Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet Series 1 Review
You can forget about Steven Spielberg swapping the guns on the belts of his Secret Servicemen in ET for walkie-talkies. Don't even think about mentioning Apocalypse Now! Redux and for those of you out there with the Special Editions of Star Wars on the tips of your tongues, hold that thought.
No, the most audacious and daring re-imagining of a film or television show by its creator is Gerry Anderson's remaking of Captain Scarlet in CGI. Anderson is, after all, the man who made himself a legend in television production with his use of puppets in such shows as Joe 90, Stingray, Fireball XL-5 and Thunderbirds. So synonymous is he with puppets that one has a lingering suspicion that Joe Henson and Frank Oz only named their creations The Muppets to avoid comparison with the iconic Anderson. Indeed, roll the word puppets over in your mind and it'll be a surprise if you can avoid thinking of Anderson's work. As for what stands out from Anderson's long list of production credits, consider all of those television shows, even the live-action UFO and Space 1999, and one show should make its way to the top - Captain Scarlet. Of course, there are those who view Thunderbirds as Anderson's greatest moment but, personally, fifty minutes is much too long for one of Anderson's shows and neither The Hood nor International Rescue were as memorable as their reputation suggests.
Captain Scarlet, on the other hand, had it all - it was in colour, it had a terrifyingly unstoppable villain in the Mysterons and, with Captain Black, their agent on Earth and, in the shape of Spectrum, the Angels and Scarlet, memorable forces for both evil and good. The original show, broadcast in 1967, was a huge success for Anderson and even some forty or so years later, it remains a wonderful example of what Anderson was capable of. Scarlet, a deliberate study in plastic of Cary Grant, was as upright as one could be with his indestructibility lending him a particular inflexibility in his pursuit of the Mysterons. But as great as the Spectrum characters were, the Mysterons and Captain Black were the perfect villains - capable of manipulating matter from their base on Mars with Black as their man on Earth, whose vengeance knew no limits, even to imprisoning a set of bank robbers whose impersonation of the Mysterons had aroused his ire. With those voices and the green eyes that represent where their interest has fallen, the Mysterons and Black made Captain Scarlet more memorable than any of Anderson's other shows, even with what Tracey Island, Thunderbird 2 and the partnership of Lady Penelope and Parker did for Thunderbirds.
Surprisingly, though, Captain Scarlet has only been repeated intermittently and despite a thoroughly excellent DVD release in 2001, has never caught the public's imagination as has Thunderbirds. So when Anderson announced that Captain Scarlet would be remade for broadcast in 2005, there was only a subdued murmur of excitement, nothing like the anticipation that briefly welcomed Jonathon Frakes' live-action movie of Thunderbirds before the sad realisation crept in that Bill Paxton and Anthony Edwards had even less personality than Anderson's puppets. Still, there was a certain amount of excitement when Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet was broadcast on Saturday mornings earlier this year that not even its placement in the, ahem, Ministry of Mayhem could dent. Realising that they may have something approaching a success on their hands, ITV announced that they would reschedule it during the early-afternoon CITV slot later in the year, which they duly did, and Anderson himself stated that a second season of thirteen episodes would be going into production before even the entire first season had been broadcast. Whilst it all sounded very promising, does the series live up to Anderson and ITV's boasts?
The first thing that one will notice about this remake of Captain Scarlet is how short a time passes before one forgets about the CG animation. Whilst it helps that it is of such a high quality, one finds the memory of the original show, although not banished entirely, is insufficient to prevent this being a thoroughly enjoyable experience. And enjoyable it is - Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet is wonderfully thrilling children's television with each episode an blisteringly exciting twenty-two minutes. Indeed, the show rarely pauses for breath and, in that, it shares a bond with its sixties predecessor, which, unlike the more relaxed Thunderbirds, moved swiftly from the off. Equally, Gerry Anderson has ensured that many of the more memorable moments from the original show have been carried through to this - the iconic colours of Spectrum, the booming drums that link scenes, the rich baritone and creeping eyes of the Mysterons, the Angels and, of course, Captains Black and Scarlet. Anderson has been so careful with this show that one feels that there really isn't anything more that a reasonable fan - reasonable being someone who knows that the era of Anderson's pupperteering is likely to be over - could ask for. This New Captain Scarlet looks as much to the original show as it does to the future - Anderson is already talking about another CG follow-up to this - and is just superb entertainment throughout.
