Review for Terrahawks: Volume 1
Looking before you leap is always a wise maxim, but one that I’m apt to ignore when it comes to home entertainment, and especially nostalgia. I have to admit that my nostalgia was tingling overtime when Network announced Terrahawks, a Gerry Anderson show that I grew up with in the early eighties. If you’ve watched any of the Gerry Anderson classics like Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Fireball XL5, I’m sure you appreciated the blending of marionettes and sci-fi, the fantastic adventures and the even more fantastic futuristic technology. Terrahawks took this formula and updated it for the eighties with Super Macromation, puppets with no strings attached. But it was the announcement that Network would be releasing Terrahawks on Blu-ray that got me stepping off into the wild blue yonder without a parachute. After all, these Gerry Anderson shows were all shot on film. Terrahawks should look fantastic in HD. I should have checked IMDB first, the trivia section which I quote, “The original 16mm master negatives for the series are no longer believed to exist, or at least their whereabouts are currently unknown. The distributors only hold 1 inch video transfers taken from the masters and duplicates in the 1980s.” So forget the crispy visuals, all I’m leaning on here is nostalgia for a show I haven’t seen in 30 years.
Martians are invading! Martian androids to be precise, led by the evil Zelda. All that stands between her and the conquest of Earth are the Terrahawks, an elite group using advanced technology and their wits to defend the planet. Tiger Ninestein is their leader, second in command is Captain Mary Falconer, along with fighter pilots Kate Kestrel and Lt Hawkeye, while in orbit is Lt Hiro. Of course they also have their trusty Zeroid robots to fight alongside them, led by Sergeant Major Zero.
All thirteen episodes of season 1 are presented across two Blu-rays thus.
1. Expect the Unexpected I
2. Expect the Unexpected II
5. Close Call
6. From Here to Infinity
7. Space Samurai
8. The Sporilla
9. Happy Madeday
10. Gunfight at Oaky's Corral
11. The Ugliest Monster of All
12. The Gun
13. Thunder Path
Terrahawks gets a 4:3 pillarboxed transfer at 1080i resolution, and 50Hz reflecting the original PAL transmission in the UK. It is quite obviously an upscale, most probably from videotape elements, as the image is soft and completely absent the clarity and crispness of a native HD transfer. It is however stable, with consistent colours, and absolutely no signs of compression to my eyes. In that last aspect, it will no doubt be superior to the DVD version of the same. Terrahawks comes from the Gerry Anderson stable of shows, and in terms of its mechanical effects, the wondrous collection of vehicles and machinery, it’s a spiritual successor of Thunderbirds, while the Zeroids and Cuboids make for visually appealing mascot characters, most typified by the end credit sequences. The show marked a move away from the marionettes in favour of hand puppetry, which has the immediate effect of doing away with the strings. It also allows for comparatively more expressive characters.
Update: I didn't have the packaging and the sleeve notes to refer to, so I had to make some assumptions about the transfer. I have since been informed in a tweet by Stephen La Rivière, Producer/Director/Writer of the Thunderbirds revival that
"There are restoration notes on the inside cover that explain that 35 of the 39 episodes are from film, not from video tape... And whilst it suffers from being 16mm prints, the difference between the film and video eps is noticeable."
The sole audio track is a PCM 2.0 English track, which given the vintage of the show I would assume is mono. Certainly there’s no significant separation or discreet placement to the audio effects and music, although the typical home cinema Prologic treatment does open it up a bit. There is the rare moment of tape hiss though. The dialogue is clear throughout, and subtitles are provided should you require them. It’s all down to the casting and the performances, which aren’t bad, certainly more fun when it comes to the villains, although Ninestein’s faux American accent is obvious to me now in a way that it wasn’t at age ten. He sounds more like Kryten from Red Dwarf. The show’s real coup was in getting Windsor Davies to voice Sergeant Major Zero, the ‘head’ Zeroid. He creates a toned down (and slightly more politically correct) version of his It Ain’t Half Hot Mum character, and is easily the star of the show.
You’ll have to forgive the fiddly menus, as they insist on leading you through a noughts and crosses game (Zeroids and Cubes?) as you select your desired option, rather than letting you freely navigate. It’s a few button presses I don’t mind sacrificing for a little more fun. The extras are all on disc 2, and there are plenty to appreciate here, as well as offering the native HD content that makes the Blu-ray a worthwhile option.
Geronimo! Terrahawks SFX lasts 30:37 and is in 1080i 50Hz. Steve Begg and Terry Adlam are interviewed about the model and special effects work that they did on the show, there are plenty of clips from the show, and some behind the scenes images as well. It’s a nice interview, well worth listening to. Incidentally the Network featurettes have updated the credit sequences for the featurettes; the Terrahawks opening gets the full 3D, while the Zeroid and Cubes have a few more matches of noughts and crosses.
The Composer’s Perspective lasts 20:53 1080i, and in it Richard Harvey is interviewed about his music for the show. You also get a couple of clips from alternate theme demos, as well as the Terrahawks theme given the full London Philharmonic.
Zeroids vs. Cubes: Party lasts 2:16 1080i and is a little cartoon entertainment featuring everyone’s favourite spheres.
There are FX Trims from Season 1, a showreel lasting 14:14 again 1080i.
Big Finish Audio have in recent years created sixteen more Terrahawks episodes, which you can buy from their site. But you get one of the episodes here; The Price is Right, which lasts 35:30.
Glass Onion: Don’t Be Afraid lasts 6:15, 1080p, and is a homage to classic kids TV in the form of a music video.
