Friday, 4 October 2013

Quatermass 2 [film]

Mysterious objects have been falling from the sky
I love Quatermass, the science fiction-horror television series from the 1950s. The first series (Quatermass) is mostly lost, but the second and third ones (Quatermass II, Quatermass and the Pit) still exist, and I’ve got what there is of all three on DVD.

Recently Quatermass 2, the late ‘50s Hammer remake of Quatermass II, was on telly. I love Quatermass and I love Hammer, so it couldn’t fail, right? Wrong. The main thing I didn’t like about the film was the one thing that couldn’t be ignored: I really didn’t like Brian Donlevy as the Professor. Apparently the character’s creator, Nigel Kneale, also wasn’t keen on Donlevy in the role. For me, Quatermass has to be an eccentric British boffin, someone whose brilliance can be mistaken for madness. I see him as nudging close to the line that divides Dr Jekyll or Dr Moreau from respectable scientists. Donlevy is American, and in common with the heroes of the American SF movies of the 1950s it always feels as though he has the potential for action. I’m not saying Donlevy is bad, but he’s not Quatermass!

The storyline is a cut-back version of Quatermass II. As in the original, strange objects have been falling from the sky, and Professor Quatermass, investigating them, discovers a factory that is allegedly developing artificial food, where the workers all behave in a very strange manner. Where do the objects come from, and how are they connected with the workers at the factory? However, the film is less inclusive than the television programme. The global aspect of the story is missing – whereas in the original version, artificial food factories the same as the one Quatermass investigates exist in Siberia and Brazil, in the film there’s no reference to other countries.
The 'artificial food plant' looks suspiciously like a space colony...

Quatermass’ daughter, Paula, is another casualty of the conversion, and that’s a real shame because in the series she helps track an asteroid using a radio telescope, and takes part in the analysis of a substance her father finds. In the film, the most prominent female at Quatermass’ research centre is a secretary - who gets sent out of the way when serious science is being discussed.

All in all, I found this an unsatisfying version of the original series, lacking much of the atmosphere and global scale.

5 comments :

  1. I agree, as brilliant as they are they needed a British boffin in there, another thing to add would be that (to me) Brian Donlevy sounds as if he’s saying “Quarter- Mouse” whenever he introduces himself causing me to imagine a Basil the Great Mouse Detective type series about a mouse scientist fighting aliens in the 1950’s… Have you seen, ‘X the Unknown’ originally intended by Hammer to be a sequel to Quatermass Xperiment, Nigel Kneale refused permission for the character to be used so they made up their own!

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    1. I have not! Most of the Hammer I've seen is horror stuff, I really need to get down to some serious film watching.

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    2. Yes you do! In fact, I insist! I'll wait.... *taps fingers on the desk

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  2. This is my first look at your blog, and I'm so excited to see Quatermass and the Pit! My US Air Force family lived in England from 1957 to 1960, a blissful time for me (I was a young teenager). I vividly remember watching Quatermass from behind the sofa, afraid to show more than my eyes over the top. I still get a chill from remembering the scene of the gravel path rippling from some unknown force...Thank you so much for the memories of one of the best times in my life! Kate in Oregon

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    1. Welcome to the blog, Kate! My uncle, who is now a burly carpenter, refuses to watch Quatermass and the Pit because it gave him such nightmares when he was younger, so you are not alone.

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