Friday, July 9, 2010

Quatermass II: An Exceptional Sequel - Part Two

Last week I began my viewing of the engaging serial Quatermass II. The first 2 episodes had been a very enjoyable experience and a nice diversion from the heat from a hot Minnesota summer. I watched the episodes late into the evening so the room was dark apart from the flicker of the TV which was emitting the spooky black & white images of a vintage piece of BBC history. Would the viewing of episodes 3 & 4 be as enjoyable as the first two installments? In a word, yes!

To see my article on the first 2 episodes of Quatermass II, you can go here.

The Food TX: 5/11/55
At a hearing to discuss findings on a mysterious synthetic food refinery, Quatermass suddenly points out to Broadhead that one of the members in the room has the mysterious mark on his face. Both Quatermass and Broadhead give too much information and Quatermass leaves to return to Fowler’s office as Broadhead finishes up. Quatermass and Fowler get anxious as they await Broadhead’s return. After waiting a bit longer, Quatermass and Fowler return to an otherwise empty boardroom, they find Broadhead slumped over. He had succumb to the gasses from a meteor left behind by the aliens. Soon a ghoulish group of medics arrive, also with marks, who want to attend to Broadhead. This is a chilling scene as you would expect the medics to be helpful but here they are portrayed as zombies who want to collect someone just converted to be like them. Quatermass and Fowler are fearful for their lives and are not even sure if returning to Fowler’s office will be safe. After they leave the board room, Fowler gets Quatermass in touch with Ward. Ward has actually been able to get into the facility and still has a pass. With some persuasion from Quatermass, Ward takes both him and Fowler to the plant. They are able to not be noticed by patrolling guards because there is a family who travelled out to that area for a picnic. The guards have gone out to meet the family to get them to leave since they are trespassing. Once inside the plant, Quatermass checks the medical facility to see if Dillon is in there. Dillon is no where to be found. As they start checking on other things in the factory, the workers under the influence of whatever is in control suspend all work. Ward disappears. The next time Ward appears is during one of the most iconic shots of any of the Quatermass serials. Ward is covered with a black sludge like substance which is burning him. It has completely covered him and he has moments to live.
One thing interesting about the shot of Ward covered in the sludge. Most of that scene was filmed on location about a month before the live broadcast. Then it cuts back to the live feed in studio where Derek Aylward who played Ward had to be completely covered again for only a couple more minutes until the episode ends. He must have loved that!
Back at Quatermass’ laboratory, Pugh realizes there is something approaching the Earth.
The Coming TX: 12/11/55
Ward is left behind to die. We also find out that gunshots that were helpful to Quatermass and Fowler as a diversion to get away were used on the family who were trying to have a picnic. Quatermass asks Fowler to go back to the Ministry to do some searching while Quatermass contacts a reporter who he wants to tell this story to get the word out. While Quatermass and Conrad discuss the facts of what Quatermass had seen, Fowler is attacked at the ministry by a hidden meteor in a filing cabinet that detonates its gasses. Quatermass and Conrad go to a pub in the worker’s village where people of the village are relaxing and celebrating a wedding anniversary. While Quatermass and Conrad start to annoy the group with their line of questioning, a meteor smashes through the ceiling of the pub and nearly takes someone out. Armed guards appear, with marks, and try to retrieve the meteor. Conrad touched it and has become contaminated. Eventually, Quatermass and Conrad split to different directions. Conrad returns to the pub. He is dying from what the contamination has done to him. In a very passionate phone call to someone at his paper, he tries to explain everything he learned today so a story could be done to warn humanity. He then dies. Quatermass smuggled himself back into the food facility. There in disguise, he walks freely into one of the dome units. He sees what is really happening. There are things alive in the dome. They can only breathe the atmosphere in the dome…… Due to the Kneale’s and Cartier’s controversial production of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the BBC was keen to make sure viewers were warned about the themes and imagery they would see in this serial. At the beginning of The Coming there is a BBC warning: "In our opinion it is not suitable for children or for those of you who may have a nervous disposition". Both Kneale and Cartier hated this warning. Kneale was angered because he wrote an adult thriller for adults.
Last week I mentioned that atmosphere plays a very large part in the story. I felt that everything had a bleak look to it. I thought that was the same this week such as the scene when the family was at their picnic. It should be a happy setting but the scene is unsettling even before the guards show up. There is nothing relaxing or nice about the area they chose to have their picnic. Once the guards show up, it becomes tragic as it is all too clear that this scenario will turn fatal for the family. We don’t see the murders happen on screen. We only hear the gunshots which allow Quatermass and Fowler escape but it is obvious the gunshots are the family’s fate. It is only after this that we see the family’s car pulled into the food facility and a lifeless arm is hanging out the window. It is becoming obvious at this stage that this is not some random entity but an intelligent group that are focusing on putting controlled people in power, such as the people at Broadhead’s hearing, to achieve their goal of invasion. What I find interesting is the way these controlled people are portrayed on screen. If not done right, this could be a fine line between creepy and comical. Luckily it is actually quite powerful and distrubing. These “zombies” speak like they are not in control of their bodies or how they speak to others. They have blank, glossy stares on their faces. To be honest, they are frightening. Great examples of this are the scenes at the beginning of where the members of the hearing speak. It is unnerving and the same can be said of the guard in the scene in the pub during The Coming. I think what contributes to these performances is the black & white gloomy picture.
Being a fan of vintage British television plus having a keen interest television restoration, I wanted to give my thoughts on the DVD release. For many years any of the Quatermass serials were just stories I read about on this page.
I hate to sound old but people don’t know how good they have it these days. If there is some vintage television they want to see, it’s probably out on DVD or they could possibly find it via You Tube or Torrents. I heard about Quatermass for the first time over twenty years ago but only got to know more about it through the site listed above. At that point, it was mouth watering to read details about these stories and how cool they must have been to watch; especially for me Quatermass and the Pit. Over the years Quatermass and the Pit has been released as an omnibus VHS, then DVD released by Revelation.
Then in 2005 one of the greatest DVD releases came out. The Quatermass Trilogy of The Quatermass Experiment, Quatermass II, and Quatermass and the Pit. This was restored by the same folks who restore the Doctor Who stories. They went back to the original film negatives and did the best possible restoration based on the quality of the source material. Quatermass II looks a lot better than I thought it would. Of course like many fans, I had a bootleg PAL VHS copy of this serial. Although for a bootleg even then it looked quite good; it was obvious there was issue with the picture on the source material. There is a lot of stair-stepping with the picture and an overall murky look to it. The one thing I am really happy to see fixed on the story is the half a second of black between each camera shot done in studio. The switchers used to switch between camera shots were mechanical. When this was shot at Lime Grove studios, the switcher used was faulty. Thus putting black between the shots. It drove me crazy! I almost couldn’t watch it that way. That has been fixed and I am so happy. The viewer warning prior to The Coming also was sourced from the master version of that BBC ident so the quality is superb.
Packaging wise, it comes with a 47 page booklet on everything you wanted to know about the production of the Quatermass serials. Written by Andrew Pixley, it has all sorts of minute details that you would have thought had been long lost by the time he came around to do these viewing notes. The only thing that lets down this set is the covers. It looks like a cover for a cheesy sci-fi triple feature. It completely undermines all the hard work, restoration and research that went into making this release.
If you are an American and have been wondering about getting a region free DVD player in order to get DVDs from the UK, this DVD set would be an essential purchase.

