Riding on the residual success of "Logan's Run," director Michael Anderson dipped into the TV mini-series format for this economical, sci-fi epic, adapted by veteran writer Richard Matheson from Ray Bradbury's novel.
Matheson's experience in adapting and writing original works for the original "Twilight Zone" series and a handful of feature films strikes an excellent balance between Bradbury's soothing prose (sometimes used as narration to bridge episodic sequences) and Matheson's own dialogue. Partially shot in England with a substantial collection of British supporting players sporting Yankee accents, the cast is uniformly good (particularly a few American TV actors, frequently cast as stereotypical heavies), and Matheson's script manages to retain Bradbury's intellectual twists without affecting each episode's overall pacing.
More cerebral that your average sci-fi tale, "The Martian Chronicles" requires a bit of patience in the beginning (and series finale), but there's a good balance of shocks, several evoking the eerily constructed and sometimes amusing twists from those classic "Twilight Zone" shows. Arguably the production's greatest asset is the use of Maltese locations, taking advantage of the country's rocky terrain and ancient ruins to evoke the remains of a Martian civilization.
MGM's transfer is very good for a vintage TV production, with only a few optical effects sequences showing serious grain from the original footage. (If you look at landmark productions like "V," the effects haven't aged very well; dirt and high grain levels were still a key problem under restrained TV budgets.) The colours are well-balanced, and though the special effects - matte paintings, and particularly miniature effects - vary from serious extremes in quality, Bradbury's ideas usually yank the viewer back into the show's drama. Stanley Myers' score offers a weird mix of superb themes and vintage disco-synth material, and the original mono mix is quite clean.
The only disappointment is the set's lack of any extras; given the pedigree of the writer, director, original source materials, cast, set design, cinematography, and those rocky islands in Malta, a substantive featurette could have been added to the set's D-side (which is blank).
Nevertheless, in an age when a 2-hour program now clicks just a bit over 80 minutes, it's refreshing to see they once made shows less dependent on rigidly encased time-limits before the diaper and toiletries advertisements. The network mini-series and TV movie format showcased some quality material before it's commercial decline in the late 80s, and it's great to see studios digging into their archives and release what's becoming an increasingly popular genre on DVD.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan
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