DVD Review: Fireball XL5 (The Complete Series)

Gerry Anderson is part of the pantheon of children’s TV legends. Anderson didn’t merely produce shows, but created his own aesthetic. Like Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, Jim Henson and Sid & Marty Krofft, Anderson shows were distinctive. He invented “Supermarionation.” This wasn’t just a hyped up word. He really did create marionettes that were super since it wasn’t merely about pulling the strings on his stars. His creations weren’t all paint, wood and stuffing material like Howdy Doody. He had them wired up with electronics so they were robots on strings. This added touch allowed them to react with all the emotions exhibited by soap opera actors. After the success of Supercar (due out on April 14), Anderson wanted to ramp up the action and excitement in his next creation. Fireball XL5: The Complete Series takes Anderson’s work out of this world.

Fireball XL5 is the name of a massive spaceship that’s located on an island in the South Pacific. The ship gets into orbit by launching itself off a massive ramp. It’s like an Evel Knievel stunt. Behind the wheel is the hunky Col. Steve Zodiac. He’s beyond Shatneriffic with a sculptured face. He calls the shots for the World Space Patrol. He’s assisted by Professor Matthew Matic. They even have a robot that co-pilots the ship. But this isn’t a boy’s club. Dr. Venus is as smart about medicine and enjoys to dance in zero gravity.

The 39 episodes reveal a series that should be treated as the father of Star Trek. “Space Immigrants” has the crew bringing settlers to a planet. The problem is that there’s beings already on the planet and they aren’t too cool with being colonized. “Space Pirates” deals with minerals being stolen while transported. “Wings of Danger” features a robot bird. These are fun special effects even if you see the wires that are making the moving action. A lot of the stories involve Dr. Venus getting kidnapped. But it was 1962 when such plots weren’t thought of as too demeaning. Other crew members did get kidnapped. Plenty of times Dr. Venus saved people with her surgery skills.

Put in the context of its time, Fireball XL5 was a cuttting edge science fiction series. The view of tomorrow did open up quite a few questions. The launching of the ship looked cool, but what happened to all the temporary wheels that were launched into the valley beyond the jump ramp. Was there a pile of them at the bottom? Fireball XL5 stands apart from Anderson’s more famous work since it was filmed in black and white. But it gave a colorful view of tomorrow.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are so clean that you can make out the strings rather easily. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The intergalactic sounds come through cleanly.

Audio Commentary with director Alan Patillo on “Space City Special” and voice artist David Graham on “The Doomed Planet.” Mostly fond memories are conveyed.

The Noble Art of Fireball XL5 (17:13) shows off the toys that were released. They also made a comic strip based on the show. The focus is on Mike Noble’s work. He talks of his history in illustration. He also worked on Space: 1999.

Gerry Anderson interview (11:51) focuses on why he came up with the term Supermarionation. Mainly he did it to put himself beyond the competition.

Fireball XL5 Publicity Brochure is a printable file.

Fireball XL5: The Complete Series takes the world of Gerry Anderson into space. The series is great escapist fun even if the cast can’t get off their strings. Next in The Gerry Anderson Collection releases is Joe 90: The Complete Series on April 14.

Timeless Media Group presents Fireball XL5: The Complete Series. Starring: Gerry Anderson & Sylvia Anderson. Boxset Contents: 39 episodes on 5 DVDs. Released: March 10, 2015.

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