Network Distributing is due to release a new box set containing colourised episodes of Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation series that were originally made in black and white. According to the press release, “key episodes of Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5 have been colourised from High Definition remasters using state-of-the-art software”. Is this set worth picking up?
Four Feather Falls – First Train Through
An attempt at following the Western popularity of the era, Four Feather Falls is the first Anderson show utilising the technique later termed Supermarionation. It ran for thirty-nine episodes between 1960 and 1961, and it featured the voices of Kenneth Connor, Nicholas Parsons, Denise Bryer and David Graham. While the show contains a number of outdated cultural depictions, this show is something of a cute curiosity for fans of Anderson’s work. Some of the techniques, that would later be implemented in series such as Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds, are seen here first.
The episode included is the thirty-fifth episode of the series, First Train Through. I was disappointed to see only one episode included in this set, but it is understandable why. This is perhaps the least known of all Anderson’s series, and possibly the most difficult to work on in some cases.
It is clear this episode was chosen to show off the benefits of the colourising process. Stunts involving falling rocks and runaway trains are visual stunts that are more clearly defined in the new version. That being said, there are instances where limitations are also much more apparent. Strings appear to be more visible, and some of the mystique is taken away from the models. Much of this will be due to the change in brightness, as the darkness of the b&w visuals hid imperfections. The soundtrack on this episode doesn’t sound the best, I’ve heard better on the original set, but I can forgive it due to age.
The end credits for this episode featured on the original DVD release of the series had a fair amount of image wobble and even cuts out at the end. This new version uses a completely revamped version that is clean, and possibly open for use on all episodes to eliminate the less-than-perfect credit sequences.
Supercar – Pirate Plunder and Supercar “Take One”
Supercar was the next series after four feather falls, and ran for thirty-nine episodes between 1961 and 1962. It was the first Anderson series to feature half-hour episodes. I bought a VHS of this show around ten years ago, and couldn’t get past the black-and-white image. While it seemed to fit the context of Four Feather Falls, I just couldn’t help but think it was holding Supercar back; It seemed to give it this eery feeling of a bygone age. Some of the puppets, including Dr Beaker, were just surreal to me.
The colourisation seen in two episodes changes the vibe and puts it alongside the other colour productions in the Anderson catalogue. Some of the same issues as the previous series arose, but I was too taken aback by the visuals. Water movements, explosions and a whole host of special effects are enhanced beautifully by the colourising process. My two-year-old son, who had never seen the show before, was saying “up in the air” when Supercar landed in New York. He wanted to see the flying sequence again. Testament to the technical know-how of Anderson’s team, even at this early stage. I truly believe that a colourised version of this entire series would bring in new fans of all ages. My son and I are certainly convinced.
Fireball XL5 – The Sun Temple, The Granatoid Tanks,
A Day in the Life of a Space General
This series ran for thirty-nine episodes between 1962 and 1963. Fireball XL5 is a series I always assume is in colour. The vibrant promotional photographs always gave that impression. It is the show most represented in this set, perhaps showing the ease with which it was to colourise.
Personally, this show isn’t at the top of my favourites list. Somewhat lacking in my opinion, but certainly a step up in filming technique. Visually this show is the strongest of the three. Strings are visible but not always enough to notice; the seemingly complex smoke effects are impressively detailed and feel smooth. The same can be said for any sequence with intense movement.
The colour featured in these episodes reflects the era nicely, even if a little bold at times. Aside from the colourisation, the picture quality is outstanding. Most of these series have already been released in their original form on Blu-Ray, meaning much of the work had probably already been completed.
There are two compilations featured on disc two of this set. They are You’ve Never Seen These and Space City Specials. They were previously available to watch on Network’s Streaming Platform.
“Fireball XL5’s Professor Matthew Matic and Supercar’s Dr Horatio Beaker co-host 2021’s online compilation showcasing colourisations of Supercar’s Pirate Plunder and Fireball’s The Granatoid Tanks, alongside restorations of Stingray’s Treasure Down Below and an edition of Anderson super-rarity You’ve Never Seen This.”YOU’VE NEVER SEEN THESE! Synopsis from Network.
Featuring another edition of You’ve Never Seen This, 2022’s special online compilation celebrating Fireball XL5’s 60th anniversary also showcases colourisations of Four Feather Fall’s First Train Through and Fireball XL5’s The Sun Temple, all linked together by Fireball’s Robert the Robot!Space City Specials Synopsis from Network.
This reviewer hasn’t watched either of these specials, but they sound as though they add a little context to the main attraction. The set also comes with a “sixteen-page booklet featuring frames from the colourised episodes next to outline versions to colour”. This is another example of providing even more material for hardcore fans, who will be the main buyers of this set.
In my personal opinion, this set seems like a taste of the possibilities, and a test of the reaction. A positive viewpoint from the fans would be a huge step towards giving these series a new audience. Anderson’s original colour creations continue to be popular through streaming deals, remakes and merchandise. There is no doubt at least two of the three would benefit from full colourisation if kept at the level of quality seen in this set. The set pieces look simply breathtaking here and have encouraged me to seek out the original versions until whole series of episodes are finished.
With it feeling like a taster, some will hold off from buying it; Especially at the £35 price point. If you want to see six prime episodes of some classic Anderson series in a new light, plus a few extras, this is for you. Presented in SuperColorisation is available to pre-order from Network Distributing. It will be released on the 12th of December.