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Timeslip (1970) | It’s back to the future with the British TV children’s sci-fi fantasy

Timeslip (1970)

The groundbreaking 1970s British TV children’s drama, Timeslip, gets a limited edition DVD set, featuring all 26 episodes of the four serials, a host of special features, and a ‘making of’ book from Network Releasing this week.

Devised by Ruth Boswell (The Tomorrow People and Shadows), Timeslip fused hard science and fantasy in its tale of two teenagers who discover the existence of a ‘time barrier’ that enables them to travel to different periods and locations – from World War Two to chilling visions of the future.

Timeslip

In The Wrong End of Time, teenagers Liz (Cheryl Burfield) and Simon (Spencer Banks), who are holidaying in St Oswald in the Midlands, are sent back in time to 1940 when the local naval base was taken over by German marines. In The Time of the Ice Box, they find themselves mistaken for scientific guinea pigs at an Arctic research station 20 years in the future.

Timeslip

The third serial, The Year of the Burn Up, sees our young heroes in an alternate 1990, where the misuse of science threatens the Earth. And, returning to the present day in The Day of the Clone, Simon goes in search of a missing Liz and has a fateful encounter with Charles Traynor (Dennis Quilley) – the man who put the duo on their time-travels in the first place.

Timeslip

Wasn’t the series made in colour?
With the exception of four episodes (parts 2 to 5 of Day of the Clone), the series was filmed in colour. However, the colour master tapes were found to be badly damaged in the 1980s – with only episode six of Time of the Ice Box remaining intact. This meant that only 16mm black and white film recordings, originally made for overseas sales, were all that remained. It was these that have been used for all subsequent video releases. However, the Time of the Ice Box colour episode is included in Network’s release.

Timeslip

SPECIAL FEATURES
Behind the Barrier: 2009 feature-length documentary
Beyond the Barrier: mini-episode
• ‘Making Of’ book by archive TV historian Andrew Pixley
Back to the Barrier 2003: the cast return to the series location
Day of the Clone 2007: Convention footage
• PDF archive featuring scripts and production paperwork
• Image gallery
• Disc text features – including an overview of Timeslip comic strip artist Mike Noble

Timeslip is released by Network as a limited edition DVD box-set (buy it here)

For more on the show check out the fan website: http://www.timeslip.org.uk/

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Doomwatch (1972) | When Tigon did a Quatermass with the TV sci-fi classic

Doomwatch (1972)

When the BBC1 TV series Doomwatch began hitting the headlines in the early 1970s and shows like On the Buses started heading into cinemas, Tigon’s Tony Tenser rushed out this big-screen spin off in the hope it would become the new Quatermass. But this ‘Chilling Story from Today’s headline’ was not the success that Tigon had hoped for, and ended up sitting on the shelf following its disappointing run in UK cinemas.


An ecological nightmare gone berserk!
A year after an oil tanker sinks off the west coast of England, Doomwatch scientist Dr Del Shaw (Ian Bannen) heads to the isolated island of Balfe to investigate the effects on marine life and discovers the local population have also been affected, creating physical abnormalities and turning the men-folk aggressive. Seeking out the aid of local teacher (Judy Geeson), Shaw then finds he has a battle on his hands trying to convince the locals he wants to help the, while also trying to get the Ministry of Defence and a chemical corporation to accept responsibility for the accident.


Doomwatch (1972)

Director Peter Sasdy (Countess Dracula), cinematographer Ken Talbot (Hands of the Ripper) and production designer Colin Grimes (Nothing But the Night) do what they can with a script by Clive Exton (10 Rillington Place), that was part thriller, part horror, part ecological drama, and was shot on location around Polkerris and Falmouth in Cornwall and at Pinewood in October 1971.

Doomwatch (1972)

But there isn’t enough depth, action or sense of menace to make it work, which also lessens the impact of Tom Smith’s effective makeup. Even the classic Doctor Who serial The Green Death, which used the mutations vs multinationals premise, is way more effective; and we all know how brilliant The Wicker Man turned out, a film which also followed an official’s investigation of a closed island community.

