[aka THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION]
John Mills, Simon MacCorkindale, Barbara Kellerman
1979 mini series Quatermass, made by Euston Films, was one of the
most ambitious drama projects ever undertaken by ITV, and is one of the
few science-fiction TV shows that was squarely aimed at an adult audience.
The story, which is set in a not-too distant future where society has
practically collapsed, is fundamentally about the conflict between science
and magic. It's a remarkable series, and, although some of it's trappings
seem rather dated, it could also be argued that its concerns are more
relevant today than they were a quarter of a century ago.
The four-part series had a healthy £1.5m budget, which
the producers intended to offset by creating a feature-length condensation
of the series which would get a theatrical release overseas, titled The
Quatermass Conclusion. This feature-length (102 minute) version has
been available on several different VHS labels over the years (it was one
of the first pre-recorded tapes released, on the Thorn EMI label, and was
subsequently reissued as a sell-through title by Video Collection
International). The episodic version was subsequently released on tape by
Video Gems, who lumbered the tapes with the crappiest covers
Completists will be relieved that their three-disc set
contains not only the four fifty-odd minute episodes, but also the movie
version, (spread across three separate DVD5s), but might wince when they
realise that this is reflected in the price of the set. In the context of
this set, the movie version is practically redundant, and should be
considered as little more than a bonus item. The movie version isn't
merely a distillation of the mini-series: since it was always the
intention to present the story in two versions, the movie version includes
some especially-shot material (linking scenes, shots where certain
characters aren't present, etc). Comparing the two side-by-side might
prove an interesting exercise, if anyone's interested in the nuts and
bolts of the production.
DVDs present both the series and movie in full-frame format, with the
original mono audio intact. Little - if any - effort has been made to
re-master the series. Instead of returning to the original 35mm negatives,
which might have resulted in results as astonishing as those on Carlton's
Region 2 UFO discs, ClearVision has sourced the disc from 16mm
prints (and rather battered ones, if the frequent splinter-like scratches
are indicative). This is perhaps understandable, since making a new
transfer from the negatives - even if they were to be made available,
which may not have been the case - is not cheap. What is unforgivable
(especially considering that this is a product with a premium price
attached to it) is that there are several noticable examples of analogue
tape dropout, strongly suggesting that the discs were mastered from
inferior Beta-SP recordings.
image has a slightly muted, earthy colour balance, which may have been
intentional, but seems to extend to shots where you'd expect a more
naturalistic palette. (Some shots in the last episode, An Endangered
Species, were deliberately tinted green, to suggest the sickness
beginning to manifest itself).
Image contrast is generally poor, with areas of the
picture that should be pitch black appearing charcoal gray. The picture
has reasonably good detail (you can read some of the background signs,
about fuel conservation and looting, for example) but this is sometimes
blurred by excessive video noise reduction, or inadequate MPEG encoding.
There are regular signs of edge-enhancement, creating halos around areas
of stark contrast. Occasionally shots suffer from a pulsing effect, which
makes some details "snap" on and off, and temporarily
obliterates others (this is sometimes referred to as "noise
pumping" or "I-frame pumping", since it's related to the
way that information is compressed to MPEG format). The series has an
average bitrate of 5.22Mb/sec, but close examination reveals that the
level rarely ever wavers below 4.5Mb/sec and 5.5Mb/sec, suggesting some
very crude, non-adaptive compression has been applied. Images are often
smeary, but there are no prominent tiling artefacts.
The episodes also suffer from another problem that a
new, state-of-the-art telecine transfer might have completely eliminated:
film weave. This is an almost constant irritant, (the second episode, Lovely
Lightning, is especially bad). There are even a couple of
instances where the image jumps completely (the opening shot of the third
episode, What Lies Beneath, for example).
Since the series was presumably framed with half an eye
on the theatrical presentation, it's quite likely that the cinematography
was designed to be matted from the full-frame version (seen on the
four-part TV version) for widescreen presentation. A widescreen
presentation of The Quatermass Conclusion might have been entirely
legitimate (many shots seem to have more headroom than they need). The
framing on The Quatermass Conclusion often crops off picture
information that's present in the mini-series version.
The transfer of The Quatermass Conclusion on the
disc is considerably worse than the episodic version, as can be seen from
the following screen grabs:
The audio on both version is presented at 224kbps, and
has minor wow and flutter. Dialogue is well-recorded, and always intelligible.
might like to know that there's been some tampering with the episodes: the
opening Thames logo's are intact, but the end logo has been replaced with
a modern version. The advert break bumpers have been removed, but this
seems to have been handled responsibly, and most now simply appear as
fades to and from black (thankfully, there's none of the abhorrent digital
zoom shenanigans that blighted ClearVision's Callan discs here).
Still, it would be nice if disc producers finally realised that their core
customers overwhelmingly want them left intact.
Episodes three and four have spoken "previously
on..."-type introductions. If there was ever one on episode two, it's
not there now.
The discs have very slick menus, which are easy to
navigate. (Hey, why not spend some of that money on some basic
cleanup?!) The set comes with a fourteen-page printed booklet, offering a
potted history of the various Quatermass incarnations. The discs
themselves carry some comprehensive production notes, by Action-TV's
Andrew Screen. Annoyingly, these are split across the two discs of the
mini-series. The Conclusion disc contains the set's only tangible
bonus feature: an eighteen minute interview with Quatermass creator Nigel
Kneale, from the Sci-Fi Channel series Glimpse. This is a
wide-ranging interview, which is naturally focused on his work on the
various Quatermass incarnations.
While Kneale fans will welcome the chance to add the Quatermass
series to their growing DVD collections, many are likely to be
disappointed with the penny-pinching transfer, and the lack of extras.
Kneale has been more than willing to contribute commentary tracks in the
past (on Anchor Bay's The Abominable
Snowman and Quatermass 2
discs, for example), and the lack of one here - even if it was just on one
episode - is a big disappointment. It's not just Kneale's input that's
missed, of course. What about contributions from the series' stars, or the
director? With a tightly focused market, you only get one shot at getting
something like this right, and ClearVision's DVD set sadly makes it that
much more unlikely that someone else will do something more substantial
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