Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Quatermass and the Pit meets Guardians of the Galaxy.

Hooray! It's time for a new regular feature on the UK's three hundred and ninety one millionth best blog. One where I give a quick round-up of whatever genre-related films I've been watching lately.

Obviously, when I say, "Regular," none of us should hold our breaths waiting for the next instalment because, once I've done this post, apathy'll probably seize me and the feature will no doubt never be heard of again.

Quatermass and the Pit, Martian, Hammer Studios
Anyway, inspired by conversation on Back in the Bronze Age, I've been rewatching the classic 1958 BBC serial Quatermass and the Pit - that dread reminder of why messing about with shovels can only ever lead to horror. By eerie coincidence, the night after I watched the final episode, the Horror Channel then showed the 1967 Hammer movie remake, giving me a chance to make a direct comparison in a way I'd never done before.

It's always been the thing amongst the wise and informed to say the TV version's massively superior to the film version but, as someone who saw the movie first, I've always had strong resistance to such a notion and see both incarnations as equal but different. Being a serial, the TV show has time to explore its characters, ideas and setting in more depth, especially with its backdrop of Notting Hill style race riots, references to which, I think, are totally absent from the movie. But the film gains by being quicker and more sharply focused, cutting out all of the padding that was logistically necessary in the TV show.

Quatermass and the Pit, Andre Morell
When it comes to casting, it's also a draw. André Morell and Andrew Keir are chalk and cheese, Morell all sophisticated charm, and Keir, a ball of kindly irascibility. You could imagine Keir's hero decking someone with a well-placed right hook. Something you could never imagine Morell doing. Despite the differences between them, both are excellent in the part and, despite delivering exactly the same dialogue in totally different ways, both somehow manage to be perfectly cast.

Likewise Cec Linder and James Donald are both excellent as maverick archaeologist Matthew Roney. The movie's Donald does seem more like an intellectual, while TV's showmanlike Linder feels more like an outsider, a status that becomes crucial as the tale reaches its climax. It also has to be said that Linder really does look like he's stepped straight out of a panel drawn by Steve Ditko.

As Barbara, Roney's assistant, Barbara Shelley is more glamorous and self-possessed than Christine Finn but Finn has a somewhat strange quality to her and she's allowed to develop a friendship with the army captain that's totally missing from the film.

For me, where the film definitely scores over the TV version in terms of casting is that of Colonel Breen. Julian Glover's Breen starts out with some degree of charm, wit and even manners before degenerating into a deranged blockhead, whereas Anthony Bushell's Breen is a deranged blockhead from the very start, making you wonder how he ever got into any kind of position of authority.

Having said that, the TV show possibly gives hints that his behaviour is because (having a militaristic mindset?) he's being influenced by the machine before everyone else, whereas the movie doesn't hint at that, making Breen's refusal to recognise the mountain of evidence piling up in front of him somewhat baffling.

Quatermass and the Pit, the Ship, BBC serial
When it comes to production values, amazingly, the TV version beats the movie. The creatures are far better constructed in the TV version (although the movie ones are creepier) and the purging of the Martian hives is staged far more impressively. It does seem odd that a 1950s BBC serial should be able to rustle up better effects than a big screen movie from a decade later but I suppose that's just a reminder of how low-budget Hammer films really were and just how much they managed to hide that sin by hiring excellent casts to make them seem classier than they were.

So, in the end, I still declare it to be a draw, with both versions being classics in their own right.

One thing that does strike me as being astonishing about the TV version is that it was broadcast live, with filmed inserts for the trickier scenes. The idea that anyone would broadcast a science fiction show live seems like madness but they pull it off beautifully, with only the odd glitch to remind you that there were no retakes possible.

One last thing that strikes me is that the TV version of the craft looks remarkably like a dalek that's got drunk and fallen over on its way home from the pub. I had assumed it must be because dalek designer Raymond Cusick was involved but it turns out he didn't join the BBC until a couple of years later. Could he have been influenced by the design when he first drew his deadly mutants or was it pure coincidence?

Guardians of the Galaxy Poster
If last night was a chance for me to revisit an old friend in Bernard Quatermass, it was also a chance to visit some new ones in the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Obviously, the Guardians of the Galaxy aren't really new friends. They're not friends at all. I've never met them and they've never met me and they'd probably mug me if they did meet me but I have at least encountered them before.

