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Captain Scarlet - Complete Series Box Set (DVD)

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Genre: Children's DVDs / Universal, suitable for all / Actors: Francis Matthews, Ed Bishop, Donald Gray, Cy Grant, Jeremy Wilkin ... / DVD released 2001-09-17 at ITV Studios Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: PAL

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      18.09.2012 17:45
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      A great purchase for sci-fi fans - young and old, for nostalgia and for newcomers.

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      Background
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      I still remember clutching the sofa cushion ever-so-slightly tighter to my chest whenever the bellowing, pseudo-demonic announcer accompanied the opening credits of my childhood show, Captain Scarlet. "This is the voice of the Mysterons... we know that you can hear us, earthmen". Still to this day, I get slight chills.

      Aired in 1967, Captain Scarlet was yet another hit show from Gerry Anderson - the mastermind behind children's television classics such as Thunderbirds and Stingray. Filmed in Supermarionation (a combination of marionettes and expensive special effects), the programme boasts highly intelligent scripts and plots, which embrace both the adult and child sections of the audience, in a way that only Doctor Who has managed to accomplish since.

      While Thunderbirds and Stingray filled with jeopardy and danger, Captain Scarlet is the darkest of Gerry Anderson's three finest shows. Set in 2068, as man first lands on Mars, the explorer vehicle comes across a strange alien complex. Out of fear, they destroy it, only to watch it rematerialise before their eyes. The strange race, invisible to the human eye, declare themselves as 'The Mysterons', and swear revenge against the Earth in retaliation for such an act of aggression.

      They possess the ability to re-animate that which has been destroyed, and so each week, different vehicles and people are savagely attacked before being reanimated as Mysteron agents. Playing the role of space terrorists, each week, they chose a target to destroy which will contribute to their eventual goal of bringing the Earth to its knees.

      The only organisation who can protect the Earth are Spectrum - an international security team, who combine first-class technology with brave field agents to fight the Mysteron threat.

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      The Feature
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      Watching puppets can be jarring at first, if you are not used to Gerry Anderson's series. However, due to the superb sets, facial sculpting and characterisation, within minutes you forget that the protagonists are actually fibreglass rather than real people. The Captain Scarlet puppets are interesting if you are a fan of Anderson's previous work, as they represent a new generation of marionettes. Unlike the Tracy Brothers, the Captain Scarlet puppets are perfectly in proportion and are sculpted to look like real people as opposed to caricatures. This means that at a glance, you can't tell if you are looking at a human or not. This fits the heightened realism and the grittiness of the storytelling here, which you wouldn't be able to take seriously using the old style puppets. However, there is some legitimate criticism that the characters are less endearing than Anderson's previous creations, simply because they look too real.

      Captain Scarlet, as a series, works well as there is more of an effort to have a continuous story arc. This was rare for the 60s, and even rarer for any children's show. Some plot elements mentioned in earlier episodes, are picked up again and become vital in later episodes, and one storyline is continued for three episodes in a row. It all lends to a more adult feel to the show, which may alienate some younger fans, but adds a lot more layers for an adult who may be reliving Captain Scarlet for the nostalgia.

      Like me, many will be shocked at the deep metaphors in the programme. The fight against the Mysterons, could easily be now seen as an allegory for the War on Terror. The polyethnic composition of Spectrum, could also be seen as a plea for a utopian future - it should not be forgotten that Anderson creating an African-American, female pilot as a main character in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement was not simply accidental.

      What distinguishes the show even more from any other children's programming, is that Spectrum often lose, and the villains triumph. This adds a genuine sense of jeopardy, which few other programmes can create, as there is a genuine possibility that a character or place may meet a violent end.

      The effects, of course, are spellbinding. Derek Meddings, who went on to provide the Special Effects for the biggest actions movies of the 20th century and the James Bond franchise, creates explosions more convincing than any CGI I have ever seen. The use of models and elaborate sets with such high quality control, mean that the action sequences are indistinguishable from real life - no mean feet, given that Captain Scarlet is over forty years old.

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      Suitable for Children
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      Captain Scarlet is easily the darkest children's television series ever made. The DVDs boast a 'Universal' rating, but this is arguably a little lenient. In every episode, characters are viciously killed in fairly gruesome ways - strangulation, drowning, crushing, electrocution... Whether or not these characters are puppets, it's pretty unimaginable that the series could be shown on children's television today. This grit and fearlessness in the storytelling is perhaps why it has endured for me as an adult. There is no attempt to be condescending or patronising towards the audience, and as a result, the storylines are not compromised. I watched the programme as a child, and never became a gun-crazed madman as an adult. In my opinion, Captain Scarlet is not only a piece of excellent programming, but represents a time when we didn't feel the need to over-protectedly wrap our children up in cotton wool to keep them from seeing the big bad world.


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      Picture Quality
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      As with Thunderbirds and Stingray, Captain Scarlet was recently remastered before being placed on DVD. As it was filmed on cinema reel, and in colour, it was easily brought up to a glossy, high-quality. The vibrant colours of the explosions and the sets, make it even more enchanting and visually stunning than it was when I saw it as a child in the 90s. In my opinion, the remastering is of such a high standard, that it usurps most television boxsets for shows from the 90s and early 00s. Not back for a show filmed in 1967.

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      Extras
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      Despite the age of the series, Carlton make an effort to ensure that there are ample special features for fans of the show. There are audio commentaries with series creator, Gerry Anderson for 'The Mysterons' and fan-favourite, 'Attack on Cloudbase', along with five audio adventures that were previously only available on vinyl. There are also behind-the-scenes photos for you to feast your eyes on, along with the original 1960s TV spots.

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      Conclusion
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      If like me, you grew up watching Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet, this set is a must-have. The stories are really timeless, and due to the remastering, the special effects will absolutely blow you away. For all 32 episodes, you can expect to pay just under £15, which is a pretty good price to pay. Not just for kids, the darker storylines here will appeal to sci-fi fans of all ages. There is not much else to say here, other than - go buy it! It's well worth it - either for nostalgia, or first time viewing.

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