Continuing to dig deep and release semi-forgotten gems from the Filmation vaults, BCI's Ink & Paint sub-label has rescued from obscurity the complete run of Space Academy. Running for two seasons on CBS between 1977 through 1979 (when sci-fi mania was at its peak thanks to Star Wars), the show only stuck around for fifteen episodes in total but in a sense, it was ahead of its time as it was on television long before the concept was borrowed for Space Camp and Star Trek: Star Fleet Academy.
Set in the year 3732, the series revolved around a three hundred year old man named Commander Isaac Gampu (played by the rather manic Jonathan Harris of Lost In Space) who was in charge of an elite school built into an asteroid in space. The purpose of this school was to gather the brightest young people in the galaxy so that they could be trained to explore new planets in the name of Earth. The four principal students enrolled under Gampu's direction were a telekinetic girl named Laura (Pamyla Ferdin), her telekinetic brother Chris (Ric Carrott), a space orphan named Loki (Eric Greene) with the ability to turn invisible, and Tee Gar (Brian Tochi) who was a master of martial arts. They worked alongside a robot named Peepo who was always there to lend a helping hand whenever possible. Each half hour episode found the students on a new adventure, and before things were concluded, they'd have learned an important life lesson that would, in theory, make them stronger and better people.
Although the show wasn't a massive hit, it did develop a cult following that exists to this day and before the show was cancelled Filmation created a spin-off in the form of the better known Jason Of Star Command.
The show was pretty effects heavy, which was both a blessing and a curse when evaluating it twenty years after it was made. While what we see on screen was no doubt fairly ambitious for a kid's show back in the late seventies, today much of the material looks dated and hokey. That being said, there's certainly a naïve charm that goes along with the material and you can't fault an older show for looking and sounding like a product of its time. A few of the effects technicians who had a hand in bringing portions of Star Wars to life were brought on to handle some of the effects work for Space Academy and while obviously nothing here is on par with what Lucas was able to accomplish, their involvement is no doubt at least partially responsible for the ambitious attempts that we see from episode to episode.
The scripts get fairly obvious and heavy handed very early on in the series' run, but again, this was meant for a children's audience and as such, a moral had to be worked into each story. While it's interesting to see the writers through in a few interesting elements (look for a guest appearance from Ark II's monkey!) such as supplemental characters and 'what if' scenarios where, for example, the kids have to make do without their robot the show is ultimately pretty predictable, even if it is enjoyable as mindless sci-fi fun.
The fifteen episodes that make up the entire series are presented in the following order (which the packaging states is in order of broadcast date):
-The Survivors Of Zalon: the cadets needs to rescue a young boy with strange powers before his home planet blows up in 48 hours!
-Castaways In Time And Space: Gampu and Laura head away from the asteroid in a Seeker and they wind up getting sucked in to a black hole – can Chris save them in time?
-Hide And Seek: An asteroid is heading towards the Space Academy so they blow it up with a missile but once they do, people start mysteriously disappearing.
-Countdown: A mine gets attached to the cadets' shuttle when they head out to clean up some debris and to make matters worse a frozen alien soldier wakes up and doesn't like what he sees!
-There's No Place Like Home: A sinister alien named Kane breaks into the Space Academy and gets: Loki to try and help him steal some files.
-The Rocks Of Janus: There are two comets heading towards the school and Blue Team has to go check things out before they collide. They find out that one of the comets isn't a comet at all, but actually a life form!
-Monkey Business: Adrian trains a monkey named Jake to help out and soon he's running around with Chris and Loki to try and save Tee Gar and Bolt from freezing to death!
-The Phantom Planet: An asteroid that was once a colony is going to be destroyed but Blue Team notices a planet forming and so they hold a séance so that they can communicate with the ghosts that still live there.
-Planet Of Fire: Tee Gar invents a freeze ray and heads off on his own to a nearby planet to test it out. What he doesn't know is that soon after things are frozen they explode. It sucks to be him when an evil alien steals the ray to use for his own devices!
-Life Begins At 300: Gampu messes up some calculations and shuts Peepo down, and then Paul winds up in trouble. Looks like Gampu's superiors think he's getting too old to do his job, but the kids disagree.
-The Cheat: A cadet with a shady past named Matt is put in charge of an operation that could prove dangerous. When Matt acts up, he puts his life and Blue Team's lives all in danger.
-My Favorite Marcia: The Space Academy receives a distress signal from s space ship stuck near a star that is going to blow up! The ship is under the supervision of a woman named Marcia who Gampu was once in love with.
-Space Hookey: When Loki skips class one day his body gets taken over by two alien kids who exist only as energy. From there they take over Paul and then Gampu and start running the show their own way!
-Star Legend: Paul and Chris get trapped out in space but are saved by a strange entity that tells them to keep out of the area. Gampu figures it might be a long lost starship run by Captain Rampo.
-Johnny Sunseed: Gampu's eccentric brother shows up at the Academy for a visit and he, along with many of the cadets, eat some of the strange food that Paul has been growing and they all start to hallucinate. For real. Good thing Peepo is around!
The 1.33.1 fullframe transfers on Space Academy present the material in their original aspect ratio but things are looking a little rough here. While everything is very definitely watchable, the colors are a little faded, the reds tend to bleed a bit, and there's some mild print damage in spots. Mpeg compression isn't too problematic although some softness definitely washes out a lot of the fine detail. As stated, it's all watchable but there was certainly some serious room left for improvement (though who knows what kind of shape the elements for this series were in).
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack has some mild hiss in a few spots but is otherwise of pretty decent quality for an older, low budget sci-fi show. Dialogue is pretty easy to understand and the score and effects are well balanced throughout. Distortion is never problematic and aside from the hiss, which is definitely there, everything is fine. Spanish dub tracks are included for each episode as well.
The biggest and best of the supplements on this release is the all new thirty-four minute documentary, Back To School With The Space Academy which is essentially a look at the genesis of the show by way of some interviews with some of the cast and crew as well as some behind the scenes material. Those involved talk about the multicultural aspect and how different people all came together to form a sort of melting pot. Cast members explain how they auditioned and got their parts as well as what it was like working on the sets and with the props. Everyone seems to have really enjoyed working with one another on the series and they all look back on it very fondly while telling some interesting stories along the way.
Two of the episodes in the set, Phantom Planet and Countdown, feature commentary tracks with executive producer Lou Scheimer, actors Ric Carrott, Brian Tochi and Eric Green, special effects supervisor Chock Comisky and moderator Andy Mangels. The commentary tracks are fairly interesting and quite active what with all the participants and Mangels does a good job of keeping everyone talking and on topic. As such, there's a fair bit of episode specific information contained in the two tracks as well as some good general knowledge type talk as to who enjoyed doing what and how they feel about various aspects of the series in hindsight.
Ink & Paint has also supplied four extensive still galleries: Promotional Photos, Behind The Scenes Photos, Cast Reunion Photos and Memorabilia Photos - the later pair featuring some interesting interview clips playing over top of them.
Rounding out the extra features are a pair of commercial bumpers for the series, trailers for other Ink & Paint releases, animated menus, episode selection, and an insert booklet featuring synopsis and trivia information for each episode in the set. For the DVD-Rom equipped, you'll also find in PDF format the complete series' Bible as well as scripts for each episode.
While it's doubtful that Space Academy is going to wind up on anyone's 'Best TV Shows Of All Time' list, it is an entertaining seventies sci-fi oddity that should amuse kids and nostalgia buffs alike. The transfers are a little weak but the extra features are surprisingly plentiful and genuinely informative. Those who can appreciate the camp value or who crave seventies TV charm would do well to check it out. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.