But for those, parents and children alike, who may have no knowledge of the original show, there's still much that appeals. Children will, of course, love the action in each episode and with such cues as the eyes of Mysteron replicants glowing green and Spectrum carefully explaining recent events and actions, they will be able to follow the storyline without any of the, "...and who's that?", which plagues the enjoyment of more complex shows. It even feels perfectly pitched such that older children and parents can appreciate the subtle connection that exists between Black and Scarlet - both were Mysteron agents at one point, leaving one able to feel the presence and state of mind of the other - as well as the feelings that exist between Scarlet and Destiny, who, before his death on Mars, was involved in a relationship with Black. It's testament to the writing in the show that this affair between Scarlet and Destiny is as believable as it is - she feels guilty over any such feelings for Scarlet and he holds back out of respect for her and for Black, his one-time friend.
Of course, there are those who take the perfectly understandable points of view to say that not only should Anderson have continued using Supermarionation (puppets) over this series' Hypermarionation (CG) but that, post-Pixar, his animation simply isn't very good. To both, I would ask that they give the show a chance - I believe that, in our hearts, we know that a Captain Scarlet that used marionettes would be laughed out of the CITV schedules by an audience of children in 2005 who'd only have seen its like in Team America. Yes, children can accept the original shows but they do so knowing that they were produced when their parents were young and can understand the lapse in technology but, equally, they would not be so forgiving with the use of marionettes in their own era unless it was a Team America-style comedy. As regards the CG animation - Anderson's team get it so right so often (Black, Scarlet, White, the Mysterons and the Spectrum hardware) that it's more than possible to overlook those few moments when they don't (Harmony and Gold's hair and the general stiffness of the CG character's movements). Anderson has never claimed to have access to the kind of money available to Pixar, Dreamworks and Blue Sky but he's worked wonders here and just as there were those who claimed this year's Dr Who took too many liberties with the show's history but who were quickly left silent by the cheers of the millions who loved the show, so too should this New Captain Scarlet win over those who doubt Anderson's approach.
For kids, though, it passes the toughest of tests - do they play make-believe with the characters once the show is over? In my experience, yes they do, assisted somewhat by the pistols given away free with the recently-launched Captain Scarlet magazine. Boys want to be Scarlet, girls to be Destiny Angel whilst yours truly was both Captain Black, which, given my love for the character, was a joy. I was, however, somewhat less enthusiastic about also having to portray Colonel White on account of, as my daughter let me know, my greying hair. Oh to have been so young now as to be a realistic Captain Scarlet. Like those of Anderson's marionettes, those days would appear to be long gone.
Instrument of Destruction, Part One: Dateline: The Day After Tomorrow! Captain Scarlet and Captain Black are en route to Mars to investigate the source of an unexplained energy transmission when their spacecraft passes through a meteor shower that compromises their hull integrity. Saving his colleague from a certain death, Captain Black pilots the Spectrum craft to Mars where he drives a Bison over the surface of the planet until he and Scarlet reach a point where they see a Martian city form before their eyes. As a glowing object is launched towards their vehicle, which could either be a probe or a missile, Black takes defensive measures and fires two missiles, which not only destroys the object but also the city. To Black and Scarlet's surprise, though, the city rebuilds itself in seconds and the Mysterons launch an attack on the Spectrum agents, killing Black and transforming Scarlet into a Mysteron agent, who they send back to Earth as their instrument of destruction.
Instrument of Destruction, Part Two: With Scarlet now back in Spectrum's fold, despite Blue's mistrust of his colleague, the two are sent to New York to work alongside the FBI in pursuit of Black. As Black is seen in the United Nations building, Spectrum suspect that he is going to assassinate Colonel White, who is scheduled to speak to the UN that afternoon and as Scarlet prevents an incident, Black moves against his real target - the Russian army chief, General Zamatev. As the Mysterons take control of Zamatev, Scarlet and Blue travel to Siberia to investigate.
Swarm: The Angels are airborne and tracking a plane that appears to be on a collision course with Skybase. As Destiny shoots it out of the sky, a strange swarm of creatures smother her aircraft, eventually breaking through the engines, which forces her to use her emergency ejector seat. Without a parachute, Destiny is freefalling to Earth, which leaves Scarlet to attempt a rescue that ends with the two of them making it back to Skybase safely But as Destiny showers, one of the tiny creatures, which was hidden in her suit and is a Mysteron tool, escapes and replicates itself rapidly, attempting to take control of Skybase.
Rat Trap: Spectrum has failed to pick up a message from Elysium, a Martian outpost run by Spectrum personnel. Under orders from Colonel White, Scarlet, Blue, Dr Gold and Angels Destiny and Harmony, leave for Mars and despite their wariness, their suspicions are aroused when missiles are fired from Elysium towards their spacecraft. Whilst they avoid injury, their ship is damaged and they crash-land twenty miles from Elysium, using a Bison to reach the outpost. When they arrive, the base appears deserted but soon, Spectrum begin turning up dead bodies and on a brief walk outside of the base, they find out why - two Spectrum Remote Acquisition Technology (RAT) robots have come under Mysteron control and are set on killing any humans they find on Mars.