Next week: we come to the end of Quatermass II with the final two episodes of the serial. The Frenzy and The Destroyers.


Unknown said...

Again Greg, yet another great review - looking forward to the final review. Hope you would still be fixed for a full scale review still. Like the info about Derek Aylward having to get messed up twice in food slime, I think Toby Hadoke told me that some years back, apparently the gunk was in fact made up Swarfega.

Speak soon!


Greg said...

Hi Steve,

Thank you again for the kind comments! I'll e-mail you this week about the review. Just finished episodes 5 & 6. It never hit me how brilliant episode 5 is. Truly a masterpiece of atmosphere and tension.

Michael Fett said...

Out of curiousity how do you rate these next to the Hammer adaptions which are the only versions I have seen?

Unknown said...

Hi Michael,
Hard to choose with 'Quatermass II' for me. 'The Quatermass Experiment' is incomplete, so I would have to go for the Hammer film. As for 'Quatermass and the Pit' - it's hands down the TV serial for me, although the Hammer film is great in many ways, it lacks the intensity of the original.

Greg said...

It's hard to compare. The Hammer Quatermass II is my favorite of the Hammer films and I may like it a smidge more than the BBC version. I completely agree with Steve about the BBC version of Quatermass and the Pit. To me, it is probably one of the greatest television productions of all time. The scene with Quatermass and the Copper in the deserted house is as chilling and disturbing of a scene as you would find anywhere. Gripping stuff. You would only better your collection by picking it up. It's going pretty cheap on Amazon.

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts on these seminal SF series. I was a young boy when the Quatermass series began and never saw it at the time apart from a brief snatch of PIT when I was just 7 years old. The part I saw was the bit where a witness is describing what has almost sent him insane - a 'goblin' walking through the wall. There is such visceral fear in this scene that I had bad dreams for weeks afterwards.
We have the Trilogy on DVD. The Quatermass Experiment is incomplete, as only two episodes were recorded and the quality is abysmal despite the restoration.
Q2 is a great story but I've always thought that it was undermined by the truly awful performance of John Robinson.
The series finally got the actor it deserved with PIT. What a production this is, especially when you consider that it was performed live. An incredible feat. It remains absolutely chilling and genuinely scary to this day, and the music (mostly library music by Trevor Duncan) heightens the eerie atmosphere. I have only to hear it these days to get the chills.

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