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It was disappointing for fans of the TV show to see regulars John Paul and Simon Oates taking a back seat in the film, and their replacements are not that much cop either. Ian Bannen comes off as overly shouty and unempathic, while Judy Geeson seems like a fish out of water as the mainland school teacher who has no connection with the locals. At least she doesn’t eat their fish!

Future Bond star Geoffrey Keen and veteran actor George Sanders put in safe, but dull cameos, but its Shelagh Fraser who brings some unlikely comic relief as the nosey local who possesses the only phone on the island. And keen-eyed viewers will catch future EastEnders‘ star Pam St Clement playing one of the villagers.

Doomwatch has been digitally restored for a Blu-ray and DVD region free release by Screenbound Pictures, available from 20 June 2016

• Read all about the original Doomwatch TV series UK DVD release HERE

Rollerball (1975) | The future is here… are you ready to play again?

Rollerball (1975)In a corporate-controlled future, conflict is a thing of the past, but blood continues to be shed on the tracks of Rollerball – a violent gladiatorial spectacle that pits players in a televised battle of life and death. When Houston Rollerball captain Jonathan E (James Caan) becomes bigger than the game and the totalitarian government targets him for retirement, the sporting icon decides to make a stand against his masters… and that’s when the real games begin.

Based on the 1973 Esquire short story, Roller Ball Murder, by William Harrison (who also wrote the screenplay), this big-budget United Artists sci-fi action directed by Norman Jewison was a commercial and critical flop in the US, but ran for almost a year in French cinemas and remains, amongst fans of 1970s sci-fi, one of the best of the era.

Rollerball (1975)

Intended to be a condemnation of brutality as entertainment, this surprisingly violent ‘future sport’ flick came out just two months after Death Race 2000, Paul Bartel and Roger Corman’s live-action Wacky Races-styled exploitation thriler, which ended up trumping Rollerball at the US box office (well it was made for the fraction of the cost and had no pretensions to be anything but entertainent).

Rollerball‘s chilly Bafta-winning art direction and clinical cinematography, however, was wholly inspired by European arthouse cinema and Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 sci-fi A Clockwork Orange, especially in its use of Munich’s modern architecture (BMW’s HQ and the Audi Dome Olympic basketball park both feature) as a symbol of souless dystopia; while the use of classical music was another steal – and another reason to put off the popcorn crowd, but excite cineastes.

Rollerball (1975)

Jewison’s sci-fi certainly has some well-executed action sequences, but US audiences just didn’t ‘get’ its political agenda – as they were far more interested in actually playing the made-up game itself. Today, however, Rollerball‘s central themes are freakishly prescient, especially with regards to the power of corporations and the media on our lives, the unreliability of digital information (I still think cloud storage is suspect), and our growing desensitisation towards violence. There’s certainly a lot going on outside Jewison’s roller track, which only makes this is one of the smartest sci-fi’s of the 1970s, and a ‘future sport’ flick that the likes of The Running Man and The Hunger Games remain indebted to. It’s also far superior to that mis-guided, soulless 2002 remake.

Rollerball (1975)

THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Here’s what you get in the Arrow Video presentation of the sci-fi classic.
• High definition Blu-ray presentation of the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio from a digital transfer prepared by MGM Studios, and made available through Hollywood Classics, with optional uncompressed stereo 2.0 audio and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
• Isolated music and effects soundtrack (this is kind of surreal, but I would have preferred just the musical score as an OST)
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentaries by director Norman Jewison (recorded in December 1997) and writer ‘Bill’ Harrison (this plays like a film lecture, but great to listen to)
Return to the Arena: the making of Rollerball (Jewison and Harrison reflect)
Blood Sports with James Caan: interview (at 75 – as of March 26 – he still oozes cool)
The Fourth City: shooting Rollerball in Munich (film location junkies will love this)
The Bike Work: Craig R Baxley: A look at the four-month shoot by one of the stuntmen.
From Rome to Rollerball – The Full Circle: Unrestored archive short featuring interviews and on-set footage, drawing comparisons between the game and ancient Roman gladiatorial contests.
• Trailers
• TV Spots
• Reversible sleeve with artwork by Paul Shipper
• Collector’s booklet

