PRESENTED IN SUPERCOLORISATION
Extended review by Alan Hayes, www.culttv.uk
Colourisation has long been a controversial subject. Is it right to add colour to black-and-white films and television? Is it a betrayal of the artistic endeavours of those who made the productions in the first place? Does the process pander to monochrome refuseniks who simply shouldn’t be catered for? Does it change the viewer’s experience? Is there the danger that a colourisation might become the default version? Network no doubt considered such questions but decided that there was sufficient consumer interest for them to undertake the ‘Supercolorisation’ of a smattering of Gerry Anderson’s monochromatic output. This would culminate in two streaming events at watch.networkonair.com, and a Blu-ray set, Presented In Supercolorisation, released in December 2022. Network were almost certainly aware that ‘Supercolorisation’ would be a ‘Marmite’ project with its supporters and detractors.
I’m definitely one of the supporters. I’m open-minded about the process and, while I think there are some films that should never have colour applied to them (Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, for instance), I believe that British television film series, produced when black-and-white was the only option for producers, is fair game. As long as the colour versions don’t supplant the monochrome originals, I’m on board. I’m sure that Gerry Anderson would have made his early series in colour had he been able to at the time. So, when the Network Blu-ray was announced, I quickly pre-ordered despite the jaw-dropping £35 asking price. I assume this reflects the cost of colourising the Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5 episodes included in the set. Otherwise, it’s a distinctly nondescript presentation: a fun if ultimately unsatisfying colouring-in booklet (I’d much rather have had some notes explaining the colourisation process and how colour and episode choices were arrived at) and two Blu-ray Discs in a very ordinary two-disc Amaray case. But it’s on the discs that the gold – and other colours! – can be found.
The colourisation on display in Presented In Supercolorisation is certainly effective. The grading choices are generally appropriate for the era and, combined with the High Definition sources, the images really impress and ‘pop’. While the recent Blu-ray sets of Supercar and Fireball XL5 are fabulous, the episodes on these discs really do come alive in colour. It’s like seeing them afresh, the familiar suddenly transformed into something new and exciting once again, like they were when I first discovered them many decades ago. The episodes in this set are Four Feather Falls First Train Through, Supercar Pirate Plunder and Supercar “Take One”, and Fireball XL5 The Sun Temple, The Granatoid Tanks and A Day In The Life Of A Space General, the latter of which had previously been released in colour by Network. This of course calls into question the cover’s claim of “Six favourite episodes as you’ve never seen them before!”, as the latter has been available since 2009, though I’m glad that it is included in the set. I would, however, query the choice of Supercar episodes: it seems odd that neither features recurring villains Masterspy and Zarin. A further minor drawback is that the Four Feather Falls episode – which I think enjoys the most effective colourisation – suffers from a distorted audio track, particularly noticeable during the opening title sequence (why this part of the soundtrack wasn’t dropped in from another source is something of a mystery).
Perhaps the biggest value-for-money problem with Presented In Supercolorisation is that the colourisations included on Disc 1 – with the exception of A Day In The Life Of A Space General – also all feature on Disc 2 as part of the two 120-minute compilation programmes, You’ve Never Seen These! (originally streamed on 25th November 2021) and Space City Specials (28th October 2022). These programmes, which feature cleverly edited linking sequences written by Chris Dale and voiced with impersonations of the original character voices, also include example episodes of Stingray (Treasure Down Below) and Fireball XL5 (Planet 46), and some delightful Four Feather Falls behind-the-scenes home movie footage, new to Blu-ray. You’ve Never Seen These! and Space City Specials are presented without direct menu access to the individual episodes – though at least there are chapter points allowing the viewer to click through to the start of each programme with their remote control.
A secondary highlight of this release is the inclusion of two black-and-white filmed episodes of the 1955 magazine series You’ve Never Seen This, both of which are previously unreleased. These are fascinating examples of Gerry’s early days in film making – and, in my opinion, a standalone release of what survives of these fascinating programmes is entirely warranted (perhaps alongside an HD transfer of Crossroads to Crime). It’s sad to see the You’ve Never Seen This episodes presented as they are here, hidden within the compilation programmes. As I understand it, in addition to these two programmes (Episodes 5 and 6 of this Associated-Rediffusion series) and the footage included in The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson DVD (Network, 2015), material from one further edition has been recovered and is yet to be released. Despite the understandable emphasis on the colourisations in this release, these are perhaps its true treasures.
All told, one must question whether this release is worth £35, but it certainly deserves a place on every Anderson fan’s shelf, offering the opportunity to experience familiar episodes in a fresh and attractive way, and to view some of Gerry Anderson’s earliest film work. I’m pleased I bought it, though if the cost of colourisation is as high as it appears, I don’t expect any full-series ‘Supercolorisations’ any time soon. Some might say that’s a good thing, but I would certainly welcome such releases. I might, though, need to remortgage the house…