Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Unbelievably Bad Supposed "Legend" That Is Quatermass!

The Good: Not a bad concept
The Bad: Terrible characters (especially the women), Poor acting, Bad execution of plot, Terrible effects
The Basics: Professor Bernard Quatermass must save the Earth from alien beams that are killing our youth at places like Stonehenge. Why didn't Mystery Science Theater 3000 cover this one?

Whoever the spin doctors were who convinced A&E to release Quatermass on DVD with the subtitle "The Legendary '70s Sci-Fi Classic" ought to go into politics. They could probably get a sock puppet elected to Prime Minister. Quatermass is about as legendary as my right foot. Have you ever heard of the Legend of W.L.'s Right Foot? No. Why? It's not legendary!

Quatermass encompasses four episodes of a television mini-series that follows Britain at the turn of the millennium. All is in chaos; gangs rule the street, television is virtually unwatched in the UK, but for some reason the Americans tune in despite urban decay. The Russians and the Americans have launched a joint space station operation that suddenly goes awry. Meanwhile, around the world, sites of circular rock formations (like Stonehenge) are suddenly blasted from outer space while they are visited by thousands of young people.

The Planet People roam the British countryside chanting like a cult and seeking The Planet that they apparently believe will be better than Earth. As Professor Bernard Quatermass and his new friend Joe Kapp soon realize, the youth of the world are pawns in an extraterrestrial invasion or harvesting that . . .

. . . oh, who the hell cares? This is terrible.

I mean it, there aren't orders of magnitude to describe how bad this program is. And I refuse to dismiss this sow simply because of its campy 70s production values. No, I was willing and eager to give it a fair shake from frame one, even knowing the effects would likely be lousy. Much of the production design, etc. is dated, but it's the execution of the story that is just plain terrible.

Fans of Star Trek might recall an episode entitled "The Way To Eden" (reviewed here!) casual viewers of the series might recall it as the "space hippie" episode. In the majority of polls, "The Way To Eden" ranks as the worst episode of Star Trek ever (though I've not seen any polls since Enterprise aired that encompass the entire franchise). The Planet People in Quatermass are like the space hippies in "The Way To Eden." Unlike the Star Trek episode, though, we are plagued with Planet People for four episodes as opposed to one. I suppose that makes Quatermass four times more repugnant than the worst episode of Star Trek.

The DVD set includes the four episodes produced by Thames (on disc 1) and "The Quatermass Conclusion," a feature-length project that edits the four episodes into one movie by editing out some of the extraneous moments and ideas. No amount of editing can make this hokey series into an even palatable film.

No, what is truly wrong with this series starts at the script level. Written by Nigel Kneale, Quatermass asks the viewer to buy into a world that makes absolutely no sense. Quatermass, for example, arrives in London at a television studio from a relatively secluded villa in Wales. He is shocked by the violence and terror the streets of London have become at night. But even this begs some serious questions, like what kind of television studio invites old men as guests on their programs at night without warning them they are essentially entering a war zone? And even more basic, what is the point of a taxi cab that doesn't charge money? Quatermass arrives near the television studio in a cab that refuses to take money, which seems just the opposite of reason to me. Were I the driver, I'd charge extra to drive through gangland violence, not give it away for free!

But the script continues to bugger reason in the characters. Quatermass is a befuddled old man who is not written in a way that makes the viewer believe he was ever a rocket scientist. Joe Kapp's wife, Clare, is Jewish and that's added (apparently) to give her some character. But when she celebrates the Sabbath, she doesn't even do the prayers over the candles, wine or bread (maybe speaking Hebrew on the BBC is some kind of faux pas I don't know about).

In short, the characters are terrible. All of the youth are mindless zombies, all of the women are weak and frightened (until, literally, the last minute of the program when one overcomes all that for an instant) and they seem utterly incapable of keeping it together to be useful to society or even Quatermass. It's insulting. And while the youth are portrayed as mindless, the elderly are treated with a similar lack of respect. One of the most terrible lines in the show is an old man saying, "Not us! Old people smell terrible."

I wish I were joking about that.

But even the plot is too convoluted to be sensible. The youth, we are told, are victims of an alien conspiracy to harvest them. They wander around chanting and following the leaders of the Planet People until they reach their armageddon points. Okay, I can live with that as a premise. The problem is as the movie progresses, everyone seems to be joining the Planet People. In one scene, gangs gun down a whole bunch of Planet People (I cheered) and then moments later when more youth arrive, they drop their guns and join them. And the gangs aren't exactly young, they are middle aged people. So, ultimately, the whole premise buggers itself, probably for the practical reason that if so many youth were killed in the first few attacks, the UK would have run out of young people and thus the attacks would stop on their own.

The DVD states that Quatermass inspired such conspiracy shows as The X-Files but I think that's just awesome salesmanship on the part of the people producing this set. Quatermass is no Mulder. Or Scully. Or even Flukeman.

Even the History Channel special on Stonehenge cannot save this piece of crap. Don't believe me? PLEASE, buy my copy off me. I don't want it crapping up the quality DVDs I have on the shelf. And I am convinced, based on how very very bad this show is, it has the power to mess up awesome works of cinematic greatness just by being in proximity to them.

For other science fiction television series reviews, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Star Trek The Next Generation


For other television series reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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