The Homecoming: With shades of Quatermass, an space capsule thought lost fifteen years before is tracked entering Earth's atmosphere before landing in the Arctic. As Scarlet and Blue investigate, they find two members of the three-man crew dead before taking the third, Commander Lewis, back to Skybase, much to the surprise of Lieutenant Green, who is Lewis' daughter and had long accepted her father's death. Scarlet, though, isn't so sure that Lewis isn't a Mysteron agent and despite Dr Gold giving him the all-clear, Scarlet remains suspicious as Green escorts Lewis to a Spectrum base in Mexico.
Mercury Falling: The ISA (International Space Agency) are sending the Mercury shuttle into space with a satellite aboard that will track Mysteron energy on Mars. Piloted by Destiny and Captain Blue, they reach orbit safely but soon lose control of the craft, which appears to have been set on a new flight path that will end with Mercury crash-landing on Washington DC. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Spectrum receive a message from an unknown party holding them to ransom with Mercury as the bargaining chip and despite White remaining unconvinced about Spectrum's involvement, Scarlet isn't so sure.
Circles Of Doom: Over the English countryside, the Angels are rehearsing for an upcoming air show, alongside a team of American Top Guns and a WWII Lancaster bomber squadron, when all digital systems come under Mysteron control. As Scarlet and Blue investigate, they find a mysterious crop circle beneath a cornfield, which opens to reveal Captain Black, who issues Spectrum with a terrifying ultimatum.
Rain of Terror: Scarlet is in Africa assisting Professor Susan Todd of Hydra Laboratories with her research into assisted rainmaking and the experiment appears to be successful, so much so that after Todd dries out, they plan a celebration on Skybase. But when Todd and Scarlet arrive on Skybase, the professor panics and holds the President Vandamm of Hydra Laboratories hostage before Destiny stages a rescue that sees Todd killed as she falls in the struggle. As Scarlet and White investigate, particularly after Vandamm mentions a new assistant, they find that the Mysterons and Captain Black may have sabotaged the technology.
Skin Deep: Whilst climbing with Captain Scarlet, Destiny receives news from Skybase of being selected for the testing of a new flight system but en route to the research centre, she is captured by Black, who sends a Mysteron replicant in Destiny's place. Spectrum are not aware of this and fear that Destiny may have decided to join forces with the Mysterons with Captain Black, following him in pursuit of the relationship they once had. Under authorisation from White, Scarlet is tasked with finding out what happened to Destiny and if she really has joined the Mysterons.
Chiller: Working alone in the deserts of North America, Scarlet tracks the Mysterons to a deserted diner where they meet a Spectrum technician, Xander Story and, with sufficient funds, bribe him to bring a bomb onto Skybase. As Scarlet moves to prevent the deal taking place, he is shot and killed with the Mysterons making sure of his death by driving a petrol tanker into the diner where his body lies. Blue follows up Scarlet's last known location and brings his body back to Skybase but Scarlet, although dead, recovers enough of his consciousness to appear on Skybase and to remember what happened in the diner. Unfortunately, his body has not recovered from his injuries but Scarlet finds that he is able to move through Skybase much like a ghost but is unable to be seen or heard. But then he sees Xander Story placing the bomb in the hangar and realises that he must warm Spectrum of the imminent danger.
Trap For A Rhino: When an old woman calls the security desk at a nuclear power station in the Highlands and Islands in Scotland, having seen two bright green lights hovering above it, the report is passed to Spectrum and White issues Scarlet with orders to investigate. Scarlet remembers that Harmony is in a Spectrum training school nearby and asks that she meet him at the old woman's cottage. Harmony agrees, travelling there with a young Spectrum cadet, Johnson, but when she arrives, she finds the Mysterons have already replicated both the cadet and the old woman and that a trap awaits for Scarlet.
Heist: Something of the sacrifices made by Colonel White is revealed to us as he takes his daughter for dinner in London with Scarlet and Destiny as his guards and escorts. News come to him, though, of a stolen fighter jet heading towards a nuclear power station in Germany and he leaves with his Spectrum agents to take command of the intercept by the Angels. As his daughter, Victoria, walks home alone, she is kidnapped and White, on his return to Skybase, receives a phone call that states the demands - White must use a Spectrum Rhino to stop an armoured train whilst the kidnappers steal the $1bn in gold bullion that is on board the train. If White should fail, Victoria will be murdered.
The Achilles Messenger: Scarlet and Destiny are being trained in Scotland to be able to resist interrogation when word comes to them that their instructor, Astrid Winters, has been murdered in a car accident. Suspecting that the Mysterons are involved, Scarlet's fears are confirmed when a replicated Winters appears at the base, telling Scarlet that not all of the Mysterons agree with the war against Earth and that she is one of many who would like to see it brought to a peaceful end. As a demonstration of her goodwill she reveals the Mysterons' next strike - the World Science Congress...but can she be believed?
