Star Fleet on DVD

Sunday, 08 February 2009 20:27

Many people have said this already, but the release of Star Fleet on DVD has been a long time coming.  The occasional video release in the past has mainly in the UK been of video compilations, which were never up to the magnitude and scope of the 24 episode magnus opus which first started airing here in 1982.

My acquaintance with Star Fleet began on Saturday mornings in the Autumn of 1983, in the Central franchise reason of ITV Midlands.  It was partnered with the first screening of Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks.  Both shared the same television heritage as its inspiration, but Star Fleet itself pulled on far more sources to create its format.

Star Fleet on DVDStar Fleet has its origins in Japan. It was broadcast as X-BOMBER between October 1980 and March 1981, and that audience became very familiar, and fond, of this unusual combination of special effects miniatures, puppet technology, and something defined as ‘suitmation’ (where an actor dresses in a robot, creature, or monster suit!).  What Marine Boy had done for Britain’s exposure to Anime in the 1970s on the BBC, Star Fleet would do for its young audiences in the 1980s on ITV.

It was made at a time when “Star Wars” had lit up the big screen worldwide, leading to the bankrolling of productions such as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Alien”.  The use of giant robots obviously owes a considerable debt to Transformers (or, at least, the Diaclone and Microman toy ranges which preceded the rebranding and extension of the line to Transformers in 1984).  It is no secret that the producers took a lot of inspiration from Britain’s own Gerry Anderson, via productions such as Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet (Gerry has always been ‘Big in Japan’!).

It is 2999. Just as the people of Earth begin to enjoy peace following the end of Space War III, the Imperial Alliance, under the Imperial Master launch a new assault.  Facing up to this threat, the Earth’s defending forces are ill-prepared for another war and pin their hopes on Dr Benn Robinson and his new X-Bomber programme.  But one mystery surrounds the entire offensive: what is the “F-01” which the Imperial Alliance is so eager to pursue?

Puppet shows were a fairly rare genre in Japan.  In terms of its journey to the UK, the series visuals alone were secured for re-tooling for a British audience, and so X-Bomber was renamed Star Fleet. The production team were not sure about the quality and direction of the scripts, so it was not simply a case of dubbing into English.

It was also not just the script that needed work. The English version's theme song was composed by Paul Bliss of The Moody Blues, and was later covered by Queen’s Brian May and Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen under the name "Star Fleet Project".  It spawned a single and a 12” “Mini Album”, both real collectors’ items now.  The video of the single is included on this DVD set as an extra (although it’s been shrunk onscreen a little, perhaps suggesting a problem with the quality of this archive material).

The actual series’ 24 UK episodes get excellent treatment via Fabulous Films, spread over four DVDs, and the re-mastering is admirable considering the quality of the original – indeed, the sound is spectacular.

Fabulous Films had previously taken great care in their release of The Mysterious Cities of Gold, another Japanese-originated cult series, which surfaced on release in the Summer of 2008. So, it was inevitable they would go the extra yard with this project.

Cornerstone of this Star Fleet set is the inclusion of a specially produced half hour documentary. Creative driving force of the original Japanese production, Go Nagai, makes much of his admiration for Gerry Anderson’s productions.  Indeed, Gerry himself appears in the documentary, but the relevance of him doing so I admit was a little lost on me, aside from Gerry noting that he was aware of the show at the time it was made.  The ironic link between both shows was voice artist Denise Bryer – she played the evil Commander Makara in Star Fleet, and was the voice of the evil Zelda in Terrahawks.

Most revealing in the documentary was, following the success in the UK, we could well have been treated to a second season of the show, but for a fire that obliterated the stores that contains the sets and models.

Also providing expert testimony on the documentary are director Louis Elman, Peter Marinker (voice of Dr Benn), and composer Paul Bliss. We also get stills galleries of collectables and behind the scenes images, Character and Machine Profiles, a 56 page comic book, a 16 page episode guide, six postcards, a double-sided fold-out poster.  All in all, this is over 610 minutes of pure U-certificate heaven.

The cost of the four DVD set is £39.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

English Version Voice Cast

Shiro Hagen - Jay Benedict

Barry Hercules - Constantine Gregory

John Lee - Mark Rolston

Dr Benn Robinson - Peter Marinker

PPA (Perfectly Programmed Android) - John Baddeley

Lamia - Liza Ross

Commander Makara - Denise Bryer

Captain Carter - Garrick Hagon

General Kyle - Kevin Brennan

Captain Orion - Sean Barrett

The Imperial Master - Jacob Whitkin

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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