"Once upon a time, a junkman had a dream. So he put together a team: an ex-astronaut and a fuel expert. They built a rocket ship and they went to the moon. Who knows what they'll do next?" -- Salvage-1's opening narration
What I wrote in my review of Salvage-1: Golden Orbit applies here as well: Though virtually forgotten today, Salvage-1 (1979) was the Rocky Balboa of televised science fantasy. A modest made-for-TV movie, it took an unpromising, outrageous premise - a junk dealer builds a spacecraft out of spare parts and flies to moon to retrieve gear abandoned by NASA - and somehow, some way, made it believable and charming. (See below for comments specific to Hard Water.)
Executives at the ABC network and production company Columbia Pictures apparently thought so, too. Partly based of the track record of its highly bankable TV star, Andy Griffith, partly because of the vogue for all things sci-fi in the wake of Star Wars, they decided to expand Salvage-1 into a regular series even before the TV-movie aired to strong ratings. The TV-movie was broadcast in January 1979, and as a mid-season replacement Salvage-1 continued with an additional 12 hour-long episodes. A second season was ordered, but only six were made, and four of those didn't even air.
Still, there are those like me who fondly remember the original TV-movie and curious enough to want to see it again, and maybe check out the series that followed. All this makes Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's decision to release Salvage 1: Golden Orbit and Salvage 1: Hard Water all the more peculiar.
I'd assumed these would be ersatz TV-movie movies cobbled together from episodes of the series, fake TV movies that, at some point, had been offered into syndication in the same way other failed series occasionally were. (The 1974 Planet of the Apes series, for instance, was recut in 1981 into five faux movies, with such absurd titles as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of the Planet of the Apes, in a syndication package featuring new introductions by actor Roddy McDowall, wearing his chimpanzee make-up one last time.)
Instead, I was surprised to find Salvage 1: Golden Orbit and Salvage 1: Hard Water consisted not of re-edited shows but rather two complete and separated episodes, the same-named two-parter that aired as the sixth and seventh episode. (Hard Water is derived from the thirteenth and fourteenth episodes, the first two of the aborted second season.)
It seems downright perverse on Sony's part to reintroduce the show to audiences with four virtually randomly selected episodes rather than simply release the original TV-movie. Another reasonable choice would have been to release the entire run of the series including the pilot that, you'll remember, ran less than the equivalent of one full TV season. Why?
Sony's manufactured-on-demand "Choice Collection" release of Golden Orbit sources an old video master that looks just okay, but at least the two episodes are complete and not time-compressed.
Los Angeles-based junk dealer Harry Broderick (Andy Griffth) has expanded his Jettison Scrap and Salvage Company into space with the help of former NASA astronaut Addison "Skip" Carmichael (Joel Higgins) and fuel specialist Melanie "Mel" Slozar (Trish Stewart). In the pilot film, they built the spacecraft Vulture using discarded NASA rocket boosters but mostly out of reclaimed scrap, including a Texaco gasoline semi-trailer and, for the capsule, a cement mixer.
Where does a series like this go after a round-trip to the moon? Creator Mike Lloyd Ross's teleplay for Hard Water suggests the answer was rather than weekly trips into outer space, it made more sense to explore other areas of cutting-edge science. In this two-parter, the island of Santa Lea (clearly based on Catalina Island), off the coast of Los Angeles, is desperately short of drinking water and looking for bids to solve the problem. Harry wants to pursue the idea of carving an iceberg off the coast of Antarctica and towing it all the way to Santa Lea.
Towing icebergs to parched parts of the world is a concept that's been floating around (so to speak) since the early 1800s, though one met with little measurable success. (However, oil companies now routinely tow smaller bergs away from Arctic oilrigs.) Not long before Ross wrote his script the State of California legislature endorsed a proposal of towing two such icebergs to Southern California but at a projected cost of $60 million the idea was never implemented.
Ross may also have been aware of producer-director George Pal's ultimately unsuccessful efforts to make a movie of "Voyage of the Berg," adapted from Edward Hyams's novel Prince Habib's Iceberg. Pal died in May 1980, six months after Hard Water aired. I wonder if he saw it.
Ross's script, also possibly aided by the show's big name scientific advisor, Isaac Asimov, is fairly credible, and unlike Golden Orbit, which featured some truly terrible special visual effects, this two-parter's effects shots are quite well done, especially by late-1970s television standards. Additionally, the live action scenes set in the Antarctic and later atop the berg are impressively done, too.
Pretty clearly these were done at The Burbank Studios' (i.e., Warner Bros.) backlot by combining a surprisingly spacious iceberg set (large enough to accommodate a helicopter and a full-scale rocket booster prop) with a realistic painted backdrop (probably a soundstage wall) to make the berg seem even bigger. The only thing spoiling this effect is that during the Antarctic scenes Griffith, Higgins, and Stewart never look particularly cold; they don't even zip up their parkas all the way.
For reasons unknown actor Richard Jaeckel, as Harry's old nemesis, CIA Agent Jack Klinger, left the series at this point. Rather than replace this character, the nauseating decision was made (probably at the network's insistence) to introduce a precocious orphan as a new series regular. Pig-tailed and wearing coveralls, and creepily resembling Patty McCormick's Bad Seed character, Heather McAdam plays Michelle Ryan, orphaned after her heart surgeon father and physicist mother died in a car crash. She's now residing at Santa Lea's cash-strapped children's home. For some reason (political correctness?), the terms "orphan" and "orphanage" are never uttered. Michelle turns out to be a gushing fan of Melanie's, obsessively so (clippings decorate her bedroom walls), and when Melanie, coincidentally yearning for something like motherhood, turns up on Santa Lea, the audience immediately knows where this subplot is heading.
But, overall, Hard Water is more convincing and better-plotted than Golden Orbit, though like its predecessor it stretches over two episodes a story that might have played better as a fast-paced single. Still, it's not bad.
Video & Audio
Salvage 1: Hard Water sources what appears to be an old tape master of the two 48-plus minute episodes, originally shot in 35mm. They're serviceable but no better than that. The mono audio (English only, not subtitle options) is also okay. The disc is region-free. No Extra Features.
Why Sony didn't simply release Salvage-1's original pilot movie and/or the complete series is a baffling little mystery. Watching this and Golden Orbit is better than nothing, but it's not the most brilliant of marketing decisions. Still, for those like me who remember the original TV movie fondly, this is mildly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.