Thursday, November 23, 2017

Quatermass Nutrition

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and while I think it's perfectly fine to enjoy artificial food, if that's your thing, it's important to make sure this food was manufactured for your species. For your edification I recommend Quatermass II, either the 1955 television serial or the 1957 Hammer film adaptation, though the TV show is a lot better.

Though since I'm referencing an American holiday, maybe the film version is more appropriate since, although still being a British production, the second film in the Quatermass series again stars American actor Brian Donlevy as Quatermass, again paling in comparison to his television counterpart, this time John Robinson.

Robinson actually seems horrified by the details he slowly uncovers about a secret alien menace while Donlevy plays everything like he's giving dictation for a letter of complaint addressed to the water company about interruptions in service. But there are a few things I like about the film version--at least this time Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale contributed to the film's screenplay and the film does a much better job of tying Quatermass' work to the crisis at hand, showing how he'd been developing domes to grow food on alien worlds very similar to the ones he discovers operating in rural northern England.

Both versions spend a lot of time on the common workers from a nearby village hoodwinked into working at the plant. The first Quatermass spent a lot of time focusing on a variety of ordinary people, too, to show a contrast between the human and the alien. In Quatermass II, the alien becomes a metaphor for cold, mechanised human organisations and philosophies, and could be seen as both a metaphor for the legacy of the Industrial Revolution in northern England or the fear of Communism spreading in the 1950s. Or a lot of other things.

The movie's only an hour and twenty one minutes while the series is six episodes, about a half hour each. What the film runs through at breakneck speed is established much more slowly on the series for an effective sense of the horror of subverted government institutions. As Quatermass goes from finding something fishy in the north, to finding one government official after another either ignorant of what's going on or eerily complacent, it conveys something closer to the actual pace of growing horror such discoveries would likely come at.

Although I liked seeing Hammer's trademark barman Michael Ripper in the film version, the trip to the local pub and exploration of ordinary village life comes across so much more naturally on the show, with Quatermass showing much more sympathy and interest in their lives. It makes it more effective when, after he and the workers have stormed the plant, it's shown that even good average men and women need competent leadership as it proves fatal when the blue collar workers ignore the dire warnings of the scientist.

The television serial is also superior for its cliffhangers, particularly in the first episode which ends with Quatermass horrified by the sight of something strange on his friend's face. "There's something on your face!" he says as the other man clutches at his face but because his back is to us we don't actually see what it is. I like to think what it must have been like in 1955 when the credits rolled and everyone had to go a whole week imagining just what could be on that man's face.

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