Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Home Video Evolution of Space:1999

Four episodes released on VHS in 1990 by J2 Communications

Entire series released on laserdisc from J2, early 1990s.

Columbia House VHS "Collector's Edition," 1990

A& E "Megaset," Entire Series, 2002.



The complete series on DVD, 2007.

Year 1 Blu Ray, 2010

Space: 1999 (1975 - 1977) didn't run for long originally: just two seasons, 48 episodes.  Yet it has survived and experienced quite the afterlife, at least from a certain standpoint. 

In particular, episodes of Space:1999 have been released on VHS twice, on laserdisc, on DVD (in two editions) and finally Blu Ray over the decades, an honor bestowed upon few science fiction TV series other than Star Trek, X-Files and Dr. Who, I think.

Across the years -- to my wife's dismay -- I've purchased every single 1999 episode set, from the Columbia House "Collector's Edition" VHS to the 2010 Blu Ray of Year One.  That either makes me a sucker, or just a very big fan of the program.  Or possibly both.

I can tell you with great fondness that I purchased my first laserdisc player -- a Pioneer model -- so I could play all 24 episode "volumes" of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson series back in the 1990s.  That laserdisc player, my last one, finally gave up the ghost a few weeks ago, leaving me a vast laserdisc collection without a player.  Still, I've used and abused that laserdisc player since Christmas of 1993, so it lasted almost seventeen years.  R.I.P.

I've recently begun watching Space:1999 again on Blu Ray while I write the next officially licensed novel of the new Powys series -- Space:1999 - The Whispering Sea -- and if anyone is holding off I can only say this: get the Blu-Ray now. 

I have never seen the series look so crisp, so well-lit, so abundantly and magnificently detailed.  I feel almost as though I am watching the series again for the first time, and that's a pretty nifty trick given how many times I've seen these shows.  So far, I've watched "Guardian of Piri," "The Infernal Machine" and "The Metamorph" (the bonus Year 2 episode on the set), and I'm very, very impressed.  It isn't an exaggeration to state that the picture quality is absolutely stunning.


18 comments:

  1. WOW. I'm really excited about watching it based on your thoughts here.

    Speaking of volumes, it speaks volumes about the evolution of media and how much the media has changed and gotten better along with technology. I always find that fascinating. I wish there was someway they could have skipped right to blu-ray when I was younger, but alas we had to crawl before we could walk.

    The young today are really privy to some of the best technology.

    Anyway, good luck with The Whispering Sea.

    I can't wait to see the Blu-Ray. I do have it. I got it at 49.99. I saw it on sale recently on Amazon for 41.99. No time to waste now.

    By the way, I, too, had a laserdisc player. Gosh those were the days. It was a seemingly short run and looking back the quality wasn't that great compared to Blu-Ray or DVD, but there was something about watching my music video compilations [Frankie, Spandau, etc.] on a vinyl sized disc.

    Neat post and a great way to look at the evolution of media. Cheers John. SFF.

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  2. Anonymous3:43 PM

    "That either makes me a sucker, or just a very big fan of the program. Or possibly both."

    My husband can so sympathize with your wife!

    I agree, the Blu-Ray set is phenomenal. You can finally appreciate the incredible amount of care that went into the detailing of the sets. And yes, while you can see more 'wires' on the models, the sheer quality of the model and SFX work holds up remarkably.

    Looking forward to your next Powys novel. Any hints as to when we can expect it?

    ~~ Meredith

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  3. Hi everyone,

    SFF: You won't be disappointed with the Year One Blu Ray. I can keep on gushing, but it wouldn't be enough in this case. The picture quality is absolutely astounding. ASTOUNDING. Seriously, you are in for a treat!

    I loved my laserdisc player back in the day. Seriously, I will miss it. Glad to know that you also had one...and you are right, the size was awesome -- vinyl-sized discs, etc. I actually had all of Space:1999, all the Star Wars films, all the Star Trek movies and more on laserdisc, and I still enjoy the "album"-styled/sized artwork.

    Hi Meredith! Sounds like we're in the same boat. My wife likes Space:1999 very much, but she has watched it with me so many times that I'm afraid it doesn't hold much appeal for her anymore. But the Blu Ray...my goodness. Gorgeous. As you said -- "phenomenal." That's the best word for it.