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvnctbktn0k%5D

Silent Running (1972) | Douglas Trumbull’s ecological space-age tale is even more relevant today

Silent Running (1972)

My 2011 review of the sci-fi classic and the 40th anniversary UK Blu-ray release.

If you’re a fan of Duncan Jones’ critically acclaimed 2009 feature debut Moon, then here’s a chance to find out the inspiration behind that quirky sci-fi. Silent Running, directed by special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull (he did 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and most recently Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life) is a 1972 film boasting a strong environmental message, thanks to an intelligent script from The Deer Hunter scribes Michael Cimino and Deric Washburn, and future Hill Street Blues creator Steven Bochco.

Silent Running (1972)

In a future where all plant life on Earth is now extinct, a fleet of space freighters orbit around Saturn with the few remaining specimens housed inside gigantic domes. Bruce Dern plays Freeman Lowell, a botanist responsible for looking after Earth’s last forests until the planet can become suitable again for reforestation. But when he and his three colleagues (including a youthful Ron Rifkin from TV’s Brothers & Sisters) receive orders to destroy the domes for commercial reasons, Lowell turns eco-warrior and, with the help of three very cute robotic drones, hijacks one of the domes and flees into deep space like some futuristic Noah.

Silent Running (1972)

Silent Running is about one man’s personal journey through the darkness and solitude of space. It might be set in the future and in space, but it’s the environmental message that is at its heart – bolstered by some suitably apt folk tunes sung by renowned activist Joan Baez. With climate change on the top of the environmental agenda today, this deeply moving, sentimental paean to the green cause is just as important now as it was when the film was first released. As such, it’s a film that deserves to reach a new generation of audience.

Silent Running (1972)

The Masters of Cinema Series 40th anniversary Blu-ray release from 2011 is simply stunning. Douglas Trumbull’s amazing effects and massive props look fantastic – you can see how much love and labour has gone into creating the freighters and domes. Apart from the pristine transfer, there’s also a host of extras that sci-fi buffs won’t want to miss – including a 1972 on-set making of documentary, commentary and videos with Trumbull and Dern, original trailer and collector’s booklet.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TckJBvl_uT0%5D

The Visitor (1979) | This Insane Encounter of The Omen Kind is a delirious guilty pleasure

The Visitor (1979)

THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE…
A mysterious old man. A demonic child. An ancient fight between good and evil. Katy Collins (Paige Conner) is no normal 8-year-old girl – but an incarnation of Sateen, a powerful supernatural entity from a distant planet who was vanquished many light years ago. However, Sateen’s followers continue to spread Sateen’s evil legacy by spawning a race of children with immense powers. Brought to Earth by a cosmic Christ figure, an intergalactic exorcist known at The Visitor (John Huston) now fights to save Katy’s soul and prevent her mother (Joanne Nail) from giving birth of another unholy offspring…

The Visitor (1979)

NOTHING CAN PREPARE YOU FOR THE VISITOR
A bunch of big-name Hollywood stars try not to look baffled and bemused in The Visitor, an insane Italian sci-fi horror hybrid from 1979 that purposely rips-off the first two Omen films, as well as Rosemary’s Baby, Close Encounter of the Third Kind and even The Birds.

John Huston, Glenn Ford, Shelly Winters, Mel Ferrer and Sam Peckinpah must have got a healthy paycheck to head down to Atlanta and fly out to Rome to cameo in what the Village Voice called ‘the schizophrenic mother of all 70’s drive-in oddities’.

