Sunday, January 11, 2015

Supercar: "Rescue" (1961)

A pilot named flies his brother Jimmy, and a pet monkey, Mitch, over the sea in a small plane.

Before long, however, the flight turns terrifying when the engines fail.  The plane goes down in the ocean, and the British navy attempts a rescue, but to no avail. 

Far away, in a secret laboratory, Mike Mercury waits impatiently as Professor Popkiss and Dr. Beaker run an experimental flying vehicle, Supercar, through its final tests.

Mike pushes them to allow a launch immediately, to effect a rescue at sea, but the scientists are reluctant to rush the process.

Finally, it is time to fly, and Mike launches Supercar into the skies. He effects a rescue of the crash survivors, now treading water in a tiny raft. Billy has a broken leg, but he and his family are otherwise well, and owe their survival to…Supercar!

Gerry Anderson’s Supercar series is introduced in “The Rescue,” a half-hour episode of relative simplicity, and a somewhat slow pace by today’s standards.

The star of the show is Supercar herself: a retro-futuristic flying plane/car/submarine combo. We watch in the episode as the rocket engines are tested, and Mike puts the vehicle through other paces too, including wing retraction and cockpit pressurization.  

Viewers are also introduced to the wonders of “clear view,” a kind of wide angle lens view of the terrain ahead of the vehicle.  This is useful when Supercar is racing through the sky at incredible speeds, but the pilot must still know what's in the flight path.

This series, much like other Gerry Anderson ventures, also presents a mix of puppetry (Supermarionation!) and complex miniatures, cross-cut with views of the real sea and sky.  The puppets move about on elaborate sets, and we get a good, lingering view at Supercar’s fantastic dashboard at one point.  It's all incredibly retro tech.

Similarly, Supercar’s launch is charted with elaborate, meticulous detail in "The Rescue."  The roof of the hanger opens, and Supercar utilizes “vertical take-off technology” (like a Harrier jet) to reach the sky.  It’s all impressively rendered, even if the quasi-comedic activities of the scientist begin to grate on the nerves after a while.

And does the series really need a monkey mascot?

Supercar itself was heralded in its theme song as “the wonder of the age,” and “The Rescue” doesn’t quite live up to that grandiose description. The vehicle is awesome, for certain, but the story is pretty run-of-the-mill: a simple rescue (just as the title promises...) without even a colorful villain to rush matters along.

Episode two -- “The Lost City” -- rectifies that problem, and immediately lands Supercar in all kinds of colorful sci-fi trouble.

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