Granted today isn’t a Saturday and even though some of what follows has previously seen print, what I’m writing today isn’t really a Saturday morning re-run. It’s no secret that I am a big Gerry Anderson fan and of all his productions Fireball XL5 is my favorite …but as I check my stats each day it appears that the adventures of Steve Zodiac and company are highly favored by a sizeable number of my readers as well.
…and as it can be a little difficult at times to pick out all the XL5 blog posts I’m putting together a dedicated portfolio for the topic with a link on my blog’s task bar to make it easier to access. The portfolio will include most of the polished conceptual work I’ve come up with along with selected text – including this rework of a Fireball XL5 review I did for Amazon.com several years ago:
Fireball XL5 is one of Sir Gerry Anderson’s earlier “sophomore” shows produced before he hit it big with Thunderbirds and the prime-time live action shows like Space: 1999. It is not nearly as well-polished; indeed most commentaries refer to it has possessing a “naïve charm” but out of all his work it is hands-down my very favorite.
Great music: If the opening credits aren’t the best ever in the history of broadcast TV then they should at least be in the top ten. Classical brass orchestra music underlies Steve and Venus boarding the ship, then as the engine fires up the music breaks into a dirty bad saxophone measure as it accompanies Fireball as it is hurtling down the launch track and leaping into the sky.
All ages appeal: I can share these shows with my grandkids without them getting either terrified or bored. There are lots of explosions and action, but any suspense in an episode is usually brought on by some sort of count-down rather than having some psycho armed with an ax chasing people through an old house.
Great eye candy: For the conditions under which it was filmed, Fireball XL5 is visually stunning. Even though I liked the stories the budding artist inside of me was fascinated with the design aspect. Despite the slim budget the quality of their work made it very evident that the model makers and special effects crew would be going on to bigger and better things – most big-budget work like the Bond movies
Positive message: As I mentioned before, Fireball XL5 doesn’t leave kids scared at the end of the episode. These shows were pre-Star Trek and pre- Lost in Space and at that time most other science fiction on the tube consisted of the rare ‘50s sci-fi movie shown at odd hours – and to be honest I didn’t care for most of those shows. The plots usually revolved around the monster (there was always a monster) killing and/or eating the secondary characters one by one until the hero saved the remaining crew members by killing the monster.
None of that victim crap with Steve Zodiac. First off, Fireball XL5 (the ship itself) looked, flew and fought like a freaking F104 Starfighter rather than wallowing around helplessly like most other cinematic spacecraft at the time. Colonel Zodiac wasn’t above packing heat himself and dropped more than one alien foolish enough to try and see who would blink first – though I found it odd that his sidearm was extremely versatile, being able to fire any kind of ray or projectile the script required in a particular scene.
The only problem I had with the show as the stilted manner in which the marionettes moved. Personally my innate obsessive-compulsive behavior prevented me from a simple suspension of disbelief so I concocted a back-story about a galaxy-wide epidemic that left victims with arthritic joints – which caused the aforementioned stilted and stiff movements – but to each his own.
Out of the entire series Invasion: Earth is my favorite episode – for a very special reason. I belong to a very select group of people called The Fireball XL5 Club. It doesn’t sound like it would be that exclusive, but this particular Fireball XL5 Club is made up of people who were watching the show when the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 hit. It was this specific episode that was playing – but for years I didn’t know how it ended; as the tremors hit our TV tipped over, pulling the plug out and cutting the episode off with about ten minutes to go. I spent the next twenty years wondering how Steve and the gang handled the vaguely Oriental-sounding invaders but then I found a fourth-generation bootleg VHS that carried me over until A&E released the DVD set.
I love the show and I while I wouldn’t have changed a thing “back in the day” it’s been fun to tweak details and exercise creative muscles. From the first time I saw Jim Ringo’s armored bat-suit worn by Michael Keaton in the 1989 Batman movie I’ve been a fan of tweaking details. For example in today’s post I’ve re-imagined Zoonie not as a goofy sidekick but rather the vital crew member Zuni, ready to lend the muscle where needed, but retaining the original character’s good nature, just as my “Chris Rock” post yesterday put Lieutenant Ninety in a much different light.