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Based on the British television series of the same name, Peter Sasdy's 1972 film Doomwatch is set on the island village of Balfe. Strange things are afoot in this remote community after an industrial sized oil spill pollutes the waters. It starts with the appearance of some mutated sea creatures but before long, its affecting not only the wildlife in the area, but the human population as well. Dead bodies are found, strange cavemen-like beings appear… it's all very odd. The people of the island appear to be changing. Of course, some believe that this is related to the oil spill or maybe some sort of radioactive phenomena, while others have to wonder if there's something more to this, possibly something supernatural.
Enter Doctor Del Shaw (Ian Bannen) and his team of scientists straight from the headquarters of the government agency known as Doomwatch, located on the mainland. They're there to try and uncover the cause of these strange occurrences and to, hopefully, figure out a way to set things right. Of course, the locals are none too keen on having outsiders like Shaw and his team prowling about their town. They're also none too keen on the new schoolteacher who has recently arrived, the lovely Victoria Brown (Judy Geeson). When Shaw rents a room from Miss Johnson (Constance Chapman), he's introduced to the town's newest female addition. In a twist that will surprise no one, Shaw and Brown hit it off and sooner rather than later, team up to try to sort out this mildly spooky mess!
Nicely directed by Sasdy, beloved by horror fans for his work with Hammer Films on pictures like Countess Dracula and Taste The Blood Of Dracula, this is a fun watch. Some may take issue with the fact that the movie doesn't really play nicely with the characters established in the TV series that came before it, but judged on its own merits this film actually works fairly well. This is more cerebral stuff than you might expect. Yes, there are some monsters and mutations but the screenplay by Clive Exton is far more interested in exploring the environmental impact at the root of this insanity than it is in throwing monsters and horror in the audience's face. The film mirrors The Wicker Man in how it deals with an outsider intruding on a small island village with its own unique culture and in how the populace of said island deals with these city slickers, but the comparisons basically end there. The pacing in the picture is pretty deliberate and the scenes of traditional horror are few and far between but the movie does a great job of building tension and providing the story with an appropriately encroaching sense of dread.
As far as the cast go, John Paul, Simon Oates and Jean Trend all reprise their roles from the TV show, but definitely play second fiddle to Bannen and Geeson. There are some interesting character actors that pop up in supporting roles here: Norman Bird, JGeorge Woodbridge not to mention George Sanders as a military man and Joseph O'Conor as a man of the cloth. For the most part, however, it's Ian Bannen and Judy Geeson that are the real leads in the show. Bannen is a lot of fun to watch here, he never under plays anything and brings a pretty fun intensity to his character, particularly when things start to really hit the fan. Geeson's performance is more subdued, but she's fine in the part. She's pretty and likeable and makes for a nice foil to Bannen's ‘man's man' character. Throw in some nice location photography and a genuinely cool score, and Doomwatch makes for fine entertainment (and it might even make you stop and think a little bit before it's all over).
Doomwatch Planet is presented on Blu-ray in 1.85.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer and generally speaking it looks very nice. There are a few small scuffs and scratches evident here and there but overall the picture is quite clean. Texture and depth are fairly good throughout and detail is typically solid here as well. Black levels are deep enough while shadow detail is quite good as well. There is no evidence of any noise reduction or edge enhancement nor are there any compression artifacts.
The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD Mono track, in the film's native English. The score has good depth and clarity to it while balance is spot on. That means that there aren't any problems understanding the dialogue when the music or effects kick in. Hiss and distortion are non-issues. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
Extras start off with an audio commentary from director Peter Sasdy. He speaks quite openly about working on this picture, starting off by talking about how and why he and the production team decided to do things a bit differently here than as was done on the TV series. He also talks up the locations featured in the film, the contributions of the cast and crew members that he worked alongside, and the timelessness of the film's environmental message. It's a well-paced and interesting talk, Sasdy looks back on this quite fondly and seems quite keen to share his experiences with the listener.
Also included on the disc is an on camera interview with actress Judy Geeson. It's a quick one, clocking in at roughly six minutes in length, but it's interesting enough. She also talks about the environmental themes that the film deals with but so too does she talk about her relationship with her co-stars, Sasdy's direction and her overall thoughts on the picture itself. Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, bonus trailers for trailers for a few other Kino Studio Classics titles, static menus and chapter selection.
Doomwatch is a well mad film. It's deliberately paced and puts intelligent dialogue and smartly written characters ahead of monsters and mayhem. Don't go into this expecting a traditional mutant creature feature, it's more socially conscience than that, but it works. The Blu-ray release from Kino looks and sounds decent and it has a few good extras as well. 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.