Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
-A&E Home Video (1967)
Captain Scarlet and the agents of SPECTRUM battle the evil forces of the Mysterons and the misconception that rainbows are only a gay thing.
For anyone under the age of twenty this might be hard to believe, but there was once a time when you had two options if you liked a television show that wasn't popular: hope to hell you taped the episodes on their first airing or pray they would run in syndication. If you were really lucky a few of the episodes might be collected and released on a VHS tape, otherwise your favorite show would only exist as a fading memory. These days with the popularity of TV on DVD, many of the most obscure series are accessible on the format.
This brings me to Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. I first discovered Captain Scarlet way back in the mid-nineties as a young nerd. Every morning Iíd watch the Sci-Fi channelís airings of the series (this was when the Sci-Fi Channel was still a small operation and good). I was intrigued by a series involving dolls that shot and killed each other, with the titular doll usually dying and showing up in the next episode. From that moment onward I was hooked. Unfortunately, information about everything that has ever existed wasnít as accessible like it is today so I was always left wondering who this Captain Scarlet guy was and why he always kept getting killed. Eventually Sci-fi channel dropped the show. It wasn't until years later that I ran across a tape at a Good Will that had taken the first few episodes of the series and edited them together into a sort of a movie. I thought this was the only way I'd ever get to watch the series, but a couple of years later A&E released a box set of the entire series on DVD. Thank you A&E, I owe you my first born son.
To the casual observer Captain Scarlet is pretty insane, with the puppets and all. The whole concept of using puppets in this way is called Supermarionation, a technique that is featured in several TV series by the same British creator Gerry Anderson with the most famous in the U.S. being Thunderbirds. Why they made the horrible movie of the same name a live action Spy Kids rip-off Iíll never know, I mean the whole point of the series was the Supermarionation goodness. I digress. Captain Scarlet takes place in the future where an international peacekeeping force known as SPECTRUM protects the Earth. It functions kind of like INTERPOL except with a floating base and agents named after colorsÖ and they actually stop terrorists. To make SPECTRUM even cooler all of their fighter pilots are hot chicks nicknamed Angels. Yeah, itís pretty much a manís fantasy show.
The series starts off with SPECTRUM agent Captain Black out on a Mars mission. While driving around on the red planet, Black makes the hideous mistake of believing that a newly discovered Mysteron base was about to attack him and his men. He destroys the base little knowing that the Mysterons meant no harm. In fact, they are insane grudge holders and decide to begin a war of terror against us Earthlings. Poor Captain Black is vaporized and the Mysterons create an evil duplicate in his place. I wonder what would of happened if SPECTRUM would have sent one of their less obviously implied evil colored agents in space, like Captain Purple Accent.
In one of the lamest creative decisions ever, the Mysterons are exactly as their name implies: mysterious. (Perhaps Black would have been better off destroying a Wimpion base?) You never see the Mysterions, but they are represented by circles of light and their undead agent Captain Black. In the same episode the titular character Captain Scarlet and another Spectrum agent are also killed and reborn as Mysteron agents in the same manner as that of Captain Black. Captain Scarlet is different than the other double agents though. After he falls about 1000 feet to his death from what I believe is a 100 story parking garage he becomes a good guy when he is reborn. Why thereís a parking garage built higher than any other building in the city is never explained and neither is the fact that when he is returned to the land of the living heís one of the good guys and indestructible. Talk about luck.
Believe it or not Captain Scarlet isn't really for kids. The themes of terrorism and cold war paranoia are rampant throughout this set and the most obvious non-child friendly aspect is the insane amount of violence. In an average episode at least two or three characters are killed in all sorts of ways, with explosions being the most popular. The evil Captain Black actually crushes a car mechanic with a hydraulic lift. In my favorite episode dozens of soldiers are methodically poisoned through their air conditioning systems in a number of bases as Captain Scarlet tries to catch up to the murderer. The death count doesnít even include the number of times Captain Scarlet dies, which is basically at the end of almost every episode. The creators really take advantage of the whole ďhe canít die thingĒ by sporadically butchering the guy throughout the series.
