serial , there's no over ambitious set pieces . He has written a beautifully paced script with a mind blowing subtext on human nature . Look at the scene in the middle of the first episode where a radio broadcast tells of violence around the world and this is forgotten about until it ties in with the final scene where Quatermass addresses the nation on the original sin of humanity . It's amazing that Kneale included this because no one watching QUATERMASS AND THE PIT at home in 1958 could have remembered this apparently throwaway line but it's important to the subtext of the story . Mr Kneale you are a genius
I said this was a science fiction drama but maybe I should state that it's a drama first and foremost . Like all of the Quatermass serials there's little in the way of pitched battles between soldiers and bulletproof aliens all so common in 1950 sci-fi movies . There's little action but watching the character interaction between Quatermass and Roney on one side and Col Breen and the war office on the other is a joy to watch . Nigel Kneale has a reputation for writing good dialogue in all of his teleplays and he exceeds himself here . Some classic lines include:
" And then , and then you can't see this world anymore "
" A blind man with a dog "
And my own personal favourite line: " Mister Fullalove , a day or two ago you were enquiring into the activities of ghosts and demons . Did you get their opinion too ? "
That last line was spoken by Col Breen my all time favourite character from the QUATERMASS serials and his character interaction with Quatermass seems to have been resurrected in an inverted manner in early 70s DOCTOR WHO . It should be remembered that because of the war and national service much of the audience would have been able to relate to the character far more than today's audience ever could
Some people watching this for the first time might possibly be disappointed by it especially if they've seen the Hammer version . Yes I do concede that the original is less spectacular but once again it's not intended as a Hollywood blockbuster and the film version is inferior over all . The acting and characterisation is superior here with Captain Potter being a major figure unlike in the film with James Fullalove being absent in the cinema version and Col Breen is certainly more memorable here . I did notice that Anthony Bushell ( Who always forever cast as army officers - Check out his resume ) goes OTT in one scene namely when he reads the newspaper headline but he is superb as a narrow minded Breen . It can be argued that Cec Linder might have been taking too much coffee when playing Doctor Roney but perhaps his character is supposed to be slightly hyperactive and for me Andre Morrell is the definitive Bernard Quatermass . The only performance in the movie that surpasses that of their TV counter part character is probably Barbara Shelley as Miss Judd
This is a masterwork from both Rudolph Cartier and Nigel Kneale . As soon as Quatermass finishes his television broadcast he walks off camera , the stirring music ends and so ends the greatest drama under the banner of telefantasy . Other sci-fi dramas have tried to emulate the dramatic realism of this , the very best of the QUATERMASS saga but only a few like DOOMWATCH and the very best stories of DOCTOR WHO have come close . None have surpassed it
I envy anybody who was lucky enough to watch this one the first time around! Seeing the re-released video version today I can imagine what a mind-blower this must have nearly 45 years ago. An amazing technical achievement for the time, while the movie remake had a bigger budget and was in colour, it's debatable whether it actually bettered this original TV version. A plot that mixes science fiction and the occult in a way reminiscent of some of H.P. Lovecraft's later stories, added to inventive (low budget) direction, and generally strong acting, especially from Andre Morell (possibly the best Quatermass of them all), this is a must see for any genuine SF fan. Nigel Kneale deserves a place in the history of fantastic television and cinema, and this is one of his best efforts.
The line above, uttered by Professor Bernard Quatermass in the abandoned
derelict building in Hob's Lane, Knightsbridge, remains one of the most
chilling moments of dialog ever uttered on either the television or
theatrical screen. I was twelve at the time and came as close to wetting my
pants that night as I have since. (with the possible exception of the day I
received a letter postmarked R.A.A.C. telling me I had been conscripted
the Australian Army in 1967 - THINK about it!)
So far ahead of its time QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, Nigel Kneale's third installment in the Quatermass series, was a brilliant pot-pourri of horror, sci-fi, mysticism, the occult and just plain scripted genius. It was estimated that more than 3/4 of Britain were tuned-in to the 6th and final episode - the rest we presume, didn't have television!
Distinguised British actor Andre Morell WAS the perfect Quatermass, Senior Government scientist and head of Rocket Research, assigned to an investigation of the presumed 'unexploded bomb' unearthed during a routine archaeological 'dig' at Knightsbridge, subsequent upon the discovery of a human skull during building excavation there. Following the unearthing of the object virtually unmarked, yet located BELOW the skull, since carbon-dated as being at least five million years old, extreme paranormal occurrences are recorded which in 1958 were simply terrifying. Their power can still be seen even in the creaky and grainy old B & W video re-edit that was released some years ago and which I regularly watch, probably as much to re-capture my youth as to be thrilled once again.