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It’s such a shame that Huston or Peckinpah didn’t direct this farrago from Ovidio Assonitis, who also produced the drive-in terrors Beyond the Door and Tentacles, rather than just appear in it. As it stands, this demonic schlock-fest makes no sense at all and that’s because the two screenwriters were given the unenviable task of turning director Giulio Paradisi’s convoluted surreal sci-fi story into something sane and bankable. It wasn’t!

But it’s best to forget the plot and just marvel at the dazzling overblown imagery, the WTF! set pieces and Franco Micalizzi’s pulsating music score, while trying to guess where you’ve seen those scenes before. To add to your feeling of déjà vu, Lance Henriksen played a similar devil-worshipping character in 1978’s Damien: Omen II after having a bit part in Close Encounters the year before. A mute Franco Nero plays Jesus – in a blonde wig. Expect one helluva trip!

A delirious guilty pleasure for cult fans, connoisseurs of the absurd and cinephiles alike, The Visitor, was resurrected for a limited cinema re-release last year by Drafthouse Films in the US, based on a new HD restoration from the original, uncut film materials, and is now presented in the Arrow Films release.

The Visitor (1979)

THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
The Arrow dual format B/2 release includes both high definition Blu-ray (1080p) and standard definition DVD presentation of the feature, with original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray) and optional English subtitles. The special features include some very candid interviews with Lance Henriksen, screenwriter Lou Comici and cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri, plus reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Erik Buckman. There’s also a collector’s booklet featuring an informative article that makes great sense of director Paradisi’s original concept and traces the film’s crazy gestation from script to screen.

The Incredible Melting Man (1977) | The First New Horror Creature! Now in gore-ious High Definition

Incredible Melting Man (1977)

He Is A Human Time Bomb. He Must Be Stopped Before He Kills Us All!
Astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar), a man barely alive after a disastrous space mission to the rings of Saturn has become exposed to a mysterious organism, which has taken possession of his flesh, and is now turning him into a goopy flesh-eating ghoul. Escaping from his hospital bed, Steve embarks on a murderous rampage of the local countryside. Can concerned scientist Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) and dim-witted sheriff Neil Blake (Michael Alldredge) stop the melting human time bomb before the body count rises?

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

A NEW PEAK IN TERROR
Director William ‘Bill’ Sachs originally envisioned his 1977 sci-fi as a comic book spoof called The Ghoul from Outer Space. He may have lost that fight, but his grisly humour is still very much evident; a turkey leg mistaken for a decapitated limb is a standout, as are the closing scenes in which Steve’s liquefied remains gets unceremoniously shoveled into a rubbish bin.

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

Taking its cues from the 1950s classics The Quatermass Experiment, The First Man Into Space (the crusty blood sucking creature scared the hell out of me as a child) and The Hideous Sun Demon, and with clear nods to James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), Sachs’ sci-fi is a silly popcorn treat that well deserves its reputation as a cult classic thanks to its riotous dialogue and comedic performances (especially Myron Healey as the General). But the real hero here is make up legend Rick Baker whose blood, pus and mucous dripping effects are simply amazing (they look even better on Blu-ray). The film also served as a launch pad for emerging SFX talents like Greg Cannom and Rob Bottin.

incredible melting montage

I first learned laid eyes on The Incredible Melting Man back in 1978 when it featured on the July cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Declaring it as cinema’s ‘New Horror Creature’, I had to see it. But it never came to Australia, so I had to settle on the superb New English Library novelisation by Phil Smith (which I still treasure), until it eventually came out on VHS in 1986. What a disappointment that was! The Vestron Video print was muddy, the sound shoddy, and with most of the action taking place at night, I couldn’t see any of Baker’s fine work. But when MGM released the film on DVD as part of their Limited Edition Collection (in 2003), I thought my search was over as the print was excellent. Now we have Arrow’s Blu-ray release to savor. Not only it is based on a new HD master from MGM, it also includes some must-see extras. Oh the joy! I feel 13 all over again. Let the melty mayhem ensue.

incredible melting man portrait

THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Arrow’s High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature is transferred from original film elements in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with mono 2.0 sound (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray). The High Definition master was produced by MGM and made available for this release via Hollywood Classics.

