The Ultimate Quatermass Conclusion? (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Video Watchdog called Network's recent blu of Quatermass/ The Quatermass Conclusion his Favorite Restoration of the Year, saying they were, "the most radically improved digital restorations of the year." I was already anticipating this when Network started announcing their intentions to restore the series from the original 35mm elements, since previous DVDs were all apparently struck from a 16mm print made off the 35. Seeing it get top honors just made me more excited. And now I've got it, plus my old DVD set's still on hand as well. In fact, I'll be keeping it. But that's not a knock on Network's restoration, as you'll see. Let's just jump right into it.

Update 7/12/18: It always felt like there was a little hole in this article, because I talked a bit about the US DVD set, but never had a copy to give it proper coverage.  Now I've got my hands on a copy and was able to properly fill out this article.
The sequence of Quatermass series can be confusing for newcomers, not helped by the fact that so many have been remade and released more than once, and often with alternate titles. It all began with the BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment in 1953, followed by Quatermass II in 1955. These were remade into feature films by Hammer as The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II in 1955 and 1957. In the US, they were given alternate, non-Quatermass referencing titles (since Americans weren't familiar with the original series) The Creeping Unknown and Enemy from Space, respectively. A third BBC serial was made in 1958, called Quatermass and the Pit, which was adapted into a Hammer film in 1967, which was given the alternate US title of Five Million Years To Earth. Then, finally, came the last serial, simply titled Quatermass in 1979. It was not remade, but it was edited down to film length (in fact, it was written with having removable sections in mind) and released as The Quatermass Conclusion in the USA. That's a little anti-intuitive, as calling it The Quatermass Conclusion really only makes sense for the market that had been given the previous Quatermass installments, but I guess they figured the Americans had caught on to Nigel Kneale and his famous character by then.
Network's 2-blu-ray set gives us both the complete series and the shorter film version. They introduce us to an older, retired Quatermass, played by John Mills, who seems to have had the fight taken out of him. His rocket group is long out of his hands, and the world is seemingly falling apart, succumbing to extreme gang violence and an indifferent youth. He winds up getting pulled into science and saving the world one last time, though, when he befriends Joe Kapp (Falcon Crest's Simon MacCorkindale) and his rag-tag team of fellow scientists struggling to hold onto the last vestiges of humanity against a new, intergalactic menace.
This Quatermass gets a not entirely undeserved bad rap, I think mainly because the violent gangs in this series are dressed like a little like a high school musical production with big, colorful banners. Intellectually, the ideas are all solid - and even rather ingenious, as Kneale is wont to be - but you have to be able to look past your first reaction, which is that they all look quite silly. Production values are actually quite high, with scores of extras and impressive locations, but it seems like not everyone in the art department got the memo. The story also addresses the hippy movement, which was topical when Kneale first wrote the screenplay, but less so by the end of the 70s when the show was finally made. That's less of a problem really, though, because the writing is smart and universal enough that it can really be applied to any youth movement or rebellion of the status quo, and there's always one of those going on. It's like Quatermass and the Pit in that sense, suggesting that basic human qualities can actually be cleverly ascribed to a great science fiction concept. The cast is great, Kneale's writing again manages to bring in his expert use of character and smart ideas to birth humor, compelling drama, and true science fiction as social commentary. In fact, once you get over the superficial silliness, you find that the story is rather bleak and bitingly satirical.
I used to own The Quatermass Conclusion on VHS, and only knew the fuller version of the story thanks to the novelization, written by Kneale himself. So I was very excited when both the film and complete television mini-series was released on DVD by the UK's Clear Vision in 2003. A&E ported over a US version in 2005, and Umbrella released the Australian version. But Network's the first in 2015 to go bring it to HD, and from all new masters to boot.
Clear Vision's 2003 TV version DVD on top; CV's theatrical version DVD 2nd;
A&E's 2005 TV version DVD third; A&E's theatrical version DVD fourth;
Network's 2015 TV version blu fifth; Network's theatrical version blu bottom.
So, A&E is essentially a direct port of the Clear Vision; but interestingly, the aspect ratios for the film version are inconsistent between the DVDs and new blu transfer. The DVDs keep the film full-screen, looking essentially identical to its TV presentation. But Network mattes their Quatermass Conclusion to 1.78:1, presenting it widescreen. There's certainly enough empty vertical space to suggest they had this framing in mind while shooting, and Network's theatrical version even gains a little extra picture on the sides in the process (look at the flowery things on the girl's shoulder on the lower left). In fact, even their 1.33:1 TV version has a little extra picture on the sides, but not quite as much as their theatrical. That's because the DVDs' fullscreen transfers are actually a slightly slimmer 1.29:1. Color-wise, the DVDs' film version is much closer to Network's transfers, with their TV presentation looking distinctly redder.
Clear Vision's 2003 TV version DVD on top; A&E's 2005 TV version mid;
Network's 2015 TV version blu bottom.
Clear Vision's 2003 TV version DVD left; Network's 2015 TV version blu right.
Here's a set of only three shots, because it's a scene not in the film version, so we can focus on just the quality of the three transfers. The closer you look, the more remarkable the differences are. the DVDs are loaded with harsh edge enhancement and digital artifacts, though at least the UK disc isn't interlaced... That's more than we can say for A&E's port (you can see it in the previous set of shots), which clearly botched that up in the PAL > NTSC conversion.  So interestingly, the older DVDs are preferable to the newer ones; though of course the blu renders that distinction academic.  Looking at the background characters, we see Network's image is far more accurate and realistic. Even if you were to put Network's transfer on an SD DVD, it would be a much more lifelike image. The fact that it's also in HD on dual-layer discs with brand new 5.1 audio mixes is just like an extra bonus on top of that.
Nearly the year of the Sex Olympics already?
Extras have always been minimal but not nil when it comes to the final Quatermass. In addition to a nice 16-page booklet, the original Clear Video DVD featured a short but interesting interview with Nigel Kneale. He doesn't really talk about this Quatermass, the interview appears to be for a television broadcast of Quatermass and the Pit, but it's still a good clip of him talking about the character and his writing that was nice to have.

