“Space: 1999 – The Complete Series” (1975-1977, Shout! Factory) The crew of a scientific research station is marooned in deep space when a nuclear explosion sends the Moon out of Earth’s orbit and into the path of alien civilizations both hostile and benign. British-Italian science fiction series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson of “Thunderbirds” fame and starring married American ex-pats Martin Landau and Barbara Bain won a small but dedicated following through a combination of mature scripting (at least, in its first season) and production values that included special effects by Brian Johnson (“Alien”), first season costumes by Rudi Gernreich (whose fashions are currently on display at the Skirball), outer space funk scores by Barry Gray (S1) and Derek Wadsworth (S2), and guests like Ian McShane, Billie Whitelaw, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Joan Collins. Unfortunately, the Andersons’ emphasis on quality without concern for expense would spell its demise, even with a second season turn towards more adventure stories and the addition of a Spock-like character, Catherine Schell’s shapeshifting alien, Maya. The show’s ambitions remain its chief attraction – in its best moments, it equals the thoughtful, socially consciousness writing in the “Star Trek” franchise and exciting, suspenseful science fiction – and Shout! Factory’s sprawling Complete Series set pays homage to these efforts by presenting the entire two-season run on 12 Blu-rays which feature commentary on specific episodes by Gerry Anderson and author Anthony Taylor, as well as countless production photos. There’s also an entire Blu-ray devoted to special features, including new interviews with Bain, Sylvia Anderson, and director Kevin Connor, archival conversations with most of the cast and crew, and numerous galleries and featurettes on everything from promotional merchandise and exhibitions to bubble gum and cigarette cards (!) and even an animated TV spot for a popsicle tie-in.
“Corvette Summer” (1978, Warner Archives Collection) No sooner has high schooler Mark Hamill completed his restoration of a custom Corvette Stingray than the candy-apple red cruiser is stolen, prompting an all-out search made less aimless by a team-up with Annie Potts, an escort “in training” (an unpleasant and unnecessary plot element that Potts thankfully rises above). Fizzy, calorie-free road movie/romance anchored by the two leads – Hamill was fresh from “Star Wars,” and Potts, in her first major role, earned a Golden Globe nomination – and breezy direction by Matthew Robbins, though the supporting cast, including Danny Bonaduce, the great Dick Miller, TV pitchman/character actor Eugene Roche, Kim Milford of “Laserblast,” Brion James (“Blade Runner”) and Wendie Jo Sperber, adds varying degrees of pop culture appeal. Co-starring Verdugo Hills and Burbank High Schools and the Golden West Ballroom (of Van Halen fame) in Norwalk; Warner Archives’ beautifully restored Blu-ray includes the theatrical trailer.
“The Andromeda Strain” (1971, Arrow Video) A team of scientists must prevent a virus-like organism, brought to Earth by a downed satellite, from wiping out humankind. Robert Wise directed this adaptation of the novel by Michael Crichton (“Jurassic Park”), who again mines considerable unease from the clash between nature and science, and the ruthless efficiency employed by both to preserve their respective interests, crystallized here by the scientists – who, as embodied by James Olson, Arthur Hill, and Kate Reid, are the diametric opposite of the well-scrubbed, photogenic depictions of researchers in modern movies – as they struggle to keep both the protean Andromeda and their secret government laboratory’s automated outbreak solution (a nuclear explosion) in check. Arrow’s 4K Blu-ray presentation is paired with a making-of from the 2001 DVD that features interviews with Wise, Crichton and screenwriter Nelson Gidding (whose shooting script is included in full), as well as an appreciation by Kim Newman and commentary by entertainment writer Bryan Reesman.
“Shaft in Africa” (1973, Warner Archives Collection) Diplomat Cy Grant sends private eye/bad mother (shutyourmouth) John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) to Addis Ababa, where he must break up a human trafficking ring responsible for the death of Grant’s son. Third and final film entry in the first “Shaft” movie franchise trades the urban grit of Gordon Parks‘ original and “Shaft’s Big Score!” for director John (“The Towering Inferno”) Guillermin‘s James Bondian polish. That shift may have been responsible for the film’s lackluster box office take, but “Africa” has action to spare, beautiful location footage, and the supporting cast, which includes Frank Finlay and Vonetta McGee, handles the pulpier aspects of Stirling Silliphant‘s script with skill. The soundtrack features Johnny Pate and the Four Tops; Warner Archives Collection’s Blu-ray sports a clean remastered image and the theatrical trailer.
“FM” (1978, Arrow Video) The eccentric on-air staff and program director (Michael Brandon) of a Los Angeles-based radio station (based loosely on KMET) take over the airwaves to protest a management decision to air advertisements for the Army. Ensemble comedy trucks in tropes that were well-worn a decade before this film’s release (and handled better, not soon after, by the very similar “WKRP in Cincinnati”), but the cast, which includes Martin Mull, is nonetheless amusing, and cinematographer John Alonzo, in his directorial debut, does respectable traffic control in the Altman-esque set-ups. Linda Ronstadt and Jimmy Buffett both perform on-screen, while REO Speedwagon and Tom Petty are glimpsed briefly; the soundtrack is anchored by such AOR staples as Steely Dan (who perform the title track) and Eagles (Irving Azoff was credited as executive producer but removed his name from the credits). The Blu-ray includes interviews with Brandon and screenwriter Ezra Sacks, who discusses his tenure at the Mighty Met, while Glenn Kenney contributes an amusing essay on the soundtrack and ’70s-era music format fads (like 8-track cassettes).
Thank you to Warner Archives for providing free Blu-rays for these reviews.