Quartermass

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the last twenty minutes of “Quartermass and the Pit.” It must be at least two dozen. However, I’ve never seen the entire film from beginning to end. I usually come across it while flipping from channel to channel looking for something to watch.


quartermassOf course, here in the United States, it’s not called “Quartermass and the Pit.” 20th Century Fox, who released the film here, changed the name to “Five Million Years to Earth.” For more on this, check out the running audio commentary with director Roy Ward Baker and writer Nigel Kneale and their feelings on the name change. “Quartermass and the Pit” was the third feature film in the popular British series, produced by Hammer Film productions.

It was the first in color, and the first not to star Brian Donlevy, who played scientist Bernard Quartermass in “The Quartermass Experiment” in 1956, and “Quartermass II” in 1957. Ten years later, Hammer revived the series with an intelligent, through-provoking script by Nigel Kneale, and a new Quartermass, played this outing by Andrew Kier. Kier and co-star Barbara Shelley teamed up two years earlier with Christopher Lee in Hammer’s “Dracula: Prince of Darkness.” Shelley and James Donald plays scientists who have discovered prehistoric bones in a London Subway excavation.

They summon Kier’s Quartermass when they also discover an alien spacecraft that has been buried under the city for five million years. Of course the military has to get involved, and is well represented by Julian Glover as a no-nonsense military leader who debunks Quartermass’ alien theory. So what connection does the alien spaceship and the Troglodyte bones share? Quartermass believes that early man was genetically altered by Martians (who look like large grasshoppers), and that we are all descendants from that experiment. Pretty heady stuff, but thanks to a super screenplay by Kneale that dares to be about something more than just standard science-fiction mumbo jumbo.

This clever comparison is neatly tucked away in what turns out to be grand entertainment. Outstanding performances, tight direction, a bright, literate script and better-than-average visuals (there are some antiquated effects that are hard not to laugh at) make the third and last theatrical “Quartermass” the best of the series. Highly recommended.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ X ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

I’ve only seen “Quartermass and the Pit” on television, and it was one of those syndication hell prints that was old and worn out. The DVD is simply gorgeous. Vibrant colors, sharp, vivid images, strong blacks (but not impenetrable), and flattering flesh tones come through with a clarity that is amazing. Delivered in the film’s original 1.66:1 widescreen ratio, the original negative shows a little wear and tear (very little, a scratch here and there). The digital transfer is superb, with nary a compression artifact to be found. Even the extras on the flip side, including a featurette, look sensational. It’s apparent that Anchor Bay Entertainment has finally found a duplicator who knows what they’re doing.

HEARING: [ ] EXCELLENT [ X ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

The “Quartermass and the Pit” DVD comes with two very distinct soundtracks. You can choose from either a newly re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, or a 2.0 Dolby Surround track. Considering that the film has neither when it was first released in 1967, I give high marks to both soundtracks. While the 2.0 Surround isn’t nearly as definitive as the 5.1, it does bring new depth to the film. There’s actual separation that is clear and distinct, and the sound mix is impressive. The dialogue is incredibly strong. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and range of the soundtracks.

ORAL: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ X ] D.O.A.

No closed captions or subtitles.

COORDINATION: [ X ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has loaded down “Quartermass and the Pit” with a plethora of extras. First and foremost is the running audio commentary by director Roy Ward Baker and writer Nigel Kneale that was recorded last year. Kneale jumps right in with his thoughts, while Baker, who must be up there in age, requires a little prodding to get started. The duo run through the customary patter about the making of the film, and then there’s an awkward silence. That’s when someone tries to quietly prompt Baker and Kneale to get them to say something. Unfortunately, the guy asking the questions doesn’t seem to have a clue, and you can tell the talent is annoyed by his simplistic questions. I like this chats because the film maker’s have an opportunity to discuss how they made the film, yet Baker is reluctant to discuss the special effects because he says it ruins the illusion. Duh! Kneale’s big speech is about how he trimmed the script for the lengthy BBC television show down to a 98 minute movie. Flip the DVD over, and there are more extras, including the original UK and US theatrical trailers (give them a look-see and marvel at how a film is sold on different continents), two US television commercials that are a hoot and a half, and a bonus featurette called “World Of Hammer.” The episode is entitled “SCI-FI,” and is narrated by Oliver Reed, who takes us through a film history of Hammer Films dealing with science-fiction themes. This is a must before you watch the film, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the “Quartermass” series. Some of the titles have great camp appeal, but nobody does it like Hammer. I thoroughly enjoyed this little blast from the past from Hammer Films. The DVD also features handsome but typical main and scene access menus, and an insert card featuring the original poster artwork and scene listing. Like all Anchor Bay Entertainment DVDs, the DVD contains 10 Chapter Stops, but they don’t register on the digital display counter. You can access them through the scene access menu or by advancing the next scene button.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] EXCELLENT [ X ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

Hats off to Anchor Bay Entertainment for delivering a Hammer Film that’s not the pits on DVD.

VITALS: $29.98/Not Rated/98 Min./Color/10 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#DV10505

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT

BIRTH DATE: 1967

HMO: Anchor Bay Entertainment



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