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DVD Review – The New Captain Scarlet, Series 2
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lil_shepherd
Or, to be much more accurate, the second part of what was originally intended to be one season. I reviewed the first box set elsewhere when it came out, and include that review .

Review of the first box set, originally posted elsewhere.

Having seen bits and pieces of this on the TV, and knowing I would buy the DVD; I had really to wait until I was actually able to concentrate to pass judgement.

My problem was that I loved the original, not so much for what it actually was as for its potential from a fan writer's viewpoint. (Fan fiction at its best is about doing things that TV and film can't, whether from a character relationship, plot or background point of view – and often all three.) So I knew I'd be more critical, and waited for Jean's judgement (she's not a fan.)

The first thing she said, three episodes in, was "This isn't the Scarlet and Blue I know."

Too right.

While this is the best thing Anderson has done since the couple of decent episodes in Space 1999 (not saying a lot) it is a veritable curate's egg. Some of the backgrounds (the Mars stuff is awesome) and machine animation sequences are to die for, but then there is the usual interactive problem in that the characters seem totally independent of their surroundings – shadows, weight perception, air movement etc are just not imagined and therefore not animated. Jean claims to see background bleed too. And it's no use using motion capture if the people you're using to capture the motion don't walk or run properly in the first place – this is the only explanation I can find for the universal stiff waddle (mind you, in those outfits it would be a stiff waddle.) And it is the people who are the problem. Ina again: "The puppets had more expression."

I think, in fact, that this is a fallacy, but it is a perception that stems from the major failing with the cartoon. The original series had a voice cast to die for, and the three principals, Francis Matthews (Captain Scarlet), Ed Bishop (Captain Blue) and Charles Grey (Colonel White) not only had distinctive voices, but they were all very experienced radio actors, used to using voice alone to convey feeling and character. While Anderson has never credited voice casts properly, at least the one for the CS puppet series had a whole 'Featuring the voices of" page to itself in the credits. The one for the new cartoon is in tiny lettering occupying about a quarter of a screen, which shows how much the producers think the actors contributed – and possibly how much they were paid. Not that anyone on the list is recognisable and nor are their voices, being mostly monotonal and awfully bland. Whoever is voicing Destiny has a bad problem with accent slip, too! Nor does the dialogue establish characterisation, though this could be because actually no-one seems to have one! (No Anderson character has since Sylvia left.) Tell a lie – they have one bland character between them, passed around like the Fates' eye…. brave, clever, thoughtful, sensitive blah, blah.

How about a bit of temper (the original Colonel White's was notorious) or a bit more humour? (One funny line in four episodes…) One really can't imagine this Captain Blue with his feet up on White's desk, enjoying his day of power by drilling the rest of the crew to near-rebellion, for instance.

Some of the origin story re-write worked, but some did not, the best parts being the opening sequence between Scarlet and Black on the Mars mission, but I've seen the opening double episode twice now and am now sitting at this computer, unable to remember what happens at the end. I doubt that anyone who every saw the puppet show forgets the confrontation at the top of the London Skypark, though. Don't expect originality in the writing, either – the steal from Stargate SG1 in Swarm was blatant.

That review concluded:

"Someday, someone may remake the puppet show and fulfil the potential of the original concept. This doesn't. On the other hand, it may not have designs as stunning as Xcalibur, the brilliant voice cast of Batman: The Animated Series or the characterisation of Dan Dare (or even Scooby-Doo!) but it is worth watching for the backgrounds and the machines….

It won't replace the puppet series, though."

Though it still doesn't, there is a change in tone and, oddly, changes in the CGI in this second batch of episodes. Shadows are better rendered, but there still is insufficient weight. This time, I did spot 'background bleed'. The machines are still lovingly detailed, but the backgrounds are not as good as they were in the first set of episodes. The flying sequences are knockout (even if they do change the laws of physics occasionally.) Facial expressions seem to mirror the six 'expression' puppet heads used in the original. Skin is... er... interestingly rendered (I approve of the obsession with stubble)... but hair is dreadful, much worse than Xcalibur, some six years older. Movement is a bit better, though no-one moves like that athletes they are supposed to be.



The interaction between the characters has improved, with people showing irritability, temper and occasionally even attempts at flirting and teasing! It's only when it comes to angst that conviction vanishes. The voice work seems a little better – with practice, no doubt – but the main improvement seems to have been in the scripting. Oddly, the best character is a new one, the female version of Captain Ochre, who takes centre stage more than once, and really shines in what I considered the best episode Grey Skulls. (Best because it feels real, is funny, and uses Roswell beautifully.) It also has Colonel White actually losing his temper, though it has to be said he shows little other emotion elsewhere. Incidentally, there's something very odd indeed about this episode. On the box blurb, the episode Grey Skulls is given a three line description, not one word of which matches anything about this or any other episode. Weird.

Some of the plots are recycled from other Anderson episodes. We need only mention the one where Scarlet and Black are trapped together in a hostile environment and forced to aid each other to escape. (Other people will no doubt remember UFO's Survival. I wouldn't have minded so much if it had been a decent UFO episode.) The Mysterons also seem to be fixated on using alien spores/viruses in their 'war of nerves' – no less than three episodes of this batch use the theme.