This was a cerebral trip, Neve Campbell really wouldn't have slotted in here! It was a DIFFERENT fear back then...cabalistic markings, disturbing sounds, ghosts and demons you couldn't see, but KNEW were there (that awesome utterance in the summary!) and the biggest fright of all - the dead martian as it rustled and slipped through that web of decaying strands that had held it in place all those centuries! The big-screen color re-make FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH was OK but lost all the POWER of the TV original and remains a pale imitation.
To have been able to watch this epic piece of film-making AT THE TIME was a great privilege, I don't think today's audience are going to feel quite the same about Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees in 2046. (although I HAVE to say, I rather LIKE these guys...they're almost family now!)
Quatermass and the Pit is a truly remarkable piece of television. An excellent script, brilliant atmospheric direction and great performances from the cast. Anthony Bushell's Colonel Breen is an utterly unlikable character without being a clichéd hissable villain figure. The guy is so uptight you can almost feel his buttocks clenching! Cec Linder is a very likable character and his friendship with Quatermass is totally believable. As for Quatermass himself... whilst Brian Donlevy played a totally different character (let's be honest the character in the first two Hammer movies is Quatermass in name only, or should that be'Quittermuss'?) John Robinon was really good in the role, Reginald Tate, Andrew Keir and John Mills were all excellent but Andre Morell makes the role his own and completely outshines all the other very fine actors who played this part. He's a charismatic figure full of charm, authority and compassion (if I was a scientist I'd like to be this guy!). Morell is totally convincing in all aspects of the role, whether arguing with pompous ministers or fighting the Martian influence he carries the whole thing along with considerable style. Rudolph Cartier creates a truly chilling atmosphere, complimented by the sinister incidental music. The design is also magnificent. The Martians were an inspired design and Hammer's version of the creatures ten years later are very poor in comparison. A brilliant piece of television science fiction, rarely (if at all) equalled in nearly fifty years!
I've only found this site today, and it's tremendous to know that so many commentators felt about the BBC 1958 original in exactly the same way that I did. (I was far too young to watch it - only ten! - and spent most of the episodes peering out from behind the armchair...) I read recently that the classic scary moment when one of the disinterred Martians suddenly falls through its supports was actually a repeat of an accident that took place in rehearsal, and which the special effects people kept in the final version. I would personally highlight the title and incidental music, by Trevor Duncan (who was also the composer of the "Dr Finlay" theme music), which seems to me to be the final vital ingredient in creating the chilling atmosphere we all experienced. It's marvellous news that BBC Worldwide are going to release a DVD set of all the surviving episodes of all three BBC Quatermass serials in April 2005. If I can only dare to watch them!
I first watched this when it was first broadcast during the autumn/winter 1958/1959 and it had me on the edge of my seat throughout. I bought the video a few years ago and even though the editing spoiled the end of episode cliffhangers it is still worth seeing. This was BBC Drama at its best. Made on a low-budget, it was wonderfully produced and acted. Who could ever forget those special moments: The Corporal who saw a ghost walk through the wall; the opening of the missile revealing three long dead Martians; and the drill operator running through the streets of London as if was being pursued by real Martians; and the final scenes of the Devil hovering above a ruined London. A classic indeed.
"Sladden"!- nearly 50 years later few it seems have forgotten, (who
could forget) the name, and the scene where, terrified-possessed,
seeking sanctuary in a church, he collapses - and the gravel underneath
him, moved by some evil telekinesis, churns in waves? Like others,
childhood walks home at night following the screening became
panic-stricken runs. I was never able to fully watch the final episode
- one glimpse of that incandescent THING hovering in mid-air proved
much too much (I think they cut it from the VHS version).
Watching it now, the programme has in some ways gained rather than lost in power. The implication of the sequence and ages of the discoveries in the pit makes the room seem suddenly colder, kicking off a roller coaster of rising hysteria. The struggles of Quatermass: brilliant, strong minded, humane, brave; against demonic possession bordered on the harrowing. What a fine performance by Andre Morelle. Breen - wonderfully cast - and played. Anthony Bushell's voice always was high and rather edgy. For the first time this quality was fully exploited as the unimaginative military man fought a losing battle against things beyond his imagination. I once met him by chance in 1985 in a bus queue in Oxford and asked about Quatermass. He was, rather disappointingly, amiable and civil.
