Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Title Sequence (Year One)

Early in our Breakaway Day 2015 (and 40th anniversary celebration of Space:1999) I want to look back at the artistic and effective montage from Year One.

The montage commences with two opposing or mirror-image shots.  

In the first, we see black-sleeved, black-haired star Martin Landau against a white backdrop. The lettering of his name is in black, like his "command' rank sleeve. He stands on the right side of the frame.

This shot is then "reflected" by its opposite: the second frame. We meet white-sleeved, blond-haired Barbara Bain, playing Helena Russell.  The lettering for her name is white, and the background is black.  She is perched on the far left-hand side of the frame.

I have always admired the artistry of these opening portraits, as they paint a profile in opposites.  

And -- though lensed in color -- these images seem to maintain the almost black-and-white visual palette of Space: 1999.  Inside Alpha we see many "whites."  Outside Alpha, we see the black depths of space.

Together these two inaugural images (and these two characters) seem to form a yin-yang of sorts.  

That's appropriate, because as Commander, Landau's character must worry about the safety of everyone on Moonbase Alpha, sometimes even sacrificing individuals for the greater good.  

By contrast, as Alpha's doctor, Helena Russell is very concerned with the lives of the Alphans on an individual basis.  Each and every life is important to her, one might say.  

These two people are not merely co-workers on the series, then, but in some way representative of clashing or mirror-image philosophies about humanity.

These initial compositions not only introduce the series stars (playing Commander Koenig and Doctor Helena Russell, respectively), they are also scored to Barry Gray's portentous, neo-classical music. 

There's a feeling of grandeur to the orchestration, and of anticipation too...of wonders yet to come.

This sense of grandeur reaches a magnificent crescendo with the series title card, which appears next in the sequence.  

We see in all-caps block lettering the words: "Space:1999."  

Again, consider how much of the imagery here is black against white. The title stands out stongly against the black space-scape, and the title seems to trail or end in just one outcropping of "human" coloring: a blue planet.

From the musical crescendo or zenith, we suddenly cycle down musically, and that cycling down is accompanied by the image of an Eagle space-craft plummeting to the lunar surface, the home of Moonbase Alpha and the focal point of the series.  

But when the Eagle crashes in a colorful and spectacular explosion, we leave behind the classical musical arrangement for a more modern, rock-inspired tune.  

This change, suddenly, from stateliness and order to acceleration and rhythm not only delivers an electric jolt to the senses, it suggests that standard or traditional formats (exploring the stateliness and order of space, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey) are about to be deliberately abrogated.  

The change in theme music styles, in other words, heralds the notion that we are about to witness something mind-altering, and entirely unique.

Next, we get fast-paced, startling "jump cuts" after a title card which reads "This Episode."  Every week at this point, new footage is added to the introductory montage at a rapid-fire, almost lightning pace. 

These individual images showcase startling alien landscapes, amazing visual special effects, and characters in tremendous peril...and all in quick bursts that generate excitement and further anticipation.

The "This Episode" section of the Year One montage always gets my blood pumping, and makes me more excited to see the story that is about to air.  As a child watching the series in first run, I always wondered how all the amazing imagery was going to fit together, and what it would all mean.  

The technique of a "This Episode" montage was later incorporated into Battlestar Galactica (2003 - 2008), as a deliberate tribute to Space:1999, and it had much the same impact there.  

Following the dynamic and quick-cut shots of the episode in question, the orchestral stateliness and classicism of the Barry Gray theme re-asserts itself and we promptly meet another series star:: Barry Morse as Victor Bergman.  

This shot is a perfect encapsulation of his very human character, as Bergman leans forward with curiosity to examine some byzantine, high-tech device.  The image captures both his thoughtfulness and his desire for knowledge.

Next, we register grand vistas of the cosmos in title cards for producer and executive producer, Sylvia and Gerry Anderson, respectively.  These amazing images capture the grandeur of space, especially since they feature more of the quasi-classical music.

Next up, the rock-riffs return with a vengeance, and we witness a space-age re-cap of the series premise: the moon is blasted out of Earth orbit.  

First we get in big block lettering, the date of the disaster: September 13, 1999. The anticipation to the disaster is all the greater because the date is separated into three rapid-fire images.  

The date is also important in and of itself.

Thirteen is an unlucky number, of course.  

And 1999 is a year that represents the end: the turn of the Millennium.  

Many critics have suggested that the series title Space:1999 apes 2001: A Space Odyssey, at least in terms of nomenclature.  That may be an accurate description, but the two dates could not be more different.  

The year 1999 pins Space:1999 as a fin de siècle program, and therefore as an ending of sorts (for humanity on Earth).  

By contrast, the year 2001 portends a beginning: the first year of the 21st century and the commencement of a new age for man and the Star Child.

Next up, we see a "shock and awe" a montage of the atomic waste dumps on the lunar surface exploding, and the impact of this catastrophe on technicians dwelling inside Moonbase Alpha.

Then the unthinkable -- and the impossible? -- occurs.  The moon breaks out of Earth's orbit and careens into deep space. 

I love this next shot -- of a computer short-circuiting -- because it encompasses for me a key aspect of the Anderson series.  

Although the image is brief and hard to suss out at first, it seems a perfect metaphor for the 1999 premise.  

Man creates a disaster (the explosions at the nuclear waste dumps) and must figure out  a way to handle it himself, because even his tools can't help him undo what has occurred.  In "Breakaway," the computer reports that "Human Decision" is "Required" in terms of a path of action for the Alphans, and in some way, this quick shot of a short-circuiting computer carries the self-same message.

The Alphans are headed into new, unexplored terrain where their human wisdom -- or lack thereof -- will be tested again and again. Their computer, no doubt a useful tool, is not going to be the oracle of wisdom or knowledge they might hope in the situations they find themselves broaching; situations beyond human understanding and learning.

Finally, we depart the montage with images of the moon leaving (tiny) Earth in the distance.  

Notice that in this composition, the moon approaches the camera.  It is thus approaching us, the viewer. 

That's a nice visual way of indicating that we will be riding with the Alphans on every step of their journey. We too are leaving Earth behind and headed into unexplored terrain.

Below, you can see the dazzling, original Space:1999 introductory montage as it appeared for the first three episodes of the series. 

In this version, Barry Morse's title card accompanies imagery not of the delightful actor, but of a cosmic vista.

1 comment:

  1. Still one of the greatest title sequences in television history. It still excites me as it did as a boy in '75+.