Sunday, February 8, 2015

DVD Spotlight: Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons

The most visually impressive of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Supermarionation TV series comes to video on February 10th when Timeless Media Group releases a boxed set containing all 32 episodes of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Originally broadcast in Great Britain in 1967-68, Captain Scarlet is also dramatically different from predecessors such as Stingray and Thunderbirds. The Andersons' earlier efforts were action-oriented children's shows, peppered with some semi-dramatic elements for parents who watched with their kids (e.g., the love triangle in Stingray). In contrast, world leaders are assassinated in Captain Scarlet and even the hero is killed--multiples times (click here or on the sidebar to view our unofficial trailer).

Captain Black reminds me of George
Lazenby as 007.
The first episode establishes the premise when a security force from Earth destroys what it believes is a dangerous alien base on Mars. However, the mysterious Mysterons reveal that the base was harmless. In retaliation for this unprovoked aggression, the Mysterons launch a prolonged "attack of nerves" on Earth. The aliens possess the power to reverse matter; they can recreate an object that has been destroyed or a life form that has been killed. The "new" entity is under control of the Mysterons. They use this power to transform people into their agents and killers. Thus, Captain Black--who destroyed their Martian base--becomes one of the Mysteron operatives.

Captain Scarlet and the World President.
So does Captain Scarlet, a member of the world security organization Spectrum. During an assassination attempt on the World President, Scarlet falls 800 feet to his death from the top of an elevated car park. However, inexplicably, Scarlet recovers from his fatal injuries and becomes "indestructible." No longer under control of the Mysterons, he becomes Spectrum's "greatest asset" in its fight against the Mysterons.

Destiny Angel was modeled after Ursula Andress.
As with many of their shows, the Andersons created a richly-detailed futuristic world for Captain Scarlet. Spectrum operates from a huge, airborne craft called Cloudbase, which serves as its control center and launching pad for the "interceptor jets." It has its own acronyms, such as S.I.G., which stands for "Spectrum is green" and means an acknowledgement like "roger" or "10-4." Spectrum's operatives are known by colorful codenames names like Colonel White, Captain Blue, and Lieutenant Green (a color spectrum, get it?). The fighter pilots are all female and known collectively as the Angels. Destiny Angel is their leader and the other pilots are Harmony, Symphony, Melody, and Rhapsody. Of note, Harmony (Japanese), Melody and Lieutenant Green (both African American) were among the first ethnic regular characters in mainstream British television.

From a technological perspective, Captain Scarlet is more visually realistic than its predecessors. In shows like Stingray and Thunderbirds, the puppets had disproportionately large heads because that was the location of the solenoid motors used to sync the voice track and the puppets’ mouths (see Stingray). For Captain Scarlet, the motors were moved to the puppets’ chests. In addition to overhead puppeteers, a floor puppeteer was added for some scenes to make movements look more natural.

An Interceptor jet.
Ironically, despite the emphasis on realism, the characters in Captain Scarlet seem more wooden than in earlier shows. Part of that can be attributed to the darker nature of the series. As mentioned before, Captain Scarlet “dies” on a regular basis and other characters are shot, perish in explosions, etc. In a fast-paced, half-hour show, it just wouldn't work to go from a deadly assassination to a funny scene with Oink the Seal Pup (one of my favorite “characters” from Stingray). Still, it's a less charming series than the previous ones, even though there's no denying that the miniature sets are incredible and there's nary a dull second in any episode.

Captain Blue, voiced by Ed Bishop.
The voice cast features two notable performers: Francis Matthews and Ed Bishop. Matthews was a member of the Hammer Films "repertory," appearing in The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1964), and Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966). He provides Captain Scarlet's voice, doing a pretty good imitation of Cary Grant. The voice for Scarlet's sidekick, Captain Blue, belongs to Canadian actor Ed Bishop. He would later find fame as Commander Straker, the head of S.H.A.D.O. in UFO (1970-71), the best of Gerry Anderson's live-action TV series.

Timeless Media's DVD boxed set includes sharp, bright transfers of the original episodes. There are plenty of bonuses, to include: interviews with director Alan Perry, puppeteer Mary Turner, and writer Shane Rimmer; audio commentary from Gerry Anderson on two episodes; and an excerpt from an Anderson interview.

A scene from New Captain Scarlet.
Although Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons ran for just one season, it continued to attract new fans thanks to syndicated repeats. As a result, in 2005, Anderson launched a computer animated series called Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet. It was essentially a reboot of the original and lasted for two seasons of 13 episodes each.

So, are you ready to watch Captain Scarlet and the rest of Spectrum battle the Mysterons? I say: "S.I.G.!"


Timeless Media Group provided a review copy of this DVD set.

4 comments:

  1. Rick, this is a fun post about "Captain Scarlet" and his battles with the Mysterons. The Mysterons being able to replicate humans reminded me of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" without the pods. I do have to admit to preferring "Stingray" because it also has comic relief. But I absolutely loved the awesome trailers you put together to promote both works. Everyone needs to click on the upper right corner of the green bar on the right to watch your cleverly edited preview of "Captain Scarlet." Brilliant!

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    1. Thanks, Toto, for the compliment on the trailers. Both were a lot of film to produce. I agree with you about STINGRAY--its characters are richer and the tone is lighter (and often quite clever, such as when an "actor" played Troy in a movie).

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  2. Captain Scarlet is easily my favorite Gerry Anderson series. It looks cool. The no nonsense approach made it better than Thunderbirds and the rest.

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  3. Ed Bishop was American, not Canadian.

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