Judge Cynthia Boris dangerously suggests that Space Academy merges the Star Wars and Star Trek universes. Let the flame wars commence!
"Welcome to the most magnificent achievement in space, the man-made planetoid…Space Academy…founded in the star year 3732.Here we have gathered young people from the farthest reaches of the known worlds. They have been chosen for their unique abilities, and are being trained to cope with the mysterious, the unknown, the unpredictable dangers lurking in the vast darkness of space."
In the 1970's, Saturday morning cartoons began to give way to a new type of programming for kids: the live action serial. Some, like Lost Saucer and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters were played strictly for laughs. Others loaded their plots with danger and excitement such as Land of the Lost, Ark II, and this brand new DVD release, Space Academy. It may have been intended for kids, but I think you'll find its audience is as far reaching as space itself.
Facts of the Case
From 1966 to 1993, Filmation produced more than sixty animated and live action children's properties, most of which are still recognized today. Their works include the animated Star Trek, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Isis, Shazam, and several incarnations of the Archie Comics characters. Space Academy came out on the coat tails of a small movie called Star Wars, with some of the same special effects people working on both!
Set in the 3700's, Space Academy is just what it sounds like: Hogwarts for the spacey set. Talk about going away to boarding school! These kids are living in the farthest reaches of the galaxy with very little adult supervision. 300-year-old Commander Gampu (Jonathan Harris, Lost in Space) is in charge of blue team. He's the lone father figure, teacher, boy scout leader, and headmaster all rolled into one. His team's captain is Chris Gentry (Ric Carrott) who shares a freaky mind link with his sister, Laura (Pamelyn Ferdin, Charlotte's Web). Tee Gar Soom (Brian Tochi, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), is a cute Asian boy with amazing martial arts abilities (in addition to his smarts) while Adrian Pryce-Jones (Maggie Cooper) is the oldest girl on the team, a true scientist. And Paul Jerome (Ty Henderson) is the team's pilot and resident "kid from the wrong side of the galaxy." In the first episode, the team adopts alien orphan Loki (Eric Greene), the blue-haired boy and youngest cast member. Oh wait! What would a space series be without ships and robots? Space Academy has both. Peepo is a small, boxy robot that really worked (when he worked) and the Seeker is a small shuttlecraft similar to the Jumpers on Stargate: Atlantis and Star Trek's Galileo.
Hear that warning claxon, students? That means we're being bombarded by deadly asteroids! I hope you did your homework…
I remember watching this series when it first aired, which is odd because I was in high school. I was probably attracted to it for the same reason as I'm attracted to it now, for Jonathan Harris. As a major collector of all things Irwin Allen, I never could pass up a chance to see one of Lost in Space's regulars take on a different role, and this is a different role for Harris. Though both series take place in space, you won't see any signs of the long-suffering, sarcastically witty Dr. Smith on Space Academy. Harris does, however, maintain his trademark Shakespearian chin lift and his carefully measured, deep voiced, manner of speaking.
What truly sets Space Academy apart from other children's shows of the era is its dramatic, sci-fi style. Many of the episodes could have easily been written for Kirk, Spock, and the crew of the Enterprise. For example, in "Hide and Seek" a missile is used to destroy an asteroid that threatens the Academy, and members of the Blue team begin to disappear one by one. Seriously, didn't I see an episode just like that on Star Trek?
Other episodes deal with the concept of acceptance of other life forms, the dangers of technology in the wrong hands, and the ever-popular "for the good of the many" plotline where the team must choose between saving a friend while risking the lives of others.
All of the cast members are well-suited to their roles and manage to solve each week's dilemma's without looking too much like Fred, Daphne, and the Scooby Gang. It is a children's show, so there is a small amount of preaching, but not much more than you find in your average Sci-Fi show. Sci-Fi always seems to be a hot bed for "be yourself" and "we're all brothers under the skin" and "if you prick us will we not bleed," so I certainly can't fault this show for driving those points home.
Next to the dramatic plots, Space Academy is also unusual in that it has some major special effects. Produced with a minimal budget, the effects artists really got creative and they pulled off some major model work for the space shots. Scenes of the Seeker taking off and landing in a docking bay is almost as good as you see on the original Battlestar Galactica and that's because many of the effects men came right of Star Wars to work both shows.
For such a small series, BCI has done a very nice job putting together this DVD set. The navigation screens are highly detailed (almost too much) with screen shots and plot synopsis on each episode title. Executive Producer Lou Scheimer, effects wizard Chuck Comisky, and actors Ric Carrott, Brian Tochi and Eric Greene are all on hand to do commentary and a behind the scenes featurette. All grown up now, Greene in particular speaks fondly of his days on the series and everyone has a fun story or two to tell. Tochi does a great Jonathan Harris imitation when he relates the story of their first meeting.
The set also includes several still galleries and clips of the cast discussing a cast reunion that happened some years ago. The commercial bumpers are on here but that's only for the true die-hard fans and there are supposed to be Easter Eggs but I haven't found them yet. The menus have so many layers there's a lot to look through. Here's something you won't hear me say often, check out the trailers included on this set, they'll really have you skipping down memory lane.
Finally, they've included a DVD component which is a PDF version of all the scripts for the series and the series bible. Now that is a cool special feature for true fans.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Far be it for me to complain about too much information, but I will. The navigation menus, while quite thorough in the details and available options, were a pain to use. If you have time, hit the Play All feature. Without commercials these episodes only run about twenty-two minutes each—so you could watch the entire run of fifteen episodes in just a couple of nights.
So this isn't Star Trek—well, actually some of the planetscapes look a lot like Star Trek…but anyway, this is TV made for kids. It's campy at times. It's preachy at points. But overall, given the era in which it was produced, it's pretty cool.
This court finds is troubled by the image of one adult male supervising numerous young children on a planet far far away from their parents. But as the court has no evidence to prove misconduct, it will have to offer a verdict of not guilty.
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• "Back to School with Space Academy" featurette
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