What worries me, is how final can this be?
Quatermass 2 is the film adaptation of Writer Nigel Kneale's BBC television serial and is the sequel to 1955's The Quatermass Xperiment.
Strange things are falling from the nighttime sky. Things that fall with what would appear to be a form of intelligence. Additionally, unusual instructions are coming from the heart of the British government, Whitehall, and it's enough to make the intrepid Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), very, very concerned.
Investigating further brings Quatermass and his friend from Scotland Yard, Chief Inspector Lomax (John Longden) to a small town where very mysterious happenings are occurring on a regular basis. Happenings that are linked to the objects falling from the sky. Happenings that will pit a small group of men against a quiet and deadly enemy from space. Working against the clock, will the efforts of Quatermass and company be enough to save all of mankind? Watch Quatermass 2 and find out.
Quatermass 2 is one of the handful of Hammer movies I had never seen and I've got to say it is one of the better ones. At 85 minutes, the film is quite taunt and exciting. It is also one of the more violent films from the period, and those acts help drive the tension home. As a film there are some basic similarities between this movie and Don Siegel's classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. In the final product though, the movies really are quite different. Body Snatchers was much more existential in its approach, whereas Quatermass 2 is much more content to just scare the audience with horrors presented in a matter-of-fact, this could really happen kind of style. If it is comparisons you are looking for however, I find there is much more in common between Quatermass 2 and today's number one sci-fi/horror show The X-Files. Watching the film I could not help but think that X-Files creator Chris Carter must have used this movie as a sort of template for developing the overall tone of his series.
Looking at other films of the period as context, you will begin to realize how unusual the whole conspiracy angle within the confines of a shadow government is. Not knowing who to trust or who to talk to, everyone could be the enemy. The movie has a wonderful sense of paranoia and fear that really takes hold and does not let go. In keeping with that, on the alternate track director Guest makes an observation that I found very interesting. On the commentary he talks about how Quatermass 2 was made during the McCarthy era here in the states, when everyone truly was suspect. Of course in the end it was found that McCarthy was a fraud and there was no real conspiracy to speak of. But across the pond and around the same time in Great Britain there were traitors everywhere in various positions of power, so, as Guest remarks, McCarthy was, in a way, sadly correct.
Another familiar sounding concept utilized by Quatermass 2 is how the alien beings form themselves into a greater whole governed by one singular conciseness. Does that seem to resemble a certain aggressive hive-like alien species from Star Trek?
Pretty much everything works in Quatermass 2, even the lack of a large budget. While often a hindrance, Hammer's tight purse strings and compact shooting schedule helped the film, giving it a sense of economy and a feeling of the inevitable. For such a small movie, the production makes great use of locations. The highlight would be the Shell Oil processing plant that was presented as the home base for the alien invasion. This particular location is very strange to look at, with many different shapes and angles. It gives the movie a sense of scope and reality that Val Guest utilizes for all it's worth.
Director Guest and writer Kneale had already worked together on the original Quatermass and would work together again on The Abominable Snowman, so they were old hands at the science fiction thing. With Quatermass 2 that experience pays off as together they create a film that is both oppressive and dark while also managing to be quite credible. It is that sense of actuality created that helps make the film so very unnerving. It is strong work from both artists.
Performances are strong across the board with Brian Donlevy being pretty straightforward as Quatermass. His acting style is certainly from a different era but once I became used it, his work paid off for me. His hero, while noble, is not the bravest man in the world. An intelligent fellow, he comes to realize that the world hangs in the balance, with his actions being the deciding factor. Donlevy shows that all heroes need not have huge muscles and even larger guns. Often the greatest weapon is the mind and the strength of ones convictions. He gives a performance that shows all that and more. It is charming work from a seasoned professional.
It is also interesting to note, according to Guest and Kneale, that Mr. Donlevy was more than a little inebriated during the course of filming. Personally I never thought it showed but isn't that why we listen to commentary tracks, to get those kind of details?