When reviewing children's television on DVD, one always fears that due to studios assuming that children have no interest in aspect ratios, picture quality or the soundtrack, that a shoddy transfer will suffice. It took a long time for Disney to realise that their DVD's were as much collector's items for adults as they were for children and for anamorphic widescreen transfers to become commonplace, which left one unsure as to what Granada would do with Captain Scarlet.
In the end, I shouldn't have worried - this is an astonishingly good transfer with a very impressive amount of detail in the image, superb colours and a stable picture that's almost flawless. Seen on a big screen, through a digital connection and the picture quality is absolutely stunning, with there appearing to the next to no digital noise, even up very close. Of course, the number of discs certainly helps - this boxset of Captain Scarlet contains four discs for thirteen twenty-five minute episodes - but, still, I doubt if I have ever seen a better quality picture from an original digital source.
The audio track is just as good with the DVD containing both the 2.0 Stereo soundtrack as used for the television broadcasts as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Rather than this being an upmix from the stereo source, it would appear that it's the other way around - the 5.1 track being how Captain Scarlet was meant to sound with the stereo track being created for analogue broadcasts. Both are excellent, however, with the 5.1 nudging it for great use of the rear channels and the subwoofer. In particular, the sword fight between Scarlet and Lewis in The Homecoming has the clash of rapiers bouncing around whilst any flyby from the Angels simply fills the room.
Audio Commentary on Instrument Of Destruction, Part I: Supervising Director David Lane and actor Wayne Forester, who is recognisably the voice of Captain Scarlet, feature together in a commentary on the first episode of the series. This only touches upon the series as a whole, preferring, instead to offer scene-specific comments on the episode. After a very slow start - Forester is entirely silent for the first minute - the pair warm up and, by the end, actually sound to be having fun.
Audio Commentary on Instrument Of Destruction: Series creator and television legend Gerry Anderson has contributed a very interesting commentary that is much less interested in the specifics of the two episodes - much less so than that of Lane and Forester - in favour of the background and re-imagining of the series. Along the way, Anderson reveals almost everything that a fan could want to know about the background of the show including his thoughts on the Mysterons, the vehicles in the show, the characters and the challenges he faced on producing this updated show.
Photo Galleries: Three groups of still images are included in this DVD release - Craft, Environment and Characters. Unsurprisingly, Craft details the Raid bike, the Cheetah car, the Angel Falcon Interceptors and the Rhino, amongst others whilst Characters includes only Scarlet, Destiny and Black. Each gallery includes a mix of sketches and final renderings.
Promo's And Trailer (4m30s): This is a short collection of eight promos of various lengths from CITV and elsewhere signaling the return of Captain Scarlet.
Production Tour (5m30s): Voiced by Wayne Forester in the character of Captain Scarlet, this is a very short feature on what is involved in the production of an episode, including motion capture and the final rendering as well as Anderson's involvement in the show.
Motion Capture Feature (2m50s): Narrated once again by Wayne Forester - out of character this time - this describes what is involved in the motion capture of live actors to provide a basis for the CG animation, using The Achilles Messenger as an example. As David Lane explains in his commentary for Instrument Of Destruction, motion capture was only used sparingly in the beginning but, in the end, was responsible for as much as 95% of the character animation in an episode. With The Achilles Messenger being the final episode in the series, it is a good example to have used and this compares the live action sequences with those following the final rendering of the animation.
Like the recent season of Dr Who on BBC, this is just perfect family television. It has action, unrequited love, murder, sci-fi, revenge and a grand ambition that is all too rare in family entertainment. Indeed, what should appeal to many older viewers is that many of its twenty-five minute episodes are convincingly tense horrors that owe much to classic and modern sci-fi - the similarities between The Homecoming, Trap For A Rhino and Rat Trap to Quatermass, Quatermass II and The Red Planet, respectively, are quite startling. Indeed, Rat Trap does a much better job of creating a terrifyingly tense atmosphere than most horror movies, including the similar John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars.
Yet in the end, it comes down to this simply being great television and how well it will be remembered as such. Those of us who have fond memories of television shows from our youth must bemoan the state of children's television today. Where are the shows to stand alongside those of twenty or so years ago, including those of Gerry Anderson? Try as they might, not even the Blue Peter presenters of today are close to Lesley Judd, Peter Purves and everyone's favourite, John Noakes.
But this New Captain Scarlet is arguably a show to stand alongside the very best of those from years past. That it will be remembered as fondly as the original Captain Scarlet goes without saying but I would also argue that, twenty or thirty years from now, it will be talked about by those children watching it now as we do The Box Of Delights, Battle Of The Planets and Ulysses 31. And there exist few recommendations for children's television that come higher than that from this viewer.