A&E dropped the interview in favor of an hour-long episode of In Search of History, a long running A&E series they've issued onto home video a few times already. The episode was about Stonehenge, which tangentially relates to Quatermass, but it's not like they ever mention it or anything. I'd equate it to Warner Bros' "special edition" of Poltergeist, which featured a television special about "real" poltergeists, although at least the history here was real and genuinely educational.
And unfortunately, Network also dropped the Kneale interview, which is the reason I'm hanging onto my Clear Video set. I really wish Network had kept it, just so I could clear the shelf-space, but oh well. Network hasn't really provided any extra special features, but they have included some extra little preservative elements from the show. Specifically they've got put in the episode recaps, the footage of the opening credits with the titles printed over it, music-only tracks of each episode, an image gallery and a mute trailer (the sound elements have been lost). They also include an even more substantial 36-page booklet. So overall, they haven't really provided any additional content to view, but materials that make for a more thorough restoration.

I suppose I should also point out that Network's blu-ray set is available in one of four, different color cases. As you can see, mine in purple, but there are also red, blue and green, each color matching the colors the original series coded each episode's opening graphics with. And Network has also created a 2-disc DVD version, for those who haven't made the jump to blu-ray yet.
So do I agree with Video Watchdog? Well, the most radical improvement of the whole year is a strong statement, but this is a pretty serious bump up that far outshines, say, your average MGM DVD slapped onto blu by Scream Factory. I believe I've covered more extreme improvements this year, as recently as Vampires Night Orgy. But this is definitely a distinct, bold and unexpected restoration that's absolutely worth upgrading to. This is *the* way to view Quatermass, and I'm very happy to see it. I support VW wholeheartedly in encouraging Network to do more work like this. The only thing that could have possibly made it any better would've been, oh I don't know... a vintage Nigel Kneale interview so we could toss our old DVDs?

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