Quatermass Blu-ray Review
Urban decay, gang warfare and old farts saving the day - Kneale's idea was clear
Movies reviewSRP: £20.00
Quatermass Series Review
Huffity, puffity, Ringstone Round
If you lose your hat it will never be foundIt’s the near future. A retired Professor Quatermass lives as a near recluse in Scotland. However, when his granddaughter disappears he hijacks a live science TV show broadcasting the Russian and American joint space effort with the intent of searching for her. When things take a sudden turn for the worst, he becomes a focal point for scorn and together with the astronomer Joe Kapp, retreats through the decaying, gang-war infested cityscape to the countryside where bands of mindless young Planet People worship the ancient monolithic circles. When the youngsters gather and a mysterious lightning from the sky appears causing their disappearance, Quatermass suspects foul play. Could the disastrous space mission and the disappearances be related? Could the Planet People’s ideas of transportation to Utopia be coming true? Or is there an altogether more sinister origin?These questions are poised by writer Nigel Kneale in the fourth televisual outing for the rocket scientist. The idea of today’s youth being culled was a gritty enough idea, pit that with a decaying human race, inner city squalor, gang warfare and Quatermass, himself, searching for a lost relative things were looking good for the show. Sadly even though there was so much good – money was fine, sets were extensive, decent talent in front of and behind the camera, it was Kneale’s own script that would be the downfall. It just wasn’t up to his previous efforts. The whole thing plays out as a grumpy old man moaning about the state of today. He deals with the decay of the urban environment and youths locked in gang warfare, while the older generation live underground. So having old farts save the day while the youth wistfully give up their lives, just hammers home what was really going through his mind!
Picture QualityThe discs presents a broadcast correct fullscreen 1.33:1 and widescreen 1.78:1 for the TV and film versions respectively both using the AVC codec and are Region locked to B. Whilst both TV and film version have gone through the same HD re-mastering, for the purposes of this review I will concentrate on the serial, as that is the way most people have seen it.
For the most part this is a very pleasing image, detail is very good; skin has decent texture, Mills’ aged face and windswept sideburns have never been so wild. Clothing has discernible weaves, be it the Planet People’s attire or the street gang colours, for example. The extensive location shooting landscapes look very nice indeed with grasslands, forestry and inner city degradation all holding neat fine lines. The instrumentation of the TV studio or the tracking satellite station is crisp enough to turn on. The downside is the slightly dodgy paint job given to the monolithic stones which all look rather fake.
For the most part this is a very pleasing image, detail is very good.
Colouring is reasonably strong and vibrant considering the source, with greens fairing the best (the grasslands surrounding the stone circles are fine examples), though blues and reds are no slouch. Flesh tones are somewhat thin, but look natural enough, perfectly in keeping with the time and filming type.
Brightness and contrast are set to give good solid black levels which add some decent punch to the picture, check out the geriatric underground hideout which includes some nice examples of shadow detail as well. However, the photography never seriously pushed depth into the frame and no amount of black level will help to push what isn’t there.
Digitally there are no compression issues or any edge enhancement; I spotted one brief glimpse of banding, but otherwise there is nothing to spoil the view. The original print has cleaned up beautifully with no damage, wavering or tramlines; indeed there is virtually no grain and this is not a DNR issue, it’s just a clean crisp image. However the whole thing does reek of 70’s TV image; frame composition and lighting fail to give any sense of grandeur to the image – this is not a failing of the transfer, it’s just how it is or to put it simply, it’s how it should be. I also loved the fact the each episode started with the Thames Television logo, brought back many a memory. Also retains the ad break title cards, from which the limited edition cover artwork is modelled.
Sound QualitySound tracks are: English LPCM 1.0, DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround and LPCM music only. The surround track is nicely clear and reasonably separated both in terms of wideness of effect and height within the mix giving rise to a decent listening experience. Effects are limited to vehicles, riots and the alien beam but all serve the visuals well. Dialogue is clear and precisely directed from the front and never lost in the mix. The enigmatic score is layered well, never becoming overpowering and uses all the speakers well. There is some slight ambience from the surrounds, but not much, indeed the whole thing is loaded towards the front – but at least it doesn't sound artificial. Bass is, expectedly, somewhat lacking, but only a few effects and the bottom end of the score waking the sub up; and at the top end there is never any shrillness – though I did hear some odd sibilance but I suspect this is inherent in the original recording. There are no pops or cracks, neither is there any background hiss.
The original mono track sounds just as cleaned up as the surround and indeed is also very well layered with dialogue, effects and score all sharing a decent level and all coming across clearly and coherently. The lack of separation does limit the track somewhat, but switching between this and the surround shows how good it is in terms of definition and dynamics. Either track is worth listening to, and whilst I preferred the wider aspect of the 5.1 track, your own choice may vary.
ExtrasRather limited, unfortunately.
HD restoration of The Quatermass Conclusion – The feature film version of the TV series, compiled at the same time using ‘clever scripting and filming’ – uses slightly different dialogue, a number of different scenes and the sound track appears original and not looped (according to the paperwork – though I dipped in and out of it and it seemed fine); it’s also only LPCM 2.0 mono. The re-framing to 1.78:1 gives the film a bit of a cramped image losing even more depth because of it; would love to see this one remade by the new Hammer!
Music-only tracks – All four episodes
Episode recaps – Note episode two's recap is mute.
Textless titles – The titles, with no text!
Image Gallery – Production and other stills.
Trailer – Again mute.
Viewing Notes – A booklet by archive TV historian Andrew Pixley tells the history of the Quatermass character, the BBC origins and how this TV serial came to be made (does contain spoilers, read after viewing if you’ve not seen the show), the production history, filming, critical assessment and home video releases.
Limited Edition Artwork – There are four different coloured artworks available for a limited time in this first pressing, after they are sold out the artwork reverts to the DVD cover – mine was green.
Quatermass Blu-ray VerdictQuatermass is the late 70’s TV serial written by creator of the character Nigel Kneale in this fourth televisual outing for the rocket scientist. Previously Quatermass was central to the action driving the story forward, but here he is relegated to a bystander only interested in his missing granddaughter, and everything that occurs is a consequence of him just happening to be around. However, with a series named Quatermass, you need the character central – perhaps called into London, despite the decay, to comment on the space disaster and subsequent lightning activity, drawing upon his vast knowledge and previous expertise in space phenomenon to devise a plan to combat it, while battling with his missing granddaughter and the need to find her – the inner conscience of wanting to save one when the whole world is at stake could have been a far more dramatic narrative for the show (and a neat new direction), but instead we have something that better resembles a damp squib.
There is some value in the production which are, for 70’s science fiction, pretty good and the extensive location shooting does give the show a much larger feel. Yet even at only four episodes, so much feels like padding; the cut-down film version works better in this regard but that looks like, even with a theatrical aspect ratio, exactly what it is – a TV film. I would love to see this remade by the new Hammer studio though! In the end the show does remain a curiosity, completest will have to have it, others will probably take or leave it as they please.
As a Blu-ray set, Network has created a decent enough package.
As a Blu-ray set, Network has created a decent enough package – both TV and film version are presented on separate discs, both having been extensively re-mastered with a bright, clean picture, free from damage, well coloured and looking fine. The TV version has a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track that is clean, clear, well layered and precise but with little surround in the environment or bass, and both the TV and film versions have their original 2.0 mono tracks which sound just as clear and precise. The extras package is a little weak, however. Nevertheless it should find a home with those that remember the time it was broadcast.
You can buy Quatermass on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £20.00
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