Sunday, April 21, 2019

Captain Scarlet: Three Episodes (Anderson Production Company, Indestructible Production, 2005-2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2019 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last Friday night’s Mars movie screenings ( were supposed to be a 1981 Gerry and Sylvia Anderson puppet film from England called Captain Scarlet: Revenge of the Mysterons and some of the TV shows it was edited from giving the back story of the Mysterons in the first place and why they would want revenge against Earth people in general and Captain Scarlet (Wayne Forester) and Captain Blue (Robbie Stevens) in the first place. Alas, the screening proprietor couldn’t get his old VHS tape of Revenge of the Mysterons to track properly, so instead he ran three shows from a later incarnation of the series — Instrument of Destruction, parts 1 and 2, and Mercury Falling — and followed it up with Red Faction, a 2011 production of Universal Cable Television for the science-fiction channel that used to be called the Sci-Fi Channel but now bears the preposterous name “syfy” — they wanted a name they could copyright — which is supposedly pronounced the same as “sci-fi” but which I insist on calling “see-fee” as a comment on its ridiculousness. Gerry Anderson and his wife Sylvia started making science-fiction TV shows with puppets for British commercial television in the 1960’s, and they had a kind of dorky charm; more recently Gerry Anderson continued, until his death in 2012 (along the way he and Sylvia broke up and she died in 2016), to rework this material to take advantage of improvements in special-effects technology, first to remake his old black-and-white TV shows in color and then to redo the puppet effects with CGI, in honor of which change he renamed the process they were supposedly filmed in from “Supermarionation” to “Hypermarionation.”

Last night we got the “Hypermarionation” versions of the two parts of “Instrument of Destruction” and the lamer “Supermarionation” version of “Mercury Falling,” and together they told a story of the Mysterons, the indigenous race on the planet Mars, who get understandably angry at the entire population of Earth when two astronauts landing on Mars accidentally destroy an entire Martian city. The city reappears, however, with a bunch of pissed-off Mysterons who decide to avenge themselves against the Earthlings by capturing two of them, Captain Scarlet and Captain Black (Nigel Plaskitt), and remodeling them into Mysteron-controlled killing machines, then sending them back to their headquarters at SPECTRUM, the international consortium that by this time has taken over all Earth explorations of space. (I couldn’t resist the idea of a story in which the good guys of SPECTRUM would take on the bad guys of SPECTRE, James Bond’s nemeses.) When Captain Scarlet and Captain Black are supposedly killed in an auto accident, Scarlet recovers and regains his original moral sense but gets to keep the near-indestructibility the Mysterons conferred on him, giving him a biological process called “retro-metabolism” in which, if he’s shot, the bullet will wound him and he’ll feel pain but his body will retro-metabolize and he will overcome the effects of the bullet and heal back to normal. So the ever-resourceful Mysterons — whom we never see, at least in their normal form, though we hear a deep, sepulchral and electronically altered voice that supposedly represents their collective consciousness, and we get to see two green circles to indicate when they are in action — revive Captain Black from the dead, enabling him to break out of his grave from inside à la Plan Nine from Outer Space, and turning him into a permanent Mysteron agent moving about the Earthlings and trying to screw things up.

The Mysterons also have a shape-shifting feature which they use to kidnap a super-industrialist, Hank McGill (also Nigel Plaskitt — remember that the characters are puppets or CGI creations and so the actors credited are only voice performers), which they do by kidnapping his chauffeur, taking over his car, driving him to a junkyard and crushing the car, with him in it, à la Goldfinger. Then a Mysteron impersonates him and has him order his staff to aim their missiles at targets which are natural ones for the Russians, thereby launching a first strike and an all-out nuclear war between the superpowers (or something). In “Mercury Falling” the intrigue centers around a satellite Earth has just launched around Mars, and the Mysterons’ successful shoot-down of it because they don’t want anyone from the Enemy Planet photographing them and thereby revealing what they look like au naturel. This is O.K. kids’ entertainment but nothing more, and one wonders of the persistence of Gerry Anderson in remaking his old scripts over and over and over again just to take advantage of technological improvements — not that they mattered much, since the characters even in CGI still look tacky and blocky, they have virtually no facial expressions, and though Anderson and his crews eventually got the people’s mouths to move when they were supposedly talking, they didn’t get them to move very much.