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DVD SAVANT

Supercar
The Complete Series


Supercar
Carlton / A&E
1960 / b&w / 1:33 flat full frame / 39 x 25 min. / Street Date May 27, 2003 / 99.95
Starring voices of Sylvia Anderson , David Graham, George Murcell, Cyril Shaps
Special Effects Derek Meddings
Art Direction Reg Park
Original Music Barry Gray
Written by Martin & Hugh Woodhouse, Gerry & Sylvia Anderson
Produced by Gerry Anderson
Directed by David Elliott, Allan Pattillo, Desmond Saunders, Bill Harris

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The first sci-fi themed tv show from the (then un-married) team of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, Supercar is tame compared to later series, but still charmingly naive and technically sophisticated. Production standards like this simply weren't seen in 1960 children's programming, which made this peppy half-hour program a sure bet for syndication. The Anderson team's later series, most notably Thunderbirds, had color and lavish special effects, but when this show hit local American TV stations, kids couldn't get enough of it.

Carlton's fancy boxed set doesn't seem so pricey when one realizes it contains almost 19 hours of programming. There's also a couple of nicely-done extras.

Synopsis:

Pilot Mike Mercury (voice: Graydon Gould) uses Supercar, the brainchild of Professor Popkiss (voice: George Murcell, Cyril Shaps), for research, rescues and various adventures. The flying vehicle also becomes a submarine. Helping are the eccentric Professor Beaker (voice: David Graham), young Jimmy Gibson (voice: Sylvia Anderson) and his pet monkey, Mitch (voice: David Graham).

Our rural reception was so poor in 1961, I'm not sure if we could see the wires suspending the marionettes, but the quasi live-action thrills of Supercar were just what 9 year olds wanted to see. The photography, sets and miniatures were all done at a high level of quality, so watching the show was like stepping into a fantasy world made of department store toy displays ... it was exciting seeing a futuristic vehicle soaring through the clouds.

The characters (did I read somewhere that they were caricatures of real actors, or was that just later?) always seemed a bit strange, not so much that they were suspended on wires, but that their facial expressions never changed from those agreeable smiles, even when they were threatened with their lives, or dispensing bad news. Mike Mercury is a bushy-browed stalwart hero with two technoheads helping him out, one a little-old-winemaker German type, and the other a dotty Brit. In the very first episode they iron out some of their invention's wrinkles (the series tends to be very fastidious in details) and add young Jimmy and his pet monkey Mitch to the mix. Jimmy's a typical identification figure that kids in the audience wished would go away, but Mitch was a refreshingly stupid ape who mostly got in trouble. As TV was overloaded with Lassie-like genius animals, this was considered a step up.

The villains in the adventure episodes could be thieves or other troublemakers, but most of the time Mike Mercury's nemesis was a gross Sydney Greenstreet clone called Masterspy. He and his scurvy assistant Zarin both seemed to be of middle Eastern origin, often dealing with Arab chieftains when not just trying to steal Supercar or blow it up. Their plans naturally backfire.

Supercar is chiefly a marionette show, with special effects interludes. The puppetry is excellent, given the stylistic choice to not bother to hide wires. There are many shots where the characters could have been controlled from below, but realism isn't the big idea here. Unlike most of the later series, all the characters are seen walking around, which is kind of a plus even when it isn't very believable ... it's better than the dreamlike situation in Thunderbirds where a device seems to exist to eliminate the need for characters to move just a step or two, or to climb into a cockpit. The dialogue is basically good, if rather humorless. Again, this was a nice contrast to competing kid's shows, which were already piped with laugh tracks and inane comedy.

Using fewer resources, the effects don't come anywhere near the achievements of the later series, but they're very good considering the scale. Supercar is a full marionette too, and when it flies (the title sequence is more elaborate than most individual episodes) it does cool little moves in the air, stalling out and zooming at the camera, etc.  1 The makers invented a lot of techno-jargon and nice details like the blast nozzles and the extending, retracting wings. The show uses a lot of rear-projection of live-action clouds and water, perhaps to compensate for part-time effects supervisor Derek Meddings' lack of cyclorama stages and large water tanks. It has some definite positive effects, especially when the photography is so razor-sharp. Other effects, like television views, etc., are again done with a care not expected in kiddie programming.

The only really weird choice is the occasional use of live-action hand inserts. Sometimes they wear rubber gloves to resemble the puppets, but they take us out of the toyland mindset whenever they appear.


A&E's boxed set of Supercar: The Complete Series joins the other Carlton releases that Anderson fans already love - Thunderbirds, Stingray, Fireball XL-5. The 39 episodes and extras are evenly distributed across 5 individually keep-cased discs.

Quality is excellent; whoever archived these shows did a uniformly fine job. Menus and selection pages are in the same 'F.A.B' style of the earlier releases. The only gripe is the fact that each show begins and ends with the same montage & music: "Supercar ... Supercar... SUPERCAR!" You can skip them after a few showings, but they also come up everytime a new disc is loaded, and get a bit monotonous.

Sylvia Anderson provides a commentary for the first episode, which is not identified as a pilot. She explains the level of production at that time, and talks about the trust and largesse of Lew Grade when it came time to put them in business. It's a pleasant and mostly informative track. A docu on Derek Meddings wraps up the final disc.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Supercar: The Complete Series rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: 1 Sylvia Anderson Commentary; featurette Derek Meddings: The Man and His Miniatures
Packaging: 5 Keep cases in card box
Reviewed: June 23, 2003


Footnote:

1. When I saw the first Batman movie, the Bat-Plane reminded me very much of Supercar, especially the way it popped up out of the clouds, stalled a bit and then augured back downward. Little boy stuff, that.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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