Pinewood Studios, UK
23 September, 2007
The HD21 convention was the second convention held at Pinewood Studios. Like last time (Destination Moonbase Alpha in 2005, the focus was primarily on seeing the studio where Space: 1999 and UFO were filmed (as well as most of the James Bond films and many others). With just a single day, there was no time for the usual guest talks, or space for displays or dealers- it was pretty much just studio tour and episode screenings.
The difference with the episode screenings was that they were HD (high definition) in a high quality cinema (Theatre 7 at Pinewood, normally used by directors to watch their newly cut films, and seen in the UFO episode "Mindbender").HD quality is equivalent to 35mm film, and vastly superior to normal TV, video or even DVD. Combined with the recent remastering (cleaning and adjusting the image and sound), the old 1960s and 1970s TV episodes are equal in quality to a new feature film.
First we queued for the traditional convention plastic bag. Inside were a glossy colour page with schedule and Pinewood map, five A5-sized photo cards (one for each episode we would see today- two for Space: 1999), and two 1998 calendars (yes, 1998, but they did have nice pictures). Opening the convention in Theatre 7, Fanderson's chairman Nick Williams announced that Zienia Merton wasn't able to come (she has new kittens), but Gerry Anderson, Shane Rimmer and Keith Wilson would all be present.
Fiona Maxwell from Granada's film archive department described how they are remastering their library, both film and TV. She illustrated her talk with a promotional film showing "before" and "after restoration" shots for films in the ITV library.
(NB the is my interpretation- Fiona's talk was very technical and some parts of it went over my head, particularly with regard to some of the software tools used to clean the image. Sorry if I've confused things).
Restoration is a two stage process. The first stage is to clean up the original film, removing dirt and restoring damage and deterioration. Many of the original film "masters" - the interneg prints- have deteriorated over time. In these cases, the original negatives (the edited film from the studio cameras) or interpos prints (the original colour corrected print) are used to create new "protection elements" - so called internegs - from which new film prints (or digital prints) can be made. The second stage is to create a digital version (telecine), using computer techniques to clean further dirt, bad splices and damage. This digital master is used to create the high definition image.
One point that Fiona made is that the US market demands that all HD is widescreen. Unlike the current TV formats (squarish 4:3 format), HD is widescreen (rectangular 16:8, like cinema). A TV series made in 4:3 like Space: 1999 simply cannot be sold to the US- the HD prints must be widescreen. Rather than crudely cut off the top and bottom of the picture, they "pan and scan" to select portions of the screen (just like widescreen films are panned and scanned to show on TV).
The first episode of the day was UFO's Timelash, shown in widescreen HD. In certain tight close-ups such as the title caption shots of this episode the cropping is noticeable, but to be honest I quickly forgot I was watching a cropped image.
While the widescreen picture does further the impression of feature film rather than TV, you are missing parts of the picture, so most fans will probably prefer the original TV format, Fortunately Granada have also produced HD "pillar-boxed" format. There are black lines either side of the picture on a widescreen HD TV, but they are hiding nothing - you see the full picture you could see on a normal TV. The HD screenings of two Space: 1999 episodes later in the day would both be TV format. We will have to wait to see whether Network and the other HD releases are widescreen (cropped) or pillarbox (original) format.
There were two studio tours, one focussed on Space: 1999, one on UFO, although both were apparently very similar. They were conducted by the Fanderson ex-chairman Chris Bentley. First off was the Space: 1999 group.
We started off walking round the narrow roads between the studio buildings, familiar from the UFO Timelash episode as well as the James Bond movie Goldfinger (appropriately we started on the street named Goldfinger Avenue). As we went round, Chris pointed out the stages and the films that had been filmed there, and some of the studio exteriors seen in UFO, Bond films and others.
We stopped for a photograph in front of the 007 stage (one of the largest in the world, recently rebuilt after it burned down). Then past the Stanley Kubrick offices (home for Gerry Anderson's CGI New Captain Scarlet series) to L and M stages, where Space: 1999 was filmed.
This time, we actually got into a studio- L stage, home of Main Mission and Command Centre. The sound stages are large empty warehouses. The walls are padded for soundproofing (you enter through an airlock with thick doors). Surprisingly they don't look that big- I've seen bigger sports halls. Standing inside the empty space it felt like Main Mission and Command Office, plus camera and lights, would be a tight squeeze, but actually the set only occupied a third of the stage. Keith Wilson accompanied the 1999 tour and pointed out the corner where the Big Screen was situated.
Then the tour went to the paddock water tank, a large shallow pool with an enormous blue screen backdrop, and into the field where the Sunim temple used to stand. Now it's a London street - built for the film The Bank Job. We walked into the forested area by a small lake where Full Circle and Journey To Where were filmed, then back through the gardens of the mansion house, seen in several episodes of UFO and as Spectre Island in From Russia With Love.
We then returned to Theatre 7 for a screening of Mission Of The Darians. The quality was really good, although to be honest I didn't see any more detail than I saw in the Network prints. After a quick snack, we got to see The Metamorph. Space: 1999 Year 2 has only just completed film remastering, and only one episode has been remastered into HD so far- the episode we saw. The remastering was done by Jonathan Wood of BBC Resources, who also did Year One. It looked excellent, great colours and clarity. A few moments had sound problems, but that may have been the playback.
Incidentally, there was no mention of when any Gerry Anderson series will be released in HD. (It may be a year or more before HD becomes mainstream anyway: There are two different HD disc standards - Blu-Ray and HD DVD- just like the old Betamax/VHS war, and costs of HD TVs and players are still extremely high... )
The episode screenings ended with a talk by Gerry Anderson. Not much happening for him, but he is gleeful about the prospect of massive job cuts at ITV (he didn't get on with the old regime). Michael Grade, cousin of Gerry's old boss Lew Grade, is now boss of ITV. Gerry has been regularly sending him letters asking to remake Thunderbirds and UFO. Just as he was about to give up and close his office at Pinewood, a reply arrived. The rights to Thunderbirds have been given elsewhere, but his proposal for a remake of UFO is getting some follow up (although there is a competing UFO project in the US).
The evening was a meal at Heatherden Hall, the mansion whose grounds Pinewood Studios occupies. Last time it was a sit-down meal in the wood-panelled restaurant next door, but this time it was just a buffet in the Gatsby Room (built for The Great Gatsby). The requirement for formal dress seemed over the top. Last time we could go into the woods behind the gardens to see the locations used in Full Circle and Journey To Where, but burly guards chased us away this time (so sorry, only one photo). Finally the wonderful dioramas created by Ian Nelmes (originally for Destination Moonbase Alpha) were raffled off.
The convention was a rare opportunity to see where our favourite shows were filmed, and many of the recognizable exterior locations around the studios.
Contents copyright Martin Willey
Space: 1999 copyright ITV Studios Global Entertainment