One of the best aspects to the Captain Scarlet series is that the bad guys can win. I've never seen a series where the heroes can fail as miserably as they do in Captain Scarlet. In the second episode SPECTRUM is put in charge of protecting a world leader. Just when you think that the good guys have saved the day, BLAM, the world leaderís jet smashes into the ground and explodes in a huge fireball. I was shocked and rightly so, having been raised on dozens of kidís shows like G.I. Joe where the good guys always win. In the case of Joe you also learned the value of eating apples and not suffocating in an abandoned refrigerator. The idea that the bad guys could win made the entire Captain Scarlet series that much more suspenseful and enjoyable.
One of the few downsides of Captain Scarlet is that the very thing that sets it apart from most other types of programming are the dolls (or puppets or whatever). They have a limited range of mobility so they canít be shown running or fighting hand to hand realistically so much of action actually takes place in vehicles. The other, much bigger downside is that the have a mostly static expressions. The only acting you get is in the voices. If one of the characters is laying down with his/her eyes open, you really can't tell if he/she is alive or dead. This often leads to unintentionally humorous results. During one of the three million car chases a doctor is being shot at. Youíd think heíd be at least a little scared, but the look on the dollís face is completely uncaring like he was wondering what he was going to eat for dinner instead of escaping for his life. Another way the creators have to convey action is through the use of close ups of human hands whenever the characters have to manipulate something. Normally, itís an okay method, but in one case in particular a woman was handling a vile containing a deadly virus and it was clear that her big meaty paws were the hands of a man wearing fingernail polish. Are there no female hand models in all of Briton? Lastly, the series never really wraps up any of the loose ends before itís over. The last episode is pretty standard and not to ruin it for anyone, but it doesnít have the greatest outcome. Oh well, at least I can have the continuing adventures play out in my head. In fact, in the theater of my mind Captain Scarlet is punching Andy Warhol in the face right now.
Aside from small problems like these, it's a great series. The episodes on average are excellent with a few clunkers and donít seem all that out dated despite the cold war bent. Captain Scarlet also works in today's world with the looming threat of terrorism at the hands of an unforgiving enemy. At least the Mysterons had the decency on cluing SPECTRUM in on their plans at the beginning of every episode. I highly recommend purchasing this set for anyone with an open mind and is ready for something different, fun, and entertaining. I mean, how can you not like a show that features groovy sixties theme song that contains lyrics like this:
They Crash him and his body may burn.
They smash him, knowing heíll only return,
to live again!
Now thatís poetry.
This edition had a few negatives. I had some problems getting the menus to work on my player, but since I couldn't replicate them on another DVD player I'm assuming itís the player at fault. The motion menus are fairly limited but functional. The surround sound is only okay, and I actually found myself watching the series in two channel stereo since it sounded a little better in my opinion. Whenever the show would break into the signature BUM BUM BUDDA BUM BUM thing, it would go from the front to the back in a super annoying fashion in the 5.1 mix. The colors are crisp and bright and it makes all the different agents look great in their multi-colored outfits including Captain Ochre. Yes, there really is a Captain Ochre. The picture does suffer from some digital distortion thatís fairly noticeable for anyone who is picky about their picture quality. I managed to get past this since itís a lot better version than the VHS tape I once owned.
Captain Scarlet features a few extras to round out the Scarlet goodness. The plastic case the series comes in seems cheap at first, but is actually highly functional. It stores my discs and has a lot less wear and tear on it than other prettier box sets like my Twin Peaks Season One set. Surprisingly, this edition features some pretty okay features that are spread out across the four disc set.
There are a few commentaries from creator Gary Anderson appears on a few of the episodes and itís both entertaining and informative for all ten American fans of the series. Itís too bad that the commentary doesnít appear on more episodes. Other notable extras include such things as ďAn introduction to Captain ScarletĒ which is a text recounting of what the title implies, character bios of most of the major players, and a biography of Gerry Anderson along with a *ugh* filmography in addition to a bunch of photo galleries.
But wait, thereís more! In the tradition of G.I. Joe file cards there are some SPECTRUM IDs for you to peruse. Thereís also vehicle guides if you dug the cool future cars. Supposedly, the DVD-Rom features vehicle cross sections, but I couldnít get it to work for whatever reason.
All in all I donít know if anyone who isnít into Captain Scarlet already will pick up this series, but I hope they do. For those that do like Captain Scarlet this is a no-brainer buy.
Episode Average: 9.0