"This man will be our hero, for fate will make him indestructible."
This isn't just any science-fiction/espionage/action show, it's a science-fiction/espionage/action show "filmed in Super-Marionation"!
Facts of the Case
The year is 2068. The Spectrum organization is the global peace-keeper of Earth, their high-tech Cloudbase a giant aircraft carrier floating high in the atmosphere. Spectrum agents, culled from the militaries and intelligence services of countries all over the globe, are given color codenames to protect their identities (the male ones, anyway; female agents are called Angels, dress in skin-tight white outfits, and have names like Destiny and Harmony).
Spectrum agent Captain Black goes on a mission to discover the source of alien transmissions being received from the planet Mars. On the red planet, he encounters the Mysterons and, like a big dunderhead, takes the shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach, pisses them off, and gets himself killed. You see, the Mysterons are sentient but mean-spirited computers created as a defense system by a mysterious race of aliens who colonized Mars, then fled the scene for reasons unknown, leaving the pissy super-computers behind. Using their retrometabolism capabilities (i.e. their ability to recreate matter), The Mysterons bring Captain Black back to life to use as their double agent inside Spectrum.
Enter Captain Scarlet. He's Spectrum's top agent until the Mysterons kill him off in the show's first episode. They reanimate him so he can be Black's partner in crime but, for reasons unexplained, their control over him is broken (personally, I think it has something to do with the fact his voice sounds inexplicably like Cary Grant's). Now, Captain Scarlet is exactly as he was before the Mysterons killed him, except with the power to regenerate, allowing his enemies to kill him nearly every week without ending the show's run and putting a lot people out of work.
Here's how the Mysterons' war against Earth works: each week they declare their intention to carry out some deadly mischief like killing a diplomat or wiping out a military compound, and Spectrum must try (often unsuccessfully) to stop them. Captain Scarlet leads the fight because, hey, even if he's shot or blown up in a horrific car accident, he'll be back next week to do it all again.
This A&E box set comprises all 32 episodes of Gerry Anderson's 1967 television show called Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Anderson, if you don't already know, is most famous for his other Super-Marionation show, Thunderbirds, which ran from 1964-1966, as well as the 1975-1977 live-action series Space: 1999, starring Martin Landau and Barbara Bain.
This review is almost too easy to write, so easy it's difficult in a way. I mean, what can I say, really? These massive four- or five-disc box sets are designed specifically for the fan. If you're reading this review and Captain Scarlet is an integral part of your childhood mythology, is anything I say going to soil your warm memories and dissuade you from a purchase? Doubtful. Conversely, if you've never seen Captain Scarlet, are you going to run out and drop 70 to 80 bucks on 32 episodes if I give the box a thumbs up? I don't think so. Personally, I'd never even heard of Captain Scarlet before screening this box set. Thunderbirds was slightly before my time, although I remember seeing some reruns as a kid and feeling vaguely creeped out by the demeanor of the puppets, creeped out and fascinated at the same time. I think a portion of Quint's speech about sharks in Jaws may accurately describe my childhood reaction to Anderson's marionettes: "…lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white." Okay, none of the Thunderbirds ever tried to bite me, but maybe I was afraid they would; like clowns, those puppets are nightmare fodder. They give me the howling fantods.
If, unlike me, you have fond childhood memories of Thunderbirds, this is probably right up your alley. Most say Captain Scarlet is darker, more complex, and more suited to adults than Thunderbirds. Okay…whatever. It's still a show with puppets. What fascinated me watching this set, however, is the level of detail with which Anderson and his crew rendered the world of the show. Once committed to the odd and unique approach of doing a television show with marionettes, these guys did nothing half-assed and you've got to love 'em for it. The whole weird look of the show, if nothing else, is absorbing.
Let's talk technical specs. Captain Scarlet is brought to DVD in a full screen transfer that looks pretty darn good for a 35-year-old obscure British television show. It's not perfect, of course, displaying slight signs of dirt and damage, but there's honestly not much to complain about. Color saturation is good, with strong black levels, and the plastic puppets and sets look…well, like real plastic. The same basic sentiments can be applied to the soundtrack. It's flat and hollow at times, but why would anyone expect more from an old show originally recorded in mono? At least there's no hiss. There's only the slightest of difference between the 2.0 Mono and 5.1 Surround tracks, the latter sounding just slightly fuller. Extras are sparing, and primarily text-based, but they provide solid background on the show. It would be fairly ridiculous to complain about supplements when talking about a box set with every single one of the show's episodes, providing over 13 hours of viewing enjoyment.
The set is very logically organized with eight episodes and a smattering of extras on each of the four discs. I'll go ahead and list the episode titles here because they're great titles, maybe my favorite part of the entire series:
Episodes: "The Mysterons," "Winged Assassin," "Big Ben Strikes Again," "Renegade Rocket," "Point 783," "Manhunt," "Operation Time," "White as Snow."
Episodes: "Seek and Destroy," "Spectrum Strikes Back," "Avalanche," "Shadow of Fear," "The Heart of New York," "Fire at Rig 15," "The Launching," "Lunarville 7."
Episodes: "The Trap," "Model Spy," "Dangerous Rendezvous," "Special Assignment," "Place of Angels," "Crater 101," "Expo 2068," "Traitor."
Episodes: "Flight 104," "Noose of Ice," "Codename Europa," "Flight to Atlantica," "Treble Cross," "Attack on Cloudbase," "The Inquisition," "Inferno."
Captain Scarlet, like any complete-season or complete-series television box set, is something approaching a fetish item. Good news if this is happens to be your fetish: A&E has done an admirable job of preserving the show on DVD. It's well worth an investment.
And if it's not your thing? Well, go out and buy Buffy or X-Files or M*A*S*H or The Simpsons or whatever your thing happens to be, and leave the Captain Scarlet crowd alone.
Captain Scarlet is found not guilty. I'd thank him to leave this court, as well as my personal nightmares.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Gerry Anderson on Two Episodes
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