After the mysterious destruction of the new space station, young people find themselves drawn to a stone circle in England, and other locations around Earth. They believe they'll be taken ... See full summary »
After the mysterious destruction of the new space station, young people find themselves drawn to a stone circle in England, and other locations around Earth. They believe they'll be taken to a better place by a higher power. Only Professor Quatermass realizes that the young people are being tricked by an alien power, who wants to "harvest" humanity. It's up to Quatermass to find a way to stop the deadly plans of the aliens. Written by
It is the near future. Britain struggles with the collapse of civilisation and violent bands of urban guerrillas rule. Also Earth is being harvested. Ancient sites of gathering all over the globe turn out to be the focal points of a blinding and powerful ray from outer space that leaves a pile of ash where thousands once stood. Various elements of Homo sapiens are essential to an anonymous alien race, and once again the time is, or rather we are, literally, ripe. It falls on the now retired Professor Bernard Quatermass, veteran of weird goings on long before Fox Mulder, to basically save the planet. Again.
The idea of a fourth Quatermass serial was kicked around the BBC for three years before being finally commissioned in 1971, and then later dropped by them as being too expensive. The production was picked up by Euston Films, Thames Television's TV film-making subsidiary (their most famous production at the time being the uncompromising and controversial police drama 'The Sweeney'). Euston increased the budget to £300,000 per episode with the criterion that the final product be produced in two versions: four fifty-minute episodes plus a single, shortened version for theatrical release and overseas markets in order to recoup some of their production costs. This created a writing dilemma for original creator and writer Nigel Kneale who now had to come up with two scripts for the same story. He neither wanted the theatrical release to be an edited version of the series, nor the series to be a padded out version of the film. Both had to work in their own right, and, thanks to Kneale's skill (he was an experienced screenwriter and at one time 'script doctor' for the BBC), they do. Unfortunately with the story having been written in 1972 and reflecting the political and economic concerns of that time, by the time it reached the screens in 1979, with it's new-age hippy type characters, it was already out of date (though it is still superior to the recent and dreadful '28 Days Later').
Euston also wanted a big name to play the lead, hence Sir John Mills, who is badly miscast and clearly looks as uneasy as he reportedly was with the role. Gone is the bombastic, resourceful yet flawed character played in the '50s BBC serials by Reginald Tate and brilliantly by Andre Morell, and later more famously by Andrew Keir in Hammer's 1967 'Quatermass and the Pit' (American actor Brian Donlevy had played the role in the first two Hammer Films but Kneale so hated him in the role he withheld permission to make a third Quatermass film for ten years). Here Mills plays him as a semi-senile, despairing, doddering tired old man. He is as much Quatermass as Peter Cushing was Dr. Who, but he fulfilled the need of the 'big name' at the time, being not only an already established British film dignitary and household name, but also then still familiar to TV audiences as having recently appeared in the popular 'Zoo Gang'. But it is hard to believe this is meant to be the same Quatermass we have seen in previous incarnations.
The plusses though are in the production values. At that time most British TV drama series tended to be controlled environment, studio bound affairs with the odd bit of grainy location footage (a la 'Dr. Who', 'Doomwatch' etc.) but 'Quatermass' was, strikingly for the time, shot entirely on location on 35mm Panavision, with great expense being laid out particularly on Joe Kapp's radar facility and home. It was also intended that Stonehenge would be one of the main locations. Permission to use it was however withdrawn by the British Tourist Board because it had become very popular with tourists and they didn't want anyone, or anything, even by inference (in the script several thousand people get fried simply by gathering there, so I suppose not a good selling point from their point of view), jeopardising their little earner.
Sci-Fi/Fantasy film and TV buffs will enjoy early appearances by Simon MacCorkindale, later of the short lived series 'Manimal'; Brian Croucher (the second 'Travis' in 'Blake's 7'); Declan Mullholland (the original, later CGI'd out, actor who played 'Jabba the Hutt' in 'Star Wars') as a TV Studio guard; David Yip, who would be Indie's ill-fated accomplice in the 'Club Obi-Wan' in the opening sequence of 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'; and, talking of Indie, a major role played by Margaret Tyzack, who would later become the young Indie's long-suffering Oxford tutor in 'The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles'. Also featured in an early role is Brenda Fricker, later to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 'My Left Foot'. Executive Producer Verity Lambert was already well known to fans of this genre for her involvement with 'Dr. Who' and 'The Avengers'.
If you are a Quatermass fan, a fan of British Sci-Fi, or even a budding screenwriter wanting to pick up a few tips, then this is an essential addition to your library. The set is nicely presented and is released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of 'The Quatermass Experiment' in 1953. The package folds out to an 18" picture of (ironically) Stonehenge. The two discs containing the four episodes, simply called 'Quatermass', feature extensive production notes, animated menus, the opening and closing titles for each episode with each episode having a spectacular cliffhanger ending, making you eager to watch the next, and the hours pass swiftly. The third disc contains the theatrical version, retitled 'The Quatermass Conclusion', and a previously unseen Sci-Fi Channel interview with Nigel Kneale. Also enclosed is a booklet on the Quatermass history.
Overall it is an engrossing watch, but as Nigel Kneale himself says: "It was a product of its time."
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