Manimal comes to DVD

Tuesday, 11 September 2012 00:00
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Manimal comes to DVDManimal came to UK shores just at a time when our family had invested in its first ever VCR – those heady days at the back end of 1983, when despite the outrageous cost of tape at the time, shows like this one, plus The A-Team and Terrahawks, were treasured in never-ending repeat runs, thanks to the latest ‘hi-tech’ device. It was given a prime early-evening slot on BBC1, and therefore got a lot of attention.  For those of a certain age it is well-known, creating something of a rose-tinted vision of how certain shows put fun at the centre of their format.

The Beeb no doubt liked the idea of the male lead being the thoroughly English Simon MacCorkindale, breathing life into playboy-criminologist-philanthropist Jonathan Chase. Little did they realise that Stateside the show found itself up against the then-ratings juggernaut Dallas, so in this little scenario it was JR who shot Manimal, consigning the series to oblivion after just eight episodes. But now, thanks to its DVD release, we get to see what the potential of the show really was.

The big gimmick for the series was that Chase could turn into any animal he wanted, his preferences being a panther and an eagle, mainly as a lot of dosh had been forked-out for these particular transformation sequences, although just the once we do see him transform into a snake.  The main two transformation sequences were designed and created by the multiple Academy Award winning special effects artist Stan Winston (“The Terminator”, “Jurassic Park”, “Aliens”, “Avatar”).

The rest of the time, when Chase becomes an elephant, dolphin, or bear, these are off-screen, with the occasional running joke that we’re never quite sure whether the animal in question is Chase or not.

In a specially recorded DVD extra, an interview with co-creator Glen A Larson, he reveals his despair that the show wasn’t given time to find its audience.  Of course, even today this is still the case with the majority of networks – putting a bullet into shows that don’t immediately hit the ground running, as far as the Nielson ratings are concerned. Regrettably, Glen’s memories of the show are a little sketchy, although it’s revealing that he almost cast Kirstie Alley as the female lead – at the time she went on to star as Casey Collins in Masquerade, another of Larson’s TV projects.

Fans of the 1980 “Flash Gordon” movie will be delighted to see Melody Anderson getting the female lead in Manimal. Her spirited performance as Dale Arden in the Dino De Laurentiis extravaganza meant she was well-placed to tackle the outlandish situations that her character, police woman Brooke McKenzie, would find in every episode of Manimal. These two roles are probably the ones that she will be most remembered for, having left the acting business in 1995, her final performance being a guest role in the revival of Burke’s Law.

You do get the feeling that there was concern about the format of the series very soon after the pilot had been filmed. Originally conceived as something of a man of mystery, there were few clues in the 75 minute debut as to how Chase had got his amazing abilities to transform into any animal of his choosing. This was soon put to rights in the first episode proper, where we have an introduction which shows us Chase as a boy, seeing his father die in Africa in a very supernatural way.  With the old man’s body disappearing before our eyes, with a tribal shaman looking on, the juxtaposition suggests that amazing gifts have been bestowed on the child. The plot was explained by William Conrad’s gruff voiceover:

“Dr Jonathan Chase... wealthy, young, handsome. A man with the brightest of futures. A man with the darkest of pasts. From Africa's deepest recesses, to the rarefied peaks of Tibet, heir to his father's legacy and the world's darkest mysteries. Jonathan Chase, master of the secrets that divide man from animal, animal from man... Manimal!”

There was also a casting change from the pilot to the series. Glynn Turman’s cop Tyrone C Earl, a former intelligence officer with whom Chase had served in Vietnam, was seen as a little too straight-laced for such a fantastic format, so in stepped Michael D Roberts.  The character got rechristened ‘Ty’, and effectively became a Lidl-style knock-off of Eddie Murphy, without the foul language. Murphy had hit big in 1982 with “48 Hours”, and in 1983 was soon to be seen in “Trading Places”, so this was very much going along with the trends of the time.

Guest appearances are another one of the guilty pleasures that Manimal brings to the viewing table. The iconic Ursula Andress appears as a villain in the pilot movie, and throughout the run look out for appearances by the likes of Doug McClure, Robert Englund, Tracy Scoggins, Keenan Wynn, Lloyd Bochner, Meeno Peluce and  Ed Lauter.

What is missing from this DVD collection, which is a bit of a shame for completists, is the episode of NightMan from 1998, where MacCorkindale reappeared as Jonathan Chase, teasingly with Gerard Plunkett guesting as Jack the Ripper in the story.  It was season two, episode eight, with the confusing title of “Manimal”!  Nightman was another Glen A Larson production, and this was no doubt an attempt to relaunch the series – there had been attempts a few years’ earlier by a French production company, following the show’s success across the Channel, but this all came to nothing. MacCorkindale also got to direct a later episode in Nightman’s second season, “Revelations”.

To confirm the extras you get with this set:

  • Documentary “Man to Animal – An Interview with Glen A Larson”
  • Cast Biographies
  • Crew Biographies
  • Behind The Scenes Stills Gallery
  • Original Publicity & Action Stills Gallery
  • Episode Guide Booklet

Glen Larson doesn’t rule out the possibility of a new feature film of Manimal. Given the improvements in effects over the last three decades, this could be a slam-dunk in terms of a new fantasy franchise for either big screen or small screen.  However, they really do need to get around the problem of Chase reappearing, post-change, wearing the same clothes as he had before a transformation. It’s probably the one element where a suspension of disbelief simply is not possible.

This really is a nostalgic booster of a series, which keeps fun at the front of the camera throughout. I dare you to try and watch it without having a smile on your face by the end of every episode.

Manimal – The Complete Series is out now from Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises.  With a running time of 426 minutes approx, and a ‘PG’ certificate, it has a RRP of £34.99, or get it for less at



Simon MacCorkindale as Jonathan Chase

Melody Anderson as Brooke McKenzie

Michael D Roberts as Tyrone C Earl (played by Glynn Turman in the Pilot Episode)

Reni Santoni as Lt Nick Rivera

William Conrad as Narrator

Last modified on Friday, 14 September 2012 08:13

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