There is an extensive Slideshow image gallery to peruse.
The big extra is the Expect The Unexpected: VHS Version, which offers the two pilot episodes of Terrahawks in feature film form. This runs to 92:10, indicating that there is at least half an hour of material that hit the cutting room floor when the episodes were syndicated. This is presented in 576i 50Hz, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, and as the title suggests, this is a glitchy VHS version, so prepare for the odd sound drop-out, and tracking line.
It isn’t just the opening two episodes which appear to have lost footage, as evidenced by the significantly longer VHS version of the story in the extras. Some of the other episodes do also raise the occasional eyebrow when characters refer to events that you didn’t see on screen. It doesn’t happen too often, but it does suggest that these episodes got additional trims for time when they were syndicated to squeeze a few more adverts in, certainly 23 minutes for a half hour slot seems a little too short.
That’s actually just a small niggle, certainly not as annoying as I thought it might be, as the stories are still intact, the characters get the appropriate screen time, and I found these Terrahawks episodes to be almost as much fun as I did when I first watched them. Given that was over thirty years ago, and I was just ten years old, that says much for either the quality of the series, or my tingling sense of nostalgia. In this case I have to suspect the latter, as viewed objectively, Terrahawks is hardly on the same level as Gerry Anderson’s earlier creations, certainly paling in comparison with his classic Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray.
It does have much the same set-up as Thunderbirds, an elite team of protectors, hidden from public view, blessed with an array of fantastic vehicles with which they can defend the planet. The Hawkwing launches from a whirlpool, the Treehawk from within a tree, and the Battlehawk from a fold-down building. They are all multi-purpose craft, rich with narrative possibilities, and just like Thunderbirds, one of their number operates from Earth orbit, aboard a space station/spaceship called Spacehawk.
The difference, and indeed one of the show’s weaknesses in this first season is the routine nature of the episodes, which borrows more from Japanese Sentai shows than something as complex as Gerry Anderson’s earlier oeuvre. We have a grand villain in Zelda, who each week comes up with a new plan to defeat the Terrahawks, thawing out a new monster, or trying a different scheme. There’s plenty of cackling and evil laughter, and then conforming to audience expectations, the Terrahawks will turn the tables and prevail, sending Zelda off with her tail between her legs, only to try again the following episode. It’s simplistic and unchallenging storytelling, which succeeds really only because of the characters, although early on, you might say that it’s despite the characters.
It takes a good few episodes to click with the members of the Terrahawks team, mostly because Professor Tiger Ninestein is a thoroughly cranky and occasionally obnoxious protagonist. He’s hard to like indeed, especially when he’s putting Sgt Major Zero down. There’s also a bit of political incorrectness with the character of Hiro, whose accent becomes a major characteristic. His catchphrase is ‘Exactry’, it’s even spelt that way in the subtitles, and Ninestein even teasingly mimics him on occasion. I might have winced at first, but I quickly slipped back into the suitable 1980s mindset. Hiro’s accent actually becomes a plot point in one episode. This is before the Zeroid ‘doctor’ with a thick Indian accent shows up.
The rest of the characters fail to really get development in this series, although how much is down to character beats being left on the cutting room floor is a valid question. Certainly Lt. Hawkeye never really registers as anything other than the Hawkwing Gunner, while Mary Falconer’s role seems to be to chide Ninestein and stick up for Zero. Kate Kestrel provides much of the show’s musical appeal, but it isn’t until the final episode in this collection that she gets some character development. There are still two seasons to go, so hopefully that will change.
When it comes to personality, the show rides on the spheres of the Zeroids, who are the most entertaining characters, and present the most enjoyable aspect of the show, not least because of Windsor Davies as Zero, doing another take on his classic Sergeant Major character, a little less shouty, a little more playful. The other Zeroids are fun too, the slightly camp 101 on Spacehawk, the rhyming 55, the Gallic Dix-huit and so on. The show also enjoys some scenery chewing from the villains, although I certainly wasn’t as creeped out by Zelda, Yungstar and Cy-star as I was when I was ten. The monsters Zelda thaws out for her schemes are still creepy though, Yuri perhaps the creepiest of them all.
Where Terrahawks still appeals to me is the energy of the shows, there’s enough in the way of entertainment and variety, despite the routine, to keep me glued to the screen, and there are still plenty of touches in the episodes, visual in-jokes (the spaghetti Western style of Gunfight at Oaky’s Corral) and ideas that appeal to the middle-aged children like myself. I loved the episode where the Zeroids start philosophising about humans, assuming that God and Gold is the same thing. And much as Ninestein annoys me, I have to rate a show, which even back in 1983 had as its main character a videogame addict (I wonder if anyone ever made that videogame for real). Terrahawks also provokes thought with an aspect of its premise. Ninestein is a clone, the idea being that when one dies, another clone is called up, programmed with Ninestein’s personality, slotting seamlessly in where the old one was. But it turns out that that the clones have lives of their own up to that point, and those lives are effectively killed by the reprogramming. I never worried about those lives originally, but watching the episodes now certainly got me thinking.
Terrahawks isn’t the best that Gerry Anderson ever gave us, but it’s still a great piece of entertainment, and at an age where I so often get let down by reality never living up to my nostalgic memories, it’s nice to watch a show that is just as much fun now as it was thirty-three years ago. The show doesn’t particularly benefit from HD when it comes to visuals, and the uncompressed audio isn’t challenged by the state of the original source audio, but Blu-ray does mean practically no visible compression, it does mean that the extra features are mostly in HD, and well, the discs are scratchproof compared to DVD.