The music, the sound effects - just perfect.
Many special effects - amazingly for '50's live TV - would not disappoint today - the whipping heavy cables, the air completely filled with debris in motion, as if every inanimate object had itself become possessed. The CREATURES - so creepy and repellent - how could anybody stay alone in a laboratory with one of them propped up on a tray? And who failed to jump violently when one just slightly but suddenly moved?
Now I notice the slight pauses at scene changes and the long scenes in very small sets - while the main set was being prepared for the next scene. A distraction? No, a chance steady the nerves! Whatever happened to the vessel? Does it still exist? If it does, which of us could casually walk inside?
Quatermass and the Pit excelled in nearly every aspect where other productions might just score OK in most and good in one or two. In terms of the impact it made it can only come second to Orson Welle's 1938 radio production of "War of the Worlds" where the listening public really believed that the Earth was being invaded. That though was mainly achieved by sleight of hand. Quatermass and the Pit convinced through compelling logical story development, fine acting and brilliant production.
Long before mankind set a foot on the Moon, science was questioning the
possibility of life in space. When the first rockets are launched by
USSR, people have begun talking about different scenarios, utopias,
jokes and ultimately ideas. Hence science-fiction gained a wide angle
of view: After robots, now ALIENS. The Czechoslovakian pioneer
production "R.U.R(1938)" is a first step of this post-war transitional
period trend. The forthcoming year 2011, we'll see a remake of it;
hopefully will be recognized.
Quatermass and the Pit is the second continuation of the original "The Quatermass Experiment(1953)" which was also a BBC TV-series. These series are followed by the groundbreaking feature film "The Creeping Unknown(1955)" which has the most successful visuals and mystery run of all versions. The 1958 series were primarily focusing on make the adult audience and the authorities believe what they see and what they experience. With this version, Quatermass had become a pioneer in sci-fi taking a stand for SEEING IS EXPERIENCING, whereas it used to be only seeing is believing.
What's to experience is that Space is being introduced as a non-habitable place due to the differentiation of a space engineer after he's rescued from a space rocket crashed into the ground. Saved by an extra-terrestrial power of a plant cell, his physical differentiations followed by endomorphism, allows him to live in a persistent vegetative state. Escaping from the hospital, by time he turns into an octopus-like creeper and terrorizes the public.
According to an article from Gavin Collinson of BFI(British Film Institute) the writer/creator Nigel Kneale is requested to pen a televisual drama from a one-off sci-fi play. Before Quatermass's exploits had become a national talking point, the fiction part has only been manipulating public's fears of extra-terrestrial menaces by means of the infancy of manned space programmes.
Quatermass and the Pit allows us to experience the impairments of space travel by a salient work in drama. Alexander Moyer's narration is taking the spirit away a little, but overall it's a well achievement. Prof.Bernard Quatermass character is dedicated to his goals on scientific operations, carrying no hesitation and no fear. That's how a belief becomes an experience. If you look at Isaac Asimov's "The Currents of Space(1952)" and "Breakthroughs in Science(1959)" science and fiction were coming closer to each other. Quatermass brings you to this same level.
Oh boy, do I remember this one ! I can only agree with all the reviewers' comments so far. I was 10 at the time, and our TV had broken down, so I went to watch it a couple of streets away. This was the episode that ended with Sladdon running to the churchyard and the gravel path starts rippling . . . . I have never run so fast as I ran home that evening ! Wonderful plot - it can still make the hairs on my neck stand up just recalling it all.
A remarkable 6-part television "mini-series" from the 1950s, this programme
is an object lesson in how much can be achieved with comparatively little.
By modern standards the special effects are almost non-existent, the camera
work is poor and often badly focussed, the continuity between episodes is
occasionally bad, the acting is a little sloppy, etc. However none of these
mere technical problems matter because they are all forgotten as the viewer
is swept away by the intelligence, ingenuity and originality of the plot,
which becomes totally involving. The shadowy black-and-white scenes and the
excellent (often electronic) soundtrack create a brooding and tense
atmosphere which is just right. At 3 hours in length (with an intermission
break in the middle) this makes a perfect night's viewing for science
fiction fans who can appreciate a good story well told.
Quatermass and the Pit was remade 9 years later and although it is a much leaner, faster film (at only 90 minutes in length) it also has much to offer. See both and enjoy both.
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