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The passing of a giant

December 26, 2012

gerry_anderson_one_showBritish genre television creator Gerry Anderson died today at the age of 83.  Growing up in essentially the middle of damn nowhere, the only childhood exposure I remember of his was the series Stingray.  It’s a series about this super submarine dealing with your standard array of underwater menaces.  The unique thing about the series was that it, like all of Anderson’s early tv work, was a puppet show.  It wasn’t just any puppet show, though, it was a visual effects milestone called Supermarionation.  The performers weren’t just puppets, they were super puppets in that they could “speak” their lines by moving their mouths and change facial expressions.  The one thing Anderson never was quite able to mimic effectively was walking which is why the characters tend to remain seated a lot or, when they do walk, clever camera shots are used to hide their leg movement.  There were a huge number of these series realeased in the UK; Fireball XL-5, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Supercar but, the most recognizable to US audiences would easily be Thunderbirds about an organization called International Rescue run by the Tracy family.  As these were largely children’s tv shows, I don’t have any strong desire to revisit Stingray.  Besides, in what I can only describe as a classic case of negative reinforcement, I have a huge pile-up of destroyed childhood memories from my various attempts to revisit.  I think I’ll take my friend Mark Leeper’s advice and let them stay memories at this point.

What I most remember Gerry Anderson for is his live action, more adult oriented, series.  The first one that I saw was Space 1999, which we managed to get even in the boondocks that I grew up in.  It was a syndicated series in the US that ran on Saturdays or Sundays, I forget which.  The show starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, from the recently ended series Mission: Impossible.  Martin Landau played Commander John Koenig of Moonbase Alpha that due to a nuclear waste dump accident gets shot out of Earth’s orbit into deep space where they encounter new survival dilemas as well as aliens with each episode (it’s best not to think to hard about the physics of this set-up).  The series featured the, by then, standard exceptional Anderson visual effects work as well as intelligently written storys.  The first season was successful enough to spawn a second.  My favorite of Anderson’s live action series which predated Space 1999, even though I would encounter it afterwards is, UFO.  This was a one-season wonder from 1970 that starred Ed Bishop as Ed Straker.  Straker is the head of a secret international agency known as SHADO which stands for Supreme Headquarters Alien defense Organization.   The command center of SHADO is cleverly hidden beneath a film studio.  Being a Gerry Anderson production, the agency has all sorts of cool vehicle and a moon base to defend Earth from, you guessed it, alien invaders.  The aliens are coming to Earth to capture humans in order to harvest their organs and, yes, I am completely aware that this doesn’t make an ounce of scientific sense.  However, it ultimately doesn’t matter to me, as the whole is greater that the sum of its parts.  The series is set in 1980 and the projection of fashions and car designs of what 1980 will look like from a 1970’s perspective are visually quite striking.  Between this, the cool vehicles, very adult themed scripts, and Bishop’s commanding television presence, I still find the show utterly engrossing.  I think I’ll pull out my DVD set and watch an episode or two as my way of thanking Mr. Anderson for his tremendous contribution to genre television.

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