Gerry Anderson’s Fireball XL5, Supercar, Now in Color (2022) ****

Heading for the five-star bracket on nostalgia alone. Before he hit the cult heights in full color with Thunderbirds (1965-1966, plus later films) and live action Space:1999 (1975-1976) innovator Gerry Anderson created a number of television series including the three highlighted here – western Four Feathers Falls (1960) and the futuristic Supercar (1961-1962) and Fireball XL5 (1962-1963).

Now colorisation, it has to be said, is anathema to the movie buff. A whole slate of top directors exploded in anger when Hollywood had the temerity to try and make an extra buck by colorising classic black-and-white movies in a bid to reach a younger audience.

Dynamic duo from “Fireball XL5” – Venus and Steve Zodiac.

But I can’t see anything wrong in making these wonderful programs, that would otherwise just be limited to the cult audience, more accessible to the modern youngster. To achieve the correct color palette, the producers here simply used on-set stills taken during the original shooting (you didn’t think actors in black-and-white programs or movies only wore black-and-white costumes, did you?) to match the vivid visuals of the later color series. Computer wizardry did the rest.

So the result is far more interesting than mere nostalgia, which would have been the case with releasing the three series in original format. Children of all ages are going to love the results.

Anyone unfamiliar, if that is humanly possible, with the Gerry Anderson output should be aware that he uses marionettes – based on the difficult Czech style. Ever with an eye to marketing, he called the process “Supermarionation.”

Inventiveness is the key to whether old television programs can capture a new market and I reckon this succeeds hands-down. While the color makes them instantly more attractive, the worlds established are what appeals more.

Got a copy of one of these memoranilia spin-offs and you’re probably sitting on a fortune.

Gerry Anderson’s sci-fi, far from rudimentary with advanced space-age machinery, had interesting heroes and narrative drive. In Supercar square-jawed hero Mike Mercury was supplemented by interesting boffins, Professor Popkiss and Dr Beaker. Pet monkey Mitch could be counted on for comedy. In Fireball XL5 Steve Zodiac has a female sidekick Dr Venus (voiced by Sylvia Anderson) , blonde template for Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds, while Professor Matic keeps everything shipshape and lazy pet Zoonie (vocabulary only marginally bigger than Groot’s) from a distant planet provides the humor.

Villains, invariably out to disrupt or destroy the universe and invariably recurring, were straight out of James Bond: Masterspy in Supercar and a whole bunch of them, the Subterrains, from Planet 46 in Fireball XL5.   

Trademarks included a launch sequence, catchphrases, and a theme song (has any romantic lyric ever surpassed “my heart would be a fireball, a fireball, if you would be my Venus of the stars” in Fireball XL5?).

So what we’ve got here are three 30-minute episodes of Fireball XL5, two of Supercar and one 13-minute episode of Anderson’s debut series Four Feather Falls plus compilation features You’ve Never Seen These and Space City Specials. The Fireball trio are “The Sun Temple,” “The Granatoid Tanks” and “A Day in the Life of a General.” Supercar contributes “Pirate Plunder” and “Supercar: Take One” while the offering from the western is “First Train Through.”

The stories follow a similar format of threat and rescue – in “The Sun Temple” Venus is mysteriously captured and laid out to be tortured by the rays of the sun (think James Bond and the laser). And they’re none the worse for that.

Of course, I may be biased since Gerry Anderson formed a key component to my childhood, these programs followed in due course by Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90 and Thunderbirds.

My only reservation is the strings often show up quite clearly. I viewed this via Vimeo on a screen that i doubt was even a foot wide, so a tiny screen by modern standards and the strings were clearly visible, so I’ve no idea what they’d look like on a 40-incher or bigger. Maybe another bout of computer wizardry in the future would erase those.

The colorization works a treat and opens up a new audience for these early Anderson programs. Hopefully, if the idea works, then we can look forward to the entire series of the three programs being colorised. If you want to make sure that happens, play your part by buying this new DVD which is available on December 12, but can be pre-ordered now. You wouldn’t want to miss out, would you? You can always pretend you’re buying it for the kids or grandkids.  

Thanks to Network for a streamer. Link below.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

4 thoughts on “Gerry Anderson’s Fireball XL5, Supercar, Now in Color (2022) ****”

  1. Great to see this coming out. I’ve seen a little bit of Anderson’s work (as a youngster), and it’s nice they are giving it a go towards attracting a new audience. I wonder if the strings make a difference one way or the other to a majority of the audience? There is a certain charm leaning in to the marionette look, I think. In any case, it will be interesting to see how it is received. Thanks for sharing the news and your thoughts about this release.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You kind of saw the same kind of thing on the Muppets so I can’t see it ruining the program for anyone. Though I don’t think it would have taken very much to erase the strings. I hope they do get a younger audience rather than older people complaining about the color.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. So, I’ve changed my mind about colorisation. There’s clips on youtube of AI colorised Metopolis, Bride of Frankenstein, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and they all look amazing. If a computer can do this properly, and all physical media is sold with a black and white copy too, then I’m all for it.

    Liked by 1 person

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