Kneale's Quatermass on Blu-ray

Sunday, 26 July 2015 23:00 Written by 

Quatermass with John Mills - out now on Blu-rayProfessor Bernard Quatermass is the creation of legendary British screenwriter Nigel Kneale. The much-cherished character's impressive longevity spans from his first TV outing in 1953's “The Quatermass Xperiment” to 2005's live remake of the same, and extends to other media including the cinema, radio and stage. Network's new release stars John Mills and was originally produced in 1979 but feels much more modern thanks partly to a stunning HD re-master.

This incarnation of Quatermass is more senior and frail, and yet he faces perhaps his most perilous challenge. Society is in the advanced stages of disintegration, with vast swathes of the urban and country landscape abandoned by the authorities and left to warring gangs and roaming cults. Quatermass ventures into this bleak landscape in search of his missing granddaughter, and unwittingly becomes caught up in a mission to save the human race from extinction.

Mills ("Ghandi", "Ice Cold in Alex") plays Quatermass as a vulnerable old man, still relatively sharp-witted but physically weak and consequently less self-assured. During his fraught and chaotic adventure he encounters essential allies such as astronomer Dr Joe Kapp (the late Simon MacCorkindale – he of Manimal and Casualty fame), NASA scientist Chuck Marshall (Tony Sibbald - "Superman II", "Reds") and District Commissioner Annie Morgan (Margaret Tyzack - "2001: A Space Odyssey", "A Clockwork Orange").

The world these figures inhabit is an absolutely terrifying vision of a dystopian future, and the mini-series' excellent production values (courtesy of Euston Films) do a fantastic job of drawing us into the nightmare. Britain has become a landscape littered with overturned cars, demolished buildings and decay. Gangs whose only defining characteristic appears to be the colour of their bandanas shoot at each other across ramshackle barricades, embracing violence in the face of boredom, poverty and starvation.

There is a military and police presence, but it is mostly confined to protecting the rich and powerful, and certainly not interested in serving the rank and file. Stray too close and you are fairly certain to be on the receiving end of a shotgun or baton. Fans of Blakes' 7 will delight in seeing a hirsute Brian Croucher (Travis mark 2) as a particularly gruff pay-cop!

In the midst of this anarchy roam the Planet People, a seemingly placid and naive bunch of youngsters whose numbers are growing all the time. They mirror the spiritual sects of today who believe that all will cure itself, and all they have to do is wait. In Quatermass, their focus centres on the nation's stone circles and ley lines, and the more Quatermass observes them, the more he suspects that these hippy-like cultists are at the centre of something massive. Their local leader, Kickalong (Ralph Arliss - "The Asphyx", Prime Suspect: Inner Circles) is a more spiky, punk-outfitted individual who does not take interference kindly.

In this fractured society, not all of the groups are threatening, however. A few collectives barter and work together to stay alive such as a group of older people our hero encounters in London. They are in the minority but offer some hope for mankind's future, however small.

There is some levity within the first couple of episodes, but as things escalate it makes way for a more serious and desperate tone.

Fans of other apocalyptic films and series such as The Day of the Triffids, Torchwood, “Children of Men” and “The Warriors” will surely love this serial; it feels very much a part of the same body of work as the other, typically excellent Quatermass productions.

The special features include:

  • Brand new 5.1 audio mix for the episodic version
  • Brand new restoration of “The Quatermass Conclusion” in its original theatrical aspect ratio (a 104-minute theatrical edit of the original series)
  • Music-only tracks for all four episodes
  • Episode recaps
  • Textless title sequence
  • Image Gallery

The lack of a commentary track, interviews or making-of featurette is regrettable but the wonderfully sharp HD re-master more than makes up for it.

ALEX J GEAIRNS, CULT TV’S EDITOR NOTES:

The production is sometimes called Quatermass ’79 to distinguish it from other productions in the canon. Bernard is brought into the story via a visit to the ramshackle studios of what is now the equivalent of the BBC. His involvement in Britain’s race to space, a nod to the character’s televisual past, is the reason he has been called upon to commentate on what is the latest high orbital spectacle.

Playing out in the skies above is a “Hands across the Earth” link-up between East and West. Bernard reckons it will end in disaster and says so, all of it simply a distraction from what is really going on in the world. The only thing he really cares about is trying to find his granddaughter, who has run off after being placed in his care at his home in the north of Scotland.

When suddenly everything goes amiss, and there really is a disaster which claims the lives of all the astronauts, the partners across the Atlantic want to know what Bernard knew to have made his forecast.

Little did Nigel Kneale know at the time of writing that nothing so grand was needed to distract the population; just the cult of celebrity. Rather than real news, mainstream outlets simply pump out the latest on soap and movie stars, reality contestants, and musical or sporting dysfunctionals. The big issues, and in turn the big picture, are left well alone, for fear of the population waking up to what is really going on.

Some 36 years on from its production, the divide between rich and poor has never been so big, and there already are no-go areas in the UK where the forces of law stay out of the way. Nigel Kneale gave us a final, poignant warning with the script for this series as to where we are heading. You cannot take away everything from people, because what that means is they have nothing left to lose. And when that happens, society will indeed break down.

Pay-cops of Kneale’s dystopian future? Think G4S today. The Planet People of this nightmare vision? Our world gives us the congregations of some cults and communes, who believe rather than taking action themselves, they can wait for the intervention of some higher ‘spiritual’ power. The likes of Dr Joe Kapp, and his team, looking for plausible answers when others have reneged on their responsibilities? That will be those working in the alternative media, who cannot accept things as they are being described to them, and seek out the truth.

This Quatermass was issued as a warning in 1979. We have to brace ourselves for the fact that, in some dark corridors of power, it may well now be seen as a blueprint.

Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass (1979) is out now, courtesy of Network. The release's combined running time is 314 minutes approx., it carries a '15' certificate and retails for £19.99 on DVD, £29.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

 

Last modified on Monday, 27 July 2015 18:22

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