BONUS MATERIAL
• Audio Commentary with William Sachs (very illuminating)
• Super 8 digest version of the film (this 200ft seven-minute Super 8 variant was the cutting edge of home cinema in the 1970s – look how far we have come?)
• Interview with William Sachs and Rick Baker
• Interview with make-up effects artist Greg Cannom
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Gary Pullin
• Collector’s booklet featuring essays on the history of the film by Mike White and an excellent brief history of Super 8 digest by Douglas Weir (who supplied the 8mm digest version).

The Final Programme (1973) | Robert Fuest’s decorative dystopian sci-fi is a tasty one indeed

Michael Moorcock's The Final Programme

Cult director Robert Fuest’s dystopian 1973 sci-fi thriller The Final Programme makes its UK DVD debut on 7 October 2013.

THE FUTURE IS CANCELLED
In a futuristic world where war and famine rages, a group of British scientists led by programmer Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre) plan to create an immortal, self-replicating human being using a super computer. Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch), a playboy physicist whose late father devised this ‘final programme’, is key to the project’s success. But first he must retrieve the formula from his family’s isolated mansion, which is laden with deadly traps and guarded by his drug-fuelled psycho brother.

Jon Finch in The Final Programme

FUESTIAN FUTURISM
This very British black comedy sci-fi thriller from cult director Robert Fuest takes its cues from Michael Moorcock’s seminal 1968 novel of the same name – the first of many to feature hero Jerry Cornelius, a hip futuristic secret agent and adventurer who was like a James Bond-cum-Flash Gordon for the 1970s. The film is definitely stylish, but has its flaws, mainly because the director (who had just completed the two Phibes films starring Vincent Price) puts most of his energies into the film’s elegant production design rather than capturing the essence of Moorcock’s wild vision. The author famously disliked the film and its script, which tries to be satirical, but comes across as having a whiff of jingoism about it – French wine, for instance, is described as ‘Industrial waste from the Beaujolais district of France, fortified with natural saccharin, of course’.

The Final Programme is, however, a decorative delight nevertheless, and if it wasn’t set in the future, it could very well exist in the same stylised art deco world that Price’s vengeful Phibes inhabited, as it shares the same light, camera angles and colour schemes, and even possesses the ingenious doctor’s penchant for devilish devices – including a door lock that’s also a giant chess piece and an alarm that causes epilepsy.

Jon Finch in The Final Programme

Visuals and retro décor aside, there’s much to savour here – including the Paul Beaver and Bernard Krause score, which is certainly hip, in a druggy London 1970s way, and the wonderfully OTT performances, especially Hugh Griffith as a Hindu scientist dispensing cryptic advice to Finch’s modern dandy Jerry – who encapsulates the glam period with his wild locks, black nail polish and fashionable Ossie Clark threads.

Jon Finch in The Final Programme

It’s just a pity that cinema audiences never did get to see much more of Finch on screen. The classically trained actor, who also appeared in Polanki’s Macbeth and Hitchcock’s Frenzy, gave up film work after a diabetic attack forced him out of 1979’s Alien, in which he was to play the iconic Kane – a role that ended up going to John Hurt. Finch was just 70 when he was found dead last December in his home in Hastings, while back in March of 2012, the 84-year-old Fuest – who retired in the 1980s to take up his first love, painting – also passed away. But thankfully their memories live on in this bewildering, topsy-turvy slice of 1970s British sci-fi – which is very tasty indeed.

THE RELEASE
The Network DVD release is presented in a brand new transfer from the original film elements, featuring the full-frame, as-filmed version of the main feature, and including original theatrical trailers, an Italian title sequence, image gallery and promotional PDF materials.

THE VERDICT
A must see, despite its flaws.

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