    "The Whispering Sea" ought to be published this year, in 2011, I think. I'm very close to turning it in. It's a Year Two story set between "The Metamorph" and "The Exiles," and which reveals some of Maya's difficulties transitioning to Moonbase Alpha.

    All my best to you both,

    John

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  4. A Maya story. oooh, nice. Very nice.

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  5. John:

    Add me to the list of laserdisc buyers solely for Space:1999 - OK, maybe in reality I wanted an excuse to buy a laserdisc player, but still. :)

    Unfortunately, the 2 VHS releases were incomplete.

    A few questions:

    1) will you be doing some blu-ray episode reviews or perhaps some sort of overview?

    2) any thoughts about re-releasing your Space:1999 book? Perhaps with all new material?

    3) I always thought your talk at Main Mission 2000 (Space 1999 as art) should be recorded for posterity. Any chance we'll see a book or video version of that seminar?

    Anthony

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  6. Hello everybody,

    SFF: Yes, a Maya story. I really adore the character, and Catherine Schell's performances. So this is a chance to explore a chapter of 1999 history not yet seen or described...

    Hi Tony Island:

    Good questions!

    1.)I will definitely be looking closer at the Blu Rays, doing episode reviews as cult tv flashbacks over the year.

    2.)I would love to update my Space:1999 book (it was written in 1994!) but I have not yet been given the opportunity to do so. The book as it stands is still selling so well (in print and on Kindle) that there's been no commercial impetus for a second edition in something like 15 years! But since I wrote the book, I interviewed Brian Johnson, Johnny Byrne, Kevin Connor, Martin Landau and others, plus I've written "The Horror Mythology of Space:1999" and other posts here that look at the series in other ways. So I would love to do that if the opportunity arose...

    3.) I have a video recording of that seminar somewhere, and maybe I should transcribe it and post it here?

    Thanks for the great comments!

    best,
    JKM

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  7. Yeah, I was in for everything save for the Columbia House VHS sets, still have the VHS poster somewhere. In fact, the first VHS tape I ever bought was "Destination Moonbase Alpha", still have it.

    I was eyeing the Blu Ray set the other day, I plan to explain to my wife how much space we'll save when I get rid of the A&E DVD sets...

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  8. Hi Plaidstallions,

    That's a good plan!

    And my goodness, that's right, I totally forgot how Space:1999 was first released on VHS in "movie" format with titles like "Cosmic Princess," "Destination Moonbase Alpha" and "Alien Attack!," all episode compilations. Sybil Danning introduced one set, and was really, really awful...making cracks about "the dark side of the moon," etc.

    By the way, I totlly love your blog! I check it out all the time.

    best,
    JKM

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  9. Thanks John, I can totally return the compliment.

    I actually collect those ITC Comp movies on VHS and just recently got the Danning "Alien Attack" (for a buck!). Rumour back in the day that Landau/Bain got those pulled, ever heard that?

    Still searching for a copy of Invasion UFO...

    Cheers,
    Brian

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  10. Hi Plaidstallions,

    I never heard that Bain and Landau had the Danning version of the compilation ovie pulled, but I can understand their dismay. Those introductions were more over-the-top than Elvira's, and more than a little insulting to a series that originally aspired to Kubrickian levels in effects and storytelling. I'd love to know the details, if the story is true...

    Invasion UFO, -- wow I'd love to get my hands on that one too!

    best,
    JKM

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  11. Anonymous4:02 PM

    The 'compilation' movies of Space:1999 weren't particularly great (awkward editing and mixing of music, and the hideous new title sequence for 'Destination Moonbase Alpha'), but they did lead to one wonderful extra...the 'theatrical' posters for the films. Ever since I saw Chantrell's poster for 'Destination Moonbase Alpha' in an old Starlog, I've wanted a full size copy of one. The artwork for 'Alien Attack' and 'Cosmic Princess' are great too!

    JKM, it would be nice to see your thoughts on 'Space:2099'. Many fans have wondered what digital improvements to the eps might look like. 'Space:2099' gives some idea of what can be done. For me, I would most like to see some digital 'wire removal' to efx scenes where the wires are distractingly obvious.

