Looking forward to the UFO reboot

News Pamela McCaughey
5 Jan 2010 - 05:43

Pamela looks back at Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's UFO, and looks forward to the planned movie version that's now been announced...

In 1969, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson decided to parlay their success in Supermarionation into a live action science-fiction television show. After such child-oriented hits as Fireball XL-5, Stingray, Captain Scarlet, and Joe 90, they had built a team expert in creating detailed spacecraft miniatures and dioramas which could be used to great effect on-screen to tell their futuristic stories.

But UFO was not meant for children. It was a dark, often frightening view of the future, with marauding aliens, bent on kidnapping humans for body parts and taking Earth's natural resources back their own dying planet. Their raison d'etre was survival.

Enter SHADO, Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organization, helmed by Commander Edward Straker, a super-secret organization created to repel the alien menace utilizing a fully equipped Moonbase, a fleet of submarines and a series of land-based mobiles to bring the aliens to heel. The main characters in the show were not always heroic. There were very few happy endings. Morality, ethics and personal sacrifice were often depicted in the series' 26 episodes.

To be sure, the show had its campy elements, mostly because the Andersons had misjudged the changes in clothing, interior décor, style and other factors that would, in reality, take place between 1970, when the show went on the air, and the real 1980, the decade in which the show was supposed to take place. Purple wigs, 1960s style miniskirts, sexual innuendoes that would fail the politically correct 1980s time period, and the men's Nehru-jacketed apparel, were all cool by 1960s' standards, but hopelessly outdated only a few years later.

In terms of style and production values, UFO could boast music conductors like Barry Grey, special effects and miniature models by Derek Meddings (who went on to work on subsequent James Bond movies etc), well-designed sets and props, and some very realistic lunar landscapes for the characters to interact with (this was long before blue screen technology).

If you view UFO and then view an original Star Trek episode side by side, you may eventually decide UFO was superior production-wise in many areas.

Series creators Gerry and Sylvia Anderson also struck it out of the park in choosing their actors. Ed Bishop, as Straker, brought the right combination of hard-assedness and brooding (we also learn in the series that he has sacrificed his marriage and his child to SHADO) to his character. Co-stars such as Mike Billington, George Sewell, Wanda Ventham and the others all served as excellent foils to each other in the episodes. Billington, as Paul Foster, the ‘action man' was actually up for the role of James Bond in the movies three different times.

The show ended with the 26th episode, and it is clear from the conclusion of that episode, that the producers intended originally to go on with a second season. They feared the American market had not received the show as well as Australian, Canadian and other European markets had; the show was scrubbed and out of its ashes was created Space: 1999 with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, fresh from their American triumph in the original Mission: Impossible TV series.

For years the show was virtually forgotten, but the fans had not let it slip from memory. Sites such as ufoseries.com  and the SHADO Library for fan fiction, shadolibrary.org, have kept the love of the show alive over the last 40 years. With the deaths of almost every main character actor in the original UFO, there wasn't much room for ever imagining a reboot.

Then Matthew Gratzner stepped up to the plate. Just a few months ago, word began to trickle out that UFO was to be resurrected! Actors Joshua Jackson and Ali Larter have actually been signed to play Paul Foster and Virginia Lake respectively, and a trilogy of films is expected to be made, based somewhat on original episodes.

Movie scriptwriters Ryan Gaudet and Joseph Kanarek have been tasked with creating a re-imagining of the original UFO's best elements, while retaining the characters and style that the die-hard fans expect in any reboot of the show.

Unlike JJ Abrams, who confessed publicly to not liking the original Star Trek (and preferring Star Wars), the writers are both devotees of UFO and as a result, are actively keeping the show's Baby Boomer-aged fans in mind with their updated version. And, of course, to increase box office appeal and secure new fans for the movies, they also want to build a story that will attract new fans to the franchise.

So, once again, fans may see SHADO spacecraft go streaking across the lunar landscape to take on their alien enemies with the call "Interceptors - immediate launch!"

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