Quatermass and the Pit

The movie adaption of ‘Quatermass and the Pit’ has this month been released on Blu Ray and DVD by Studio Canal on the ‘Double Play’ range.

The Quatermass serials – principally the first three are regarded as being perfect examples of the three basic SF concepts – we go to them, they come to us and they have always been here. Quatermass and the Pit is the last of the original three films and the perfect example of the last concept – the aliens are not invading us – they were here first. (maybe the final Quatermass made in 1979 could be said to be ‘they are really us’)

Nigel Kneale, the man to whom Quatermass belonged, famously hated Doctor Who and regarded – probably rightly – ‘Spearhead from Space’ the 1970 story as a direct rip off of Quatermass II. However there is no doubt that the Quatermass serials clearly influenced Doctor Who, particularly in the 1970s. In fact a Quatermass serial was seriously considered as a vehicle to replace Doctor Who after the seventh season. It is to a season 7 Doctor Who story that we can look for a direct comparison with Quatermass and the Pit – Doctor Who and the Silurians follows a similar concept, namely a race here before us, preserved underground and disturbed by construction activity in the case of Quatermass and a nuclear power plant in Doctor Who. It is it not really that surprising that Nigel Kneale disliked Doctor Who so much…

In both the TV and film outings, Quatermass and the Pit is clearly the most technically sound version of the three. This does not detract from my own favourite being Quatermass II but nonetheless from both a story and production perspective ‘The Pit’ is definitely the king of the crop. The film has the distinction of having been made by the British studio ‘Hammer’. Nigel Kneale did not want this film made as he so disliked the first two films, which starred Brian Donlevy as Quatermass. There were also funding issues within Hammer for some time that held up production. Whatever the final reason for the nine year gap between the film of Quatermass II and this, , what we have a result is a colour film (the first two being black and white) and a much more ‘classically British’ production, opening with a policeman walking along a wet London street complete with red pillar box and zebra crossing, to a underground station. What follows is a sound theatrical version of Nigel Kneale’s TV script, a fantastic mix of pure science fiction, ghosts and a classic villain in the form of Colonel Breen (Julian Glover). You will also see a number of faces well known to Doctor Who and TV SF fans – as well as Julian Glover there is Peter Copley, and in a non speaking part at the very start of the film, Gareth Thomas (later Blake in Blake’s 7) wielding a pick axe to reveal a skeleton in one of the more unconvincing visual effects in the whole film!

So what of this new release itself? I often wonder why some distributors release older TV and film on Blu ray (this release is both a blu ray and DVD version) – these were not made in HD after all. This however, is a first rate transfer to the new media which was presumably made from a film print that was an early striking from the master. The picture quality is superb and the sound, whilst not being exactly dolby digital surround, has been cleaned up and is presented in good quality. In fact this release on blu ray is somewhat reminiscent of ‘The Prisoner’ (the 1960s TV series version), which came out as an excellent blu ray release a year or two ago.

Some DVD and BD releases arrive with either no extras or just pay lip service to the concept. On this occasion however, Studio Canal has provided an excellent package to accompany the film. These extras do not just focus in on the film itself but actually cover wider ground, including Nigel Kneale’s career, Hammer Films and the place that Quatermass has in SF history.

There are a selection of interviews on the disc. The best is undoubtedly that with Julian Glover who plays Colonel Breen in the film – the principal villain. Julian talks for some time about making the film, how he came to get the part, his fee (!), and also his wider career and his views on SF film and TV today. Other interviewees include Mark Gattis, Marcus Hearn and Kim Newman who whilst not being invoved in the original production offer very interesting and diverse views on the film and it’s writer.

As well as the almost obligatory theatrical trailers there is also a good documentary on Hammer Horror from an earlier TV broadcast which is a nice addition.

For fans of British SF this blu ray is a good buy, offering as it does, not just a good transfer of an old film to a new medium, but a well thought out package celebrating one of the principal writers of twentieth century science fiction. Recommended. All we need now is a new realise of the 1979 Thames TV production of the fourth and final Quatermass story!

‘Quatermass and the Pit’ is available on blu ray with a recommended retail price of £12-99 from Studio Canal double play on both blu ray and DVD. You can also win a copy, care of the distributor, in our competition.