Quatermass & The Pit Blu-ray

Sunday, 09 October 2011 06:38

There’s a bizarre snobbery at work with the Hammer Films version of “Quatermass and the Pit”. The 1967 big screen adaption of the 1958 BBC television series tends to suffer the same critical mauling in some circles as the cinematic overhaul of the first two Doctor Who Dalek adventures. So, here we have the chance to view the final entry in the original Quatermass trio of stories realised in Blu-ray High Definition, and hope it leads to a re-evaluation.

Rest assured, it should be, as original author Nigel Kneale gets to helm the screenplay, and director Roy Ward Baker turns in some his best-ever work, in a career that spanned the likes of The Avengers, The Saint and Minder on TV, and “A Night to Remember”, “Moon Zero Two” and “The Monster Club” for the cinema. The combination in this Quatermass is spooky and unsettling, letting the words and performances create the fear, rather than relying on special effects.

Quatermass and the Pit - fear unleashed on Blu-rayIn other words, this is a project that creates a big budget in the mind, rather than on the balance sheet. From the moment we are introduced to Hobbs End, Knightsbridge, London, we know that all is not as it seems, and are unsettled by the workers not being that particularly bothered by what is unfolding right in front of them.

Their extension of a new tunnel for the London Underground system is interrupted by the discovery of what is a very strange shaped skull in the excavations. Under instructions to then take greater care in what has quickly become an archaeological dig, the next find is a large, mysterious and impenetrable object. Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) rationalises it as a Nazi hoax; some sort of propaganda device that failed in its mission during the Second World War.  A bomb, no doubt. As usual with such defenders of the official version of events, he doesn’t even bother to try and work out how this ‘terrestrial’ craft can be made from an unknown metal.

Doctor Mathew Roney (James Donald) and glamorous assistant Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley) realise that this is beyond conventional science.  It’s time to call in Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir, in perhaps one of the most definitive portrayals of the character), the well-known maverick and free thinker, to make sense of the incident.  Things start to get decidedly eerie and disaster begins to befall one worker after another.

Breen and a flock of ministerial bureaucrats still try and rationalise what’s happening in Hobbs End to something more of this Earth, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. It’s only when the evidence is beyond doubt, and that time has almost run out, that the left-brainers allow Quatermass what is necessary to save the world from forces they simply cannot see or understand.

The Blu-ray restoration is a real treat. Modern day productions may try to create previous eras, but to see films from those actual times given a classy new sheen is unbeatable. It makes such archive gems completely compatible with the quality requirements of big screen tellys, found in most households these days. While a lot of TV drama is shot on video, using a process to make them look like they’ve been made on film, seeing the real McCoy reminds you that such trickery never quite pulls off the required effect.

It’s the pay-off for the special effects in places at best being described as ‘quaint’. However, there are only a couple of occasions where your suspension of disbelief may be challenged, but I won’t mention them here, just in case it’s just me being far too picky!

With the American title of “Five Million Years to Earth”, a reviewer on Amazon makes an interesting point in that scientists looking at DNA have stated the human race finally separated from great apes around 5-6 million years ago. The earliest known hominid remains are dated around 5 million years ago, so that analysis and Kneale’s script are in incredible synergy.

Digitally restored, with an exclusive cover art by Olly Moss, the package features the following extras:

  • New UK-exclusive interviews with cast member Julian Glover, Mark Gatiss, Judith Kerr (widow of Nigel Kneale), and genre experts Kim Newman and Marcus Hearn.
  • Audio commentary with Nigel Kneale and Roy Ward Baker
  • World of Hammer - Sci-Fi Episode
  • UK and US trailers
  • Interview with Joe Dante

“Quatermass and the Pit” is out now as a ‘Double Play’ Blu-ray and DVD set from Studio Canal.  It has a running time of 98 minutes approx, a ‘12’ certificate, and a RRP of £22.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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