Space: Above And Beyond REVIEW
Release Date: 30 April 2012
1995-6 | PG | 946 minutes | £39.99 (pilot episode also available separately, £12.99)
Distributor: MediumRare Entertainment
Creators: Glen Morgan, James Wong
Cast: Morgan Weisser, Kristen Cloke, Rodney Roland, James Morrison
Almost a dry run for the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, this one-season wonder from the mid ’90s, the creation of acclaimed X-Files writers Glen Morgan and James Wong, is an early attempt to bring the grim and gritty realities of war to TV space opera. It may have lasers, monsters and spaceship dog fights, but it’s determined to show that even in space, war is hell.
When a near-future Earth begins to spread its empire out into the stars, humanity encounters its first hostile advanced race. Immediately, it’s war. The heroes of this war are the 58th, aka The Wildcards, a demographically chosen crack team of space fighter pilots (white male, white female, black female, Asian male, bloke grown in a tank). Based on the Battlestar… sorry, USS Saratoga, they’re sent on the toughest missions. You know, the kind where any new wingman of the week is going to cop it within 45 minutes.
The enemy – the unfortunately-named Chigs – are kept in the background throughout, as a deliberately faceless enemy. It’s a brave stylistic choice, and the show has little truck with ideas such as peace negotiations. The result is an unrelentingly militaristic stance, with only lip service paid to the morality of warmongering. Instead the series concentrates more on how individuals cope in a wartime situation, though even subplots about corrupt politicians and businessmen seem to fizzle out in favour of, “It sucks being cannon fodder.”
The show has some truly brilliant episodes, especially whenever it explores the nature of the In Vitros, or “tanks” – humans who have been artificially grown. Unfortunately, it has just as many downright dull, talky episodes based around contrived sources of friction. The acting is solid (even if the cast seem to have been given a ration on expressions) and the primitive CG FX have a certain charm. But the show never finds a consistent groove, and too often appears to assume that unrelenting grimness is artistic justification in itself.
A major improvement on the old region one release, which just had some TV spots. The highlight is a brand new, in-depth Making Of, “Beyond And Back” (74 minutes), which sees creators Morgan and Wong, the guys behind the CGI effects, and numerous cast members frankly discussing how the show came about, how it was made, and the disappointment of its cancellation. There are commentaries on four episodes (including the feature-length pilot). Featurette “Designs For A Future War” (21 minutes) discusses the grungey, lived-in look of the show, and includes glimpses of some very cool blueprints and concept drawings; you can take a closer look at these in three extensive galleries. Five alternate/deleted scenes, archive interviews with five of the cast (sourced from a ropey old VHS, by the look of it), and pointlessly brief two-line synopses for every episode complete a surprisingly strong package.
Read more of our DVD reviews.