Monday, 23 November 2009

Gerry Anderson's UFO coming to the movies

Gerry Anderson's excellent 1970 TV series UFO is heading for the big screen. The movie option for the series was bought some years ago and the project has languished in development hell ever since, but according to Variety the project is now being fast-tracked with production expected to begin next year, with Matthew Gratzner directing and former Dawson's Creek star Joshua Jackson (currently in Fringe) playing the role of Major Paul Foster.

The series was Gerry Anderson's first foray into the world of live-action television, having spent the previous decade making puppet-based shows such as Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. The show was set in the then-futuristic year of 1980 and saw Earth under clandestine attack from an enigmatic alien race. To confront the alien menace, the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation (SHADO) is formed. SHADO headquarters is located under a film studio near London, from where it organises the interception of alien spaceships using Interceptor craft based on the Moon and Skydiver, a submarine whose front section breaks off and turns into an atmospheric fighter aircraft. Ground combat teams could also be deployed via massive tank-like vehicles. However, despite the impressive military hardware on show, some episodes also dealt with much more shadowy struggles between SHADO operatives and alien infiltrators, more along the lines of the Quinn Martin US show The Invaders.

UFO (pronounced 'you-foe' rather than the traditional acronym) was also rather unusual in that it was quite bleak. Our 'heroes' were somewhat morally ambiguous, and sympathetic aliens appeared from time to time who were remorselessly hunted down by SHADO. The aliens' motives are enigmatic and never fully explained, and even episodes where SHADO 'won' were usually undermined by the cost in lives and resources required to get there. The show was also unusual in that it had no central protagonist. Early episodes focused on new SHADO recruit Paul Foster as he learns about the organisation, but later episodes focused more on SHADO commander Ed Straker (Ed Bishop). Some episodes notably focused almost entirely on guest stars as they came into contact with the aliens, with SHADO personnel only appearing in background roles.

It was an absolutely terrific show, but sadly was not renewed for a second season. A few years later Anderson launched an attempt to get it back on the screen, re-focusing the premise on Moonbase and its staff there, and this eventually became a completely different (and rather inferior) series called Space: 1999, in which the Moon gets blown out of orbit around the Earth and somehow ends up crossing interstellar space. It was a very silly show that was intermittently entertaining in its first season and turned into a very bad joke in its second, despite the coolness of the Eagle spacecraft.

UFO's influence lived on, giving rise to the popular 1990s X-COM series of computer games (Enemy Unknown, Terror from the Deep, Apocalypse and Interceptor) which 'borrowed' much of its structure from the SHADO organisation in the series.

The new movie will apparently stay faithful to the original set-up, with a perhaps inevitable change of location to the USA (the new SHADO HQ is located under a Hollywood film studio, for example). Interesting to see how it turns out.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Joshua Jackson is great in Fringe, so I'm looking forward to this movie!

Anonymous said...

The UFO series is my favorite of all TV science fiction shows. Its precisely because it merged human fallibility, darkness and foibles that made it stand out. Characterization was crucial. You didn't always like the characters. Some you were even suspicious of e.g. the Shado doctor/psychiatrist. Straker could be unpleasant and downright nasty. Foster was egotistical and self regarding. The other charcaters had human problems. The shows played down any interstellar battles and focused on realizing alternative world, like our own but with a conspiratorial paranoia. Nothing was quite what it seemed. Great stuff indeed. What a pity Anderson didn't get more funding. It was his best work.

Anonymous said...

I am very excited about this as this is my all time fav programme but I am very worried because of ourexperience with the Thunderbirds film please please do not make the mistakes they made in that it was uter pants

betsyejolee said...

I have alway's enjoyed the original 'ufo'film!It still hold's up well,today!At least,I think it does!Where does one get the 'Captain Scarlet'serie's?I missed this,and would like to see it!Until,then,I'll watch the old 'ufo'show!From;betsye j.Lee