    It's hard to think of any show of the same age that looks so great in high definition!

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  12. I got the Blu-ray A&E set for Christmas, but It will be a couple of weeks before I get my Blu-ray drive installed so I can watch them on my PC (no HDTV yet).

    I also bought this series over and over again over the years - I bought a few random laserdiscs, as well as the Columbia House tapes, and I even remember renting the J2 communications episodes. And of course the Network and A&E DVD sets.

    I have also heard that Landau and Bain pulled the "Alien Attack" VHS. I actually own the VHS complete in the original box (great artwork). I also have the compilation films on DVD.

    I remember Invasion:UFO too - that is how I first discovered UFO. I came across it at a video store ages ago, and I thought it looked cool so I rented it. I loved UFO ever since. That's also how I discovered Thunderbirds - I stumbled onto the compilation tapes "Thunderbirds in Outer Space" and "Thunderbirds are Go!". I was a fan of Space:1999 since I was like 6 though.

    John, I would also love to see your Main Mission 2000 talk on Space:1999 as art. I was there for that, and very much enjoyed it, and would love to see it again. If there's any possible way for you to make it available for us, it would be very much appreciated.

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  13. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the great comment!

    You are in for a big treat when you see 1999 on Blu Ray. I'm not exaggerating: the jump in picture quality is astounding. I've never seen an improvement on this scale, and I watch a lot of Blu rays now!

    You and I are both Space:1999 fans from childhood, I see! Excellent. It certainly had a powerful impact on me, and the development of my imagination. It's my first entertainment love, and nothing has yet surpassed it for me.

    About that lecture: I think I have a video tape recording somewhere, but I don't know that I have the legal right to broadcast it, honestly, or I would do it in a heartbeat. I'm not sure who owns the right, to tell you the truth.

    But I do own the text of my own seminar, however, so I could either transcribe it and present it as a blog post, or re-shoot it today, in front of a green screen or something with examples, and get it out there that way. If there seems to be real interest in the seminar, I'd be happy to do either. I have great memories of that Con and Breakaway, and a weekend spent with friends and fellow fans, and in the company of the great man, Johnny Byrne.

    Thank you for a wonderful comment.

    best,
    JKM

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  14. Anonymous:

    I love those posters too! I actually have a Destination Moonbase Alpha image (cut from the back of some magazine) framed in my office.

    I also agree with you about the Blu Ray. Space:1999 looks amazing in this format, but this is because it was crafted with an eye towards the artistic and cinematic in the first place.

    As you say, other TV shows from the same period just can't compare. That's because they weren't as beautiful and well-shot to begin with (case in point, Star Trek: The Next Generation).

    Now, about Space:2099. I applaud the talents behind this initiative for their ingenuity and dedication (not to mention technical prowess...). They clearly love the show and their work is nothing short of amazing.

    As long as the original shows still exist, I see nothing wrong with fans expressing their love for the series by updating it in this fashion and giving us an alternate view.

    best,
    JKM

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  15. cover and the presentation of Sybil Danning on my blog
    http://forgottensilver.wordpress.com/2009/10/06/sybill-danning-vous-recommande-ce-film/

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  16. Anonymous9:53 PM

    The laserdisc set did not include the entire series; The Bringers of Wonder was omitted. So there were in fact 23 discs released (though there was a 16 mm version of disc #2 released unnumbered, I believe before the 23 disc set release).

    Mateo

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  17. John:

    Definitely transcribe or otherwise re-do/post that seminar. With the blu-rays, you can really see the angles, etc. That is, the clarity of the images allows you to appreciate more fully the things you were pointing out.

    As you mention in the seminar, most (all?) of Year 1's directors were also movie directors who knew how to frame a scene. And I would assume many of them had worked on 1.33 aspect movies thus the TV 1.33 aspect ratio was comfortable for them to work with.

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  18. Hi Tony Island,

    I'll do it then! The more I think about, the more I think it will be fun and worthwhile. And I agree with you: the grounding in cinema by Year One Directors is part of the reason why the series holds up so beautifully.

    Thanks for the comment and encouragement!

    best,
    JKM

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