Now animated in impressive and dramatic CGI (or what the series nostalgically terms "Hypermarionation,") Gerry Anderson's classic supermarionation program Captain Scarlet (1967) has received a glossy, high-tech twenty-first century re-boot.
As in the original series, this 2005 effort revolves around an top-secret organization called SPECTRUM and the continuing efforts to defeat an extra-terrestrial menace, the Mysterons..."a deadly threat to Earth's security" that in today's world seems highly reminiscent of the "terror" threat from sleeper cells and the like. In this sense, the new series feels more timely than the 1967 one, which came during the James Bond craze and was an unofficial sequel of shorts to the submarine program, Stingray.
Captain Scarlet focuses particularly on the adventures of stolid Captain Paul Scarlet (yes, each SPECTRUM agent is assigned a color as a kind of "code name"...), the only survivor of an ill-fated trip to Mars. After detecting a strange signal on the surface of the red planet, Paul and his fellow officer, Conrad Leekon (Captain Black) end up inadvertently destroying a super-advanced Mysteron metropolis.
"This is the voice of the Mysterons," the aliens tell the duo soon after the incident. "We have watched you for centuries. Your violence disgusts us and now you visit it upon us...We will crush your world."
And so the next long war involving mankind begins, with SPECTRUM HQ housed aboard a hovering aircraft carrier of sorts called Skybase and protected by fighter pilots termed "Angels." At first, Scarlet is sent back to Earth as an indestructible Mysteron agent ("You will be our instrument of destruction," the Mysterons tell him...) , but after a sabotage attempt in Sky Base's engineering section, Paul shakes the influence. Later, Dr. Gold tells Scarlet that his DNA has been altered at a subatomic level. He's not a clone, but Scarlet has been "genetically retrometabolizing."
Black is not so lucky; and he becomes the perpetual nemesis on the series....hatching one plan of destruction after the other. In the first two-parter, we see him teaming up with another Mysteron agent, a captain of industry from Trans Global, a corporation with Halliburton-like breadth.
In so many ways, the new Captain Scarlet feels like a holdover from the optimistic late 1960s and early 1970s. Inherent in the series' central story arc is the steadfast belief that we can not only compete technologically with the formless Martian enemies, but actually prevail in that battle. Edited with a sense of hyperactivity, the series - like many Gerry Anderson classics - boasts amazing vehicle designs and plenty of effects shots of vehicles launching, racing and landing. All this material is incredibly impressive.
The new Captain Scarlet, at least in its first two part episode, is so energetic that it iactually proves exhausting at times. There are more techie treats here than the viewer can shake a stick at: transforming space craft, escape pods crash landings, a sky-diving chase replete with a flying motorcycle, vehicles spinning on ice in Siberia, under fire from giant tanks, and the inevitable ticking clock finale, which finds Captain Black threatening to destroy the world with stolen fuel rods that could "blow the planet in half."
All this, and there's time for fetching squadron leader Destiny Angel to experience a crisis of faith too. If only the writers found time for her to reprise the famous UFO astronaut striptease from "Identified." Yes, Destiny is one hot CGI babe...
Also - again like many Gerry Anderson series - there's a shortage of realistic character development in this action-packed opener, but ultimately that's okay. Future episodes get the balance right, and this two-parter serves as a James-Bondian-type re-introduction to the world of SPECTRUM. Some people will miss the puppets, no doubt, but David Lane's direction is so fast-paced, nostalgia is an afterthought, I think. If I were twelve-years old today, and I switched the channel to Captain Scarlet, I would be absolutely spellbound. The series is faithful but not slavish to the source material, and very well-done.
The next episode...."Swarm."