There is more humour – Blue seems to get most of the best one-liners. (Though nothing to match, for me, the moment in the original when White rages about yet another Scarlet disobedience and the revenge he's going to take, with Scarlet lying dead at his feet. When a witness ventures to point this out – "This man is dead," – White responds, "That's no excuse," and continues his harangue.) Blue and Scarlet seem to be in the process of perfecting a hard man/hard man interrogation technique, in line with the 'tough cops' buddy act they seem to have become. The plots are darker too. This ought to be scarier than it is, but the Mysterons never win as they did – very occasionally – in the puppet series. There is also a great deal more interaction between a larger number of characters and much less of the Scarlet/Destiny/Black love triangle, which makes what there is more poignant – the 'human' Captain Black is still one of the most interesting and admirable characters in the series. On the other hand, Scarlet seems to forget his bleak worries about whether he is human (I'm sure the writers picked this up from the fan fiction) for several episodes at a time.

Better. Definitely better. There are episodes of this I'm sure I'll watch again. It is a shame that ITV treated the series so badly, chopping it into bits and not giving it a proper broadcast slot, though possibly they had seen Space Precinct! What happens next is up to them, too. I am not worried about a possible CGI Thunderbirds but am deeply concerned about what they might do to UFO

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I rather enjoyed the episodes I caught, notably the one featuring the Mysteron defector, and was appalled at the way it was handled by ITV. So was Anderson, I heard: the Saturday morning appearances were months ahead of the agreed schedule, and wrecked his plans to merchandise the new designs for xmas 2005 (as I understand it, ITC owns the rights to the original vehicles).

Of course, the plot of that episode derives from the sub-plot of another UFO episode - A Question of Priorities...

The problem is that Anderson has not had a critical or ratings success since the first season of Space 1999. The fact that the new Captain Scarlet was going to turn out to be the best thing he'd done since UFO was not something ITC or any of the stations in the syndication could count on.

Of course, Anderson knew where the money was, hence his annoyance about the merchandising fiasco.

By an odd coincidence, my friend Ray Holloway dropped by this afternoon and we watched the first four episodes (we'd scheduled to watch Constantine, but he brought along the first volume of Scarlet as an afterthought).

The opening two-parter still struck me as pretty low-tech cgi (the head of the murdered businessman literally revolves beneath his shirt collar), but "Swarm" is fairly reasonable and "Rat Trap" is a lot of fun. Just goes to show what happens when you have to compress your plot into 25 minutes.

Of course, we have to judge the CGI as TV-level CGI - you can't spend as much money on a TV series as was spent on Finding Nemo (my favourite Pixar) or the Shrek movies, which have, I think, the best hair and human skin in any CGI effort so far. Nor do you have the time - and time is even more important than computing power.

Anderson always regarded his puppets as substitutes for real actors. (This is why he is despised in what might be called the 'puppetry' community, and why you cannot imagine him making anything like the astonishing Strings.) This means that he sees the constraints, rather than the advantages of the medium he is using.

It's the same with his CGI stuff. There is a sort of desperate attempt to make the characters look like real, three dimensional human people. It doesn't work. The technology still isn't quite good enough, even if money is poured into it, and because we, as humans, are designed to concentrate on faces and read expressions, CGI just isn't subtle enough. (Which was the genius of using Serkis's expressions for Gollum.) Of course, this isn't necessary, as we are used to watching animations where the faces and forms of humans have been put into two dimensions and simplified - and which is why you need to spend far more effort on your scripts and your voice cast. But Anderson isn't interested in animation as art, but as a tool that's a step up from puppets. It's why Xcalibur, five years older, which does see the animation as art, and never really tries to make its characters look 'real' in the same way this does, is so much better.

As for plot compression - the original was also 25 minutes, yet managed more charm and more humour, and rather better characterisation. I'm not convinced.

Not to say that it isn't fun, or a definite step up from what Anderson has been doing for the last thirty years - certainly it's the first Anderson series since UFO where I've bothered to buy the DVDs...

I phrased that badly. What I meant was, many tvsf series would stretch these episodes to 47 minutes (I always felt Thunderbirds contained rather too much padding). UFO, in my opinion at least, remains a strikingly successful show and ITC's decision not to proceed with a second season still baffles and irritates me in equal measure.

Mysterons

(Anonymous)
I never 'got' the mysterons and this series confused me further, I thought the CGI was OK but there was never any ambition to fill out the characters.

But are the mysterons pure terrorists? Obviously capable of destroying the planet with a wave of their two polo mints, they just play with the human race like a cat with a mouse.

Osama should be taking notes: "We know you can hear us thick-man"

The Mysterons were essentially exacting revenge by instalments, tho' - if you had your Letts TV21 diary circa 1970 - you'd know Earth eventually secured a ceasefire.

I always got the impression that the Mysterons were using the destruction of Earth as a management project for their kids or junior executives.

Thank you for the excellent review! :-)

I'll keep it in mind if I can find a place to rent it or if it comes to US television. Space Precinct did, and pieces of UFO as syndicated tv movies when I was a kid. But I barely remember those.

Thank you. It was meant to be provide some perspective in all the Anderson fanboy squee. (It is mainly fanboy rather than fangirl, oddly.)

UFO is the best thing the Anderson team have ever done. (Mind you, it had dreadful science, worse continuity, and some stinkers of episodes.) Besides, you don't improve live action by making a CGI cartoon remake.

'6' expressions heads; hmm... I thought I counted 4. But then I was guessing, as I don't recall that detail in any background material on Supermarionation. I just deduced on my own that each (regular) puppet character had multiple heads with various expressions molded on the faces (anger, joy, alarm, and neutral)

Now I know better.

I read the six expression heads (only for major characters) somewhere back when the series premiered (1966), and it sort of stuck. It is mentioned elsewhere in background material, but that material stretches back to before the said 1966 broadcast! Personally, I never actually bothered to count, and admire your eye for detail!

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