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on 7 September 2013
The original Quatermass remains one of the great achievements of British television and the Hammer movies were OK in spite of Brian Donleavy's little rug ... But since then nothing has come close. Ever the Nigel Kneale addict I added this to my QUATERMASS collection, but now I've handed it over to a local charity. Forget it and leave it alone, guys!
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on 8 July 2015
Nigel Kneale's original "Quatermass Experiment" serial is the progenitor of all television sci-fi. Broadcast by the BBC over six weeks in 1953, there'd been nothing like it ever shown on the small screen before (and screens really were small in those days! Anything between 9" to 17"... although only 3 million households in Britain had a television at all). Nevertheless, for those who saw it, The Quatermass Experiment caused a big stir, spawning several sequels and all the other sci-fi shows that followed overs decades to come.
Unfortunately, back in the early 1950s, videotape hadn't been invented: like most programmes at the time, The Quatermass Experiment was broadcast live from the television studio, the actors performing for the cameras in real time just as if they were on stage at a theatre. As an experiment, the BBC tried to record the first two broadcasts on black & white film (by pointing a film camera at a television set), but they decided the quality was too poor, and gave up. So apart from those grainy murky recordings of episodes 1 and 2, the rest of the original Quatermass Experiment serial is lost forever.
Fast forward half a century to 2005, and television sci-fi was undergoing something of a renaissance, with one of Quatermasses' offspring, Doctor Who, having finally returned to the BBC after a hiatus of nearly 20 years. The relaunched Doctor Who was getting great reviews and big viewing figures, so it seems that the station bosses were persauded to commission more sci-fi series. And a bunch of enthusiasts appear to have gotten the go-ahead for the show I'm reviewing here: remaking the original long-lost Quatermass Experiment.
Was it a success? Well, I'm not entirely convinced. They took the decision to basically stick to the text Nigel Kneale's original screenplay (albeit done as a 90 minute single feature, rather than a 6-week serial), and also to make an "event" out of it by performing live for the cameras, just as would have been done in 1953 (with the addition of a few pre-filmed scenes shot on outside locations, as was also the case in the 1950s). However, despite sticking (mostly) with the original script and dialogue, they also took the production decision to set the action in "the present" - so no period 1950s sets or costumes. Instead we see modern technology, lights, computers, telecomms, and dress.
To me, this creates a lot of wierd anachronisms in the show. Much of Kneale's script is very specific to an early 50s post-war pre-space-age era: the whole point of the story is that this is the first manned rocket flight into space and back again. A lot of the ways the characters react is framed in this scenario. For instance, there's a lot of stuff about the press treating the astronauts as heroes, who've achieved a first for their country and mankind. And a lot of anxieties about the political and military implications of a space arms race. When this dialogue and action is acted out in a setting which clearly looks like 2005, it just seems wierd, anachronistic and unconvincing. In my view, it would surely have been much more effective to kit the production out with 1950s period haircuts and costumes, buildings and interiors. The tone is made all the more uneven by the fact that there still have been quite a few little dialogue tweaks here and there, to modernise them... but the whole story is so of its time that I don't think it works if it's not in the 1950s.
That aside - there are some good performances here. David Tennant does a stand-out turn the Rocket Group's doctor, Mark Gatiss is pretty convincing as a messed-up geeky scientist, and Isla Blair is great as a government minister. The filming and sets are all pretty atmospheric (albeit in colour widescreen, a far cry from the black and white original!). I found the new incidental music to be rather bland and mediocre compared to the spooky old orchestral stuff in the original, however.
Watching a DVD like this can never quite replicate the frisson of watching this go out live on BBC4, when there was every possibility the actors could forget their lines or someone trip over a camera right before your eyes... but a few tiny fluffs aside, I have to say I'd probably never guess it was live anyway - the performance is carried off remarkably slickly! It's certainly less "clunky" than the two episodes of the original that survive - but is it as creepy and atmospheric? Ultimately, I don't think it is. It was nice of them to try and attempt the remake, but I think the production decision to modernish the setting but not the script was a mistake. The result is a confusing uncertain tone which doesn't quite "work" as a piece in its own right.
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on 18 February 2009
OK, so we've proven that you can't do it over and you can't do Nigel Kneale without Nigel Kneale. Still, I've become enough of a Kneale fan that I had to see it.
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on 1 December 2005
...but a correction to the only review posted for this title so far. This DVD is not - repeat: is NOT - the original 1953 "Quatermass Experiment" serial of which only two episodes survive.
This DVD contains the 2005 remake starring Jason Flemyng, David Tennant, and Mark Gatiss which aired on one of the BBC Digital channels (I believe it was BBC Four) last spring. The 1953 serial is included as part of the Quatermass Collection boxset, which also contains "Quatermass II" and "Quatermass and the Pit".
Do not let yourself become confused by the existence of more than one version.
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on 1 January 2017
Tv series dvd good
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on 21 June 2014
Ever since I saw Jason Flemyng's (difficult to believe - what's a police constable doing in a highly scientific team?) entry to Primeval I had difficulty believing in his characters. This version, therefore, was not a patch on the original... a part from the colour.
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on 21 December 2016
Cool film
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on 9 September 2009
The gimmick of a live telecast meant that the producers cut so much of the script it was less detailed than the feature film, which cut huge sections of the original television broadcast (of which only the first segment survives). So once again we do not have a filmed version of Neale's complete original script. Hopefully someone will finally do it, someone who will remain faithful to his brilliant tone. The actors are too young for the roles, relatively Hollywood, and the end was just flat for me. The wonderful monstrous single rolling eye of the feature film was miles ahead (for much less money). It looked like a budget trick - just have nothing at all and they'll think we're brilliant.

There seems to be something in British culture that will not respect most artists in the performing arts at least until they are gone and then some (witness the semi-botched Beatle box sets and the lost BBC footage and soundtracks from years and years, Cook and Moore, Barry Humphries, etc.) of which this is just another example. Perhaps some brilliant Aussie director will finally do this right. There seems to be no hope in the UK or US.
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on 18 January 2013
disapointed with this as a remake could have been a lot better did not think it lived up to the rest of the quatermass series
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on 10 September 2009
I bought this DVD only because there was David Tennant playing in it, otherwise I don't think it's a good movie. I'll only keep it for David, that's all. The sqtory doesn' make sense, from the start you think it goes too slow, you wonder what happened to the space men just like the other characters, and when you find out the man is changing because of some sort of alien virus and he escapes, then it goes too fast and have the feeling you skiped something. I really disappointed in this item, good luck, david played in much better movies...
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