Quatermass And The Pit [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Studio Canal
Review written by and copyright: Adrian Busby (11th October 2011).
The Film

Press Release:
The third in the trilogy of films based on Nigel Kneale's seminal Quatermass series, QUATERMASS & THE PIT was made by Hammer Studios in 1967, directed by stalwart Roy Ward Baker and starring Andrew Keir as the titular scientist, battling evil alien forces that threaten to take over the world, and also stars James Donald, Barbara Shelley and Julian Glover. Nigel Kneale's Quatermass series has been said to have influenced everyone from John Carpenter to Dr Who.

During excavations in London a large unidentified object is unearthed. It defies definition although the area has always been associated with diabolical evil. Within its walls Professor Quatermass (Keir) discovers the remains of intelligent alien creatures that attempted to conquer the Earth in prehistoric times and, through their experiments on early man, altered human evolution to its present state. Though dormant for many centuries, the excavations threaten to unleash the terrifying force of the aliens upon mankind once again...


I have never seen any of the Quatermass films or TV series, so I only had a vague understanding of the film's science fiction concepts and didn't really know what to expect.

It's a pleasure to say that I was very impressed. The acting was solid throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed the relatively simple but highly effective storyline. I don't think I've seen anything from Nigel Kneale's pen which wasn't the same. The Stone Tape, for example, is another great example of his work and I'm sure Halloween 3: Season of the Witch would have been a complete write-off without his (uncredited) input. (OK, some of you probably think that one is the ugly runt of the Halloween litter, but the story's sci-fi premise is great).

Some of the special effects are clearly of their time but you shouldn't, and I didn't, approach a 40 year old film with expectations of anything more. The realisation of the final entity (I'm being deliberately vague here to avoid spoilers) was clearly limited by the budget but I think the effect has an ephemeral nature which would not have been present had the entity been more physically realised.

I think I can best describe it as the perfect winter Sunday afternoon film. When it's cold and miserable outside, huddle on the sofa with a cup of tea, some biscuits and indulge in 98 minutes of escapism and the nostalgia of a splendid Hammer production.

Video

The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and, with the exception of the first scene, which shows significant grain (although I suspect no more than the original film print), the picture is a wonder to behold. It far exceeded my expectations and it's clear that a lot of effort has gone into the restoration of the film, to the extent that I found it a shame that there were no extras detailing the work involved.

I only saw evidence of a single film artifact towards the start of the film. Colours were rarely striking, except perhaps for the red chair Quatermass sits in in his opening scene. However, I'm sure the fairly muted colour palette was the original intention and no issue with the picture quality on this release. Skin tones were naturalistic and I could find no evidence of over processing at all.

Audio

The audio is presented as an LPCM stereo track and I encountered no problems at all. Dialogue was always clear and the sound design impressive, especially for a stereo track, during the dramatic ending.

English subtitles are provided and, for the couple of minutes I watched with them on, they were accurate.

Extras

Most of the extras have been previously been available on DVD releases, but this Blu-ray trumps those by including a handful of UK exclusive interviews (more on those later).

First up though is an audio commentary by Director Roy Ward Baker and Writer Nigel Kneale, which was originally recorded for the 1998 R1 Anchor Bay release of the film. This means that, of all the extras, this one seemed the least important to review in full. After all, there are plenty who have done it already. That, combined with time pressures, meant that I only dipped in and out of the track at various points in the film and listened to about an hour's worth in total.

There are some moments of silence and the credited participants are prompted at times by an unknown questioner. The men recount quite a lot of production information not revealed elsewhere on the disc which, of course, is always a plus. They also provide some general thoughts on Hammer films, special effects then & now, and their reluctance to reveal "how it's done". I guess they didn't realise that many listen to commentary tracks for precisely those details and anyone who doesn't want the magic of film ruined will avoid them!

And so to those interviews. There are 6 in all:

- Judith Kerr (widow of Nigel Kneale) (17:11). Judith refers to her late husband by his first name Tom (Thomas) and tells: how she met him when she was a teacher; how the Quatermass series came about; an amusing anecdote about special effects; her thoughts on the Quatermass franchise, her late husband's writing style and modern sci-fi films.

- Joe Dante (11:05). Director and fan, Dante chats about how he discovered Hammer's Quatermass films and generally about how the film came about. He raised a cheer when he pointed out that many hold Roy Ward Baker's A Night To Remember in much higher regard than a certain more recent film about the Titanic - I certainly do! He also talks about Nigel Kneale's involvement with the Halloween 3 script; the film's special effects and themes; and the franchise's legacy.

- Kim Newman (29:30). As expected, Newman proves to be very knowledgeable on the Quatermass TV and film franchises. He is an enthusiastic contributor, providing some detailed background, excited opinion and often nerdy trivia about all things Quatermass and sci-fi in general. And whey hey, along with Dante, Newman clearly prefers A Night To Remember too - I'm clearly in good company!

- Julian Glover (29:27). Glover plays Colonel Breen in the film and he clearly loves it. He provides chat, anecdotes and reminisces on the film; it's production; cast; crew and the Quatermass franchise. He also talks about his career in general and offers his thoughts on how film production has changed over the years. I'm inclined to agree once again with a number of the points he makes.

- Marcus Hearn (12:24). Hearn is a Hammer Films Historian and provides in-depth information and thoughts about: the Hammer Quatermass films; Roy Ward Baker; the film's cast and production. It's interesting to hear that the recently revitalised Hammer is currently looking at Quatermass again.

- Mark Gatiss (19:14). The actor and writer talks about: Hammer studios; the Quatermass stories; Nigel Kneale and his thoughts on the potential for remakes. His enthusiasm for Nigel Kneale, including the desire at one point to remake a Kneale lost story called The Road, is clear and I suspect very influential in Gatiss' own writing.

It's a shame that the questions aren't posed on camera, but presented textually on screen before each answer instead, a technique I find annoying.

Next up is an episode of The World Of Hammer - Sci-Fi (24:35). It is narrated by Oliver Reed and plays more like a very extended promotion for Hammer films, being very clip heavy with minimal introductory narration to each clip. Unfortunately, I found it hard to hear what Reed was saying on a number of occasions. On checking my speakers, it turned out the the stereo presentation mixes his narration into the left speaker only. This means that, with the soundtrack of the film clips coming from both speakers, the narration is overpowered. It's unclear if the fault lies with the original production or the presentation here, but it seems likely it's a mastering fault.

The film's theatrical trailer (2:29) is great and slightly kitschy, feeling akin to those for the 50s monster B-movies. With it's soft and damaged video quality, it also serves as a great reference for just how well the main feature has been cleaned up.

And finally, the opening credits (0:26) for the US release of the film, presented as Five Million Years To Earth, are provided along with the US trailer (2:32).

Note that this is a Double Play release, which means it also contains a DVD of the film, but I was only sent the Blu-ray disc for review so am unable to state the exact content of the DVD. UPDATE - 18 Oct 11: The DVD contains just the film with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack and optional subtitles.

Overall

A thoroughly enjoyable film with a decent selection of extras. Reviewing films is sometimes a chore but this was a joy.

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: A

 


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