Space: 1999

Space: 1999 (1975)
A&E Home Video
Cast: Martin Landau, Barbara Bain
Extras: Photo Gallery, Bonus Footage

Gerry Anderson surely ranks as one of the most innovative and forward-thinking television and film producers. From the Supermarionation puppetry of ’Thunderbirds’ to the live action science-fiction classic ’Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, ’ his productions have always combined fantastic special effects with strong, character-based, storylines.

’Space: 1999’ is something of a culmination of his previous work and originally aired in 1975. A live action, science fiction series, the show blends very serious drama with excellent production values and fine acting from an ensemble cast featuring husband and wife team Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. The attention to detail and determination of all involved to keep the show from becoming too campy have firmly entrenched ’Space: 1999’ as ’serious sci-fi’ and a true fan favorite.

Episode Guide

’Breakaway’ — In this pilot episode, Commander John Koening (Martin Landau) is sent to Moonbase Alpha to begin final preparations for a deep space mission to explore the rogue planet Meta, which has been sending signals indicating the presence of intelligent life. What he finds upon his arrival is that a mysterious illness has been killing astronauts and Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) suspects poisoning from the Moon’s radiation waste disposal areas. Further investigation reveals a subsurface magnetic disturbance, which, coupled with the radioactive waste, sets of a chain reaction that causes a massive explosion and launches the entire Moon out of Earth orbit on September 9, 1999. With no way to turn back, the intrepid crew sets its sights on their only possible salvation — Meta.

’A Matter of Life and Death’ — The runaway Moon crosses paths with planet Terra Nova, which seems capable of sustaining life, and Dr. Russell discovers that her husband, Lee, who she has long thought dead, is there. As Cmdr. Koening prepares to evacuate to Terra Nova, Lee warns them of impending danger and dies. As tragedy befalls the people of Moonbase Alpha, Dr. Russell again encounters her dead husband who reveals to her the secret of Terra Nova.

’The Black Sun’ — Moonbase Alpha finds itself on a collision course with a giant, burning gaseous body — a black sun which acts as a black hole and pulls everything towards it. While Professor Bergman (Barry Morse) devises an anti-gravity forcefield, Cmdr. Koening decides to launch the spacecraft Eagle as a lifeboat in attempt to save at least some of the crew. The forcefield holds but what fate has befallen the Eagle?

’Ring Around the Moon’ — Moonbase Alpha finds itself captured by a probe from the planet Triton. A strange light from the probe takes control of Dr. Russell and begins to search the base’s computers for information on Earth. Meanwhile, Bergman discovers that Triton was destroyed thousands of years ago but the probe doesn’t realize it. Can the probe be convinced of the futility of its actions before it decides to dispose of Russell and, perhaps, the entire Earth?

’Earthbound’ — A spaceship carrying aliens crash lands on the Moon. Their leader, Captain Zantor (Christopher Lee), explains that their planet, Kaldor, is dying and that his crew was sent to scout out the Earth. Commissioner Simmonds (Roy Dotrice) demands to accompany them on the final stage of their trip after repairs to their ship have been completed. While Cmdr. Koening weighs the options, Simmonds takes control of the power station and threatens to blow up the base if he isn’t allowed to go.

’Another Time, Another Place’ — The Moon is caught in a disturbance that replicates it, and its inhabitants. As the second Moon and its people dissolve in writhing agony, the people of Moonbase Alpha find that they have traveled millions of miles in mere seconds and are heading back for Earth orbit. But one crewmember warns them that the second Moon was really their own future and that the same terrible fate awaits them all.

’Space: 1999’ is presented in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The box claims that the DVD was mastered from the original 35mm film elements and the episodes do look mighty good. The fact that it was transferred from film, rather than video, surely accounts for much of the quality. The image is surprisingly sharp with strong black levels, good contrast, and accurate colors. A bit of edge enhancement is visible and the elements are marred by a few nicks and blemishes but, on the whole, I can’t imagine this series has ever looked finer.

The audio is presented in an English mono mix, split between the two front speakers. While the video is a revelation, the audio quality is, sadly, about what one would expect from a TV series of this vintage. The lack of dynamic range results in an audio mix that is, for the most part, quite flat. During some of the special effect sequences the soundtrack seems to have been juiced a bit to give it a little extra oomph. Unfortunately, the only effect this has is to cause the viewer to constantly reach for the remote control to readjust the volume. In addition, some of the dialogue has a muffled quality that renders it unintelligible. The audio is by no means bad, it just can’t compare to the work that went into preparing the video.

While not packed with extras, ’Space: 1999’ does contain a few behind the scenes photographs on each disc. The real bonus, however, is the inclusion of an extra 12 minutes or so per episode that was trimmed for the original U.S. broadcast of the series.

’Space: 1999’ as a television show has always received something of a mixed reception. Frequently lauded for its production values, which were among the highest at the time, and the consistently thought-provoking storylines, the program also benefited from acting which was far better than a program of this genre usually warranted. The complaints that are regularly leveled against the show have to do with the flat-out silliness of some of the science that it features. What many fail to realize is that science has only ever been a glorified plot device for Gerry Anderson designed to further his stories and characters. Perhaps people expect more when the same type of dialogue is uttered by human actors rather than marionettes. But, if you can check your knowledge of high school physics at the door, you will more than likely enjoy the show.

As for the DVD itself, A&E has again demonstrated their ability to take older, unique, television programs and present them in such a way as to attract old and new fans alike. The video quality is much better than anticipated and, while it hasn’t aged as well as the picture, the audio is more than serviceable. I’m sure fans of the series already have the DVDs but those with even a casual interest in good science-fiction with a bit of a retro feel should take a chance on ’Space: 1999.’