However, that was in the pages of a comic, and last night's bank holiday scheduling did give me a chance to see their movie for the first time.

Obviously, I was looking forward to it because I'm that kind of a man but did I enjoy it?

I enjoyed it when there was personal interaction going on. The characters were well-defined and sympathetic, somehow managing to come across as plucky underdogs despite having enough power between them to flatten an army.

I didn't enjoy it anything like as much when there was actual action going on. Not being a fan of space battles, especially CGI ones, I must admit the film lost my attention whenever the lasers started firing.

My other complaint would be that Ronan was a totally undeveloped villain. From what I can remember, we found out nothing about him other than that he wanted to destroy a planet for no reason that I could remember. Also, Thanos and Karen Gillan's Nebula were frustratingly underused. So far, all I've seen Thanos do in Marvel films is sit in a chair. I do hope he manages to escape his chair in future films or the series' climax is going to be a bit dull.

Anyway, I give it seven out of ten. It wasn't a film that blew me away but I'd have no objection to watching it again.


Charlie Horse 47 said...

Ahoy Steve!

I should be getting Quartermax through the local library system any day now! (I was inspired by your references to it last week, at BitBA.)

Guardians of the Galaxy - My fav of all the superhero movies. My French wife's fav of all the superhero movies! Have to see it on big screen though. E.g., that scene where the 5 of them are united and walking forward for the final showdown and Rocky tugs on his... You won't pick it up on a TV. And where Stardude breaks into the dance moves in the final battle scene... Too funny! It felt good to laugh a lot in a movie!

And you are right there is much more that could have been developed!

Hey - any of you guys getting kind of tired of the "big fight scene" with numerous good guys, bad guys, bullets/lazers a blazing like in Avengers, Star Wars, etc? I think I'm good for a decade or two?

Cheers! Charlie

Anonymous said...

I very much enjoyed the Guardians movie. I really did. The music, the humor, the effects, the characters.
I'm intrigued that Kurt Russell is playing Ego, The Living Planet, in the sequel.
Finally, an Ego that we could have a beer with, talk about sports, just a regular guy or planet, before he absorbs us screaming into his biosphere and attacks Rigel.


Steve W. said...

Don't worry, Charlie, I can confirm that the Rocket Raccoon Manoeuvre is fully visible on TV.

MP, the casting of Kurt Russell as ego does seem quite inspired.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

I agree with M.P. Way too many self-absorbed existential-threat types running around. The world goes better with Coca Cola and a smile!

cerebus660 said...

Interesting comparison between the two versions of Q&TP. I used to own the TV version on dodgy VHS and thought it very dull and talky, with a few atmospheric moments. I always preferred the glossier Hammer version but your review makes me want to revisit the original... it's all on YouTube by the look of things...

On a totally different subject, M.P. mentioned the ( fictional ) planet Rigel when talking about Ego the Living Planet ( above ) - wasn't the character of The Recorder who used to pop up in Thor's mag from Rigel? Wouldn't it be great if The Recorder was just his title but his real name was Nigel? Nigel from Rigel? I'm sorry, but this is how my brain works some nights...

Steve W. said...

I think the one place where the slower pace of the TV show is a failing is the last episode which does seem to drag the resolution out forever. Otherwise, I think it gets away with it.

There's also some padding involved with the scenes in the newspaper office. Normally, I'd argue they could have been cut out but the internet tells me that they're there because of it being a live show and they're cunningly included in order to give the main actors time to get ready for their next scene. So that can be forgiven.

TC said...

IIRC, the Recorder was from Rigel, and first appeared in the Thor issues having to do with Ego the Living Planet. There was also a Rigellian Recorder in the Hercules four-part mini series in 1982 or '83, although I don't recall if it was the same one.

Hammer's Q&TP adaptation was released in the US as Five Million Years to Earth. I've never seen any of the Quatermass TV serials. I do seem to remember Andre Morell as Dr. Watson in Hammer's version of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

John Pitt said...

I have never yet seen Quatermass and The Pitt ( -sorry, couldn't resist that! ) TV version, although I have seen clips and I thought the "fire demon" seemed inferior to the movie version. I do love the movie, BUT, I have to admit, you really do need to pay attention! Blink for a second and you lose the plot! I think I will try the TV version on YouTube, I may enjoy more at a more leisurely pace? Who knows?

Steve W. said...

I do think it's worth seeing both versions, just to see in which ways they differ and to see which approach one prefers.

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