As Quatermass' partner-in-crime, John Longden is very solid as Chief Inspector Lomax. Longden offers a quiet and noble performance to the film that lends itself with to the sense of foreboding and doom. Not being able to believe and then not wanting to believe, Longden does a good job of showing his character as he changes. He gets the inspector, as well as the audience, to the point where he knows what must be done and accepts the possible sacrifice of those actions. His work, along with Mr. Donlevy, show that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
Comic relief is provided by veteran character actor Sid James, as newsman Jimmy Hall. James gives the film a light comic touch, which makes his sudden death all the more memorable and shocking.
Those who read my work know of my affection for the work of Anchor Bay. They do fabulous work and have great taste in films. Well, now you add honesty to the list. The first thing you see when you open the package of this movie is this: "Notice: Courtesy of the British Film Institute, the 35mm fine grain print used for this DVD is the best element available. However, the opening two minutes have deteriorated from age and therefore are not of the same quality as the rest of the film." Sure enough, the first two minutes are indeed less than ideal but afterwards things shape up quite nicely. Contrast is excellent, with blacks being solid showing no signs of shimmer or pixel breakup. The print does have other age related problems but nothing that distracts from the viewing of the movie itself. All in all, considering the age of the movie, the picture looks very good.
Sound is Dolby Digital Mono and it also holds up quite well. Dialogue is clear, with the soundtrack having a surprising amount of fidelity. There is no real background distortion to talk about with the real star of the sound show being Hammer house composer James Bernard and his outstanding score. It is music that elevates the tension while keeping the film moving along. It is terrific work from a very underrated talent.
Extras are a nice package with the highlight being a scene specific commentary track with Guest and Kneale. Both men are well up in years but possess a remarkable level of memory. Although they were recorded separately, lots of information is given with quite a few amusing stories being told. Its a marvelous track that is well worth a listen.
The original US theatrical trailer is shown and of course we are given the "World Of Hammer." This time out the featured subject is the science fiction films of Hammer Studios. As always they are nothing more than extended advertisements for other Hammer movies but that is part of the charm. The studio was always pretty direct in both its product and in the way it was presented. As such, there are worse ways to spend an odd thirty minutes or so.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I don't have any problems with Quatermass 2. Certainly Brian Donlevy's rat-TA-tat style of line delivery takes some getting used to but his work really adds to the no nonsense, bare bones style of film director Guest was after. As always, your mileage may vary but it worked for me.
The film does have several moments where it seems dated but nothing ever falls into the category of camp, indeed how well the film held up surprised me. Perhaps it is the theme of paranoia and distrust that is so fashionable in the media these days but I found Quatermass 2 to be both relevant and engaging.
For the umpteenth time, my only complaint with Anchor Bay is the absence of subtitles or alternate language tracks. Enough said on that matter but I really wish they would address the issue.
Quatermass 2 is quite the experience. The film is X-Files almost 40 years before Scully and Mulder started sneaking around in the shadows looking for aliens and conspiracies. The movie is well directed, very well written and nicely performed.
Anchor Bay has done a remarkable job using what was available to deliver another fine transfer. To make your purchase decision even simpler, the disc has solid extra features. To top it all off, Anchor Bay is continuing to use the alpha keep case, my personal storage container of choice.
Fans of Hammer Films, Sci-fi movies or just fans of well written suspense flicks will want to check this release out. For me this is a solid purchase all the way. If this helps any, in the writing of the review I watched the movie three times and it stayed fresh through every viewing. For me that is a pretty solid sign that I will be more than willing to watch it again.
In closing just let me say that Quatermass 2 is another fine addition to the Anchor Bay series of Hammer Collection releases and as such, is strongly recommended.
Getting a chance to view films like Quatermass 2 is one of the true pleasures of working in this courtroom and all charges against Quatermass 2 and Anchor Bay are dismissed. This court is now in recess. Good day.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary with Director Val Guest and Writer Nigel Kneale
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