Sunday, 26 July 2015

Quatermass (1978)

Nigel Kneale’s fourth and final Quatermass television serial finally gets a well-deserved stunning Blu-ray release courtesy of Network.
It’s the last quarter of the twentieth century and civilisation is breaking down. While the superpowers squander billions on pointless space projects, on earth the increasingly disaffected youth are turning to movements like the ‘Planet People’ who are drawn to places of ancient and mystic significance where they are, in turn, being harvested by some immense alien power. Professor Bernard Quatermass, tired, worn out, and only wishing to find his grand-daughter, is drawn into the mystery & ends up fighting yet another deadly threat to mankind. 

After the huge success of his three QUATERMASS BBC TV plays in the 1950s, Nigel Kneale didn’t get around to writing the fourth Quatermass adventure until the early 1970s. It wasn’t filmed until even later in the decade, this time by Euston Films who had enjoyed considerable success with THE SWEENEY (and virtually revolutionised the television police drama after years of glamorous ITC adventures like The Persuaders and Jason King). At the time its forthcoming broadcast on ITV (in four episodes) was much heralded with posters, and you couldn’t move for the novelisation in Woolworths. Then it all went pear-shaped in the form of a strike at ITV that caused a full-scale blackout of the channel beginning on the 10th August 1979 and lasting for eleven weeks, with episode one of QUATERMASS finally being broadcast to no fanfare at all on Wednesday 24th of October.

QUATERMASS does some things well and some things not so well. It’s an interesting depiction of a Britain on the verge of social breakdown, even if the gangs who besiege our hero are probably a bit too well spoken to be believable. More than anything nowadays, it comes across as being written by a man who was a bit fed up with much of the society that was around him at the time he was writing it. You can almost imagine Kneale grumbling ‘bloody hippies’ as he tapped away at his typewriter (although he actually envisioned his ‘Planet People’ as punks rather than peace-loving). 

        Quatermass is less a noble, thoughtful, contemplative scientist in this one and more a desperate old man. In fact he admits as much in the first episode, saying all he cares about is finding his grand-daughter. In fact, QUATERMASS is all rather a depressing story about the insignificance of man’s place in the universe (and his exploitation), with only a glimmer of hope at the very end. It would have been wonderful if they had been allowed to go ahead with Kneale’s original plan and film at Stonehenge, but the crew was denied permission to film and hence Ringstone Round was born, or rather, built. 

Network’s Blu-ray transfer is nothing short of perfection. QUATERMASS has never looked this good & I’m not sure it could ever look any better. Disc one offers us all four episodes of the original ITV series in 5.1 surround and with advert break cards inserted at the appropriate places. There are mono sound and music only options as well. You also get the recaps that would have preceded each episode as a separate option, and there’s a textless (and soundless) title sequence from THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION.
Disc two gives you the edited film version THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION, in 1.85:1 and not looking quite as crisp as the television episodes. There’s also a trailer (without sound) and an image gallery. None of the extras from the previous 3 disc Clear Vision DVD release have been carried over (the Kneale interview and detailed production notes are sadly lacking) and we get nothing in the way of commentary tracks, a making of, or even a short featurette with some reminiscences of remaining cast and crew, which is probably the only way this otherwise excellent release could be improved.

Network are releasing their two-disc Blu-ray set of Nigel Kneale's QUATERMASS on Monday 27th July in four limited edition covers based on the colour of the title sequence of each episode. 

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