Saturday, 18 September 2010

Quatermass and the Pit

Year: 1967
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Screenplay: Nigel Kneale, based on his 1958 television serial
Starring: James Donald, Andrew Kier, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover and Duncan Lamont
Running Time: 97 minutes
Genre: Science-fiction, horror, thriller

Summary: London, the late 1960s. Extension work on the Underground station at Hobb's End is interrupted when a number of humanoid skeletons are discovered which indicate that human-like creatures were around on Earth much earlier than previously thought. However the resultant archeological dig headed by Dr. Roney (Donald) and his assistant Barbara (Shelley), discover a large metal object which is immediately assumed to be an unexploded bomb form the Second Worls War and an Army bomb disposal team is called in headed by the hawkish Colonel Breen (Glover) along with Professor Bernard Quatermass (Kier), head of the British Experimental Rocket Group, who has previously clashed with Breen over Breen's plans to use the Rocket Group to establish military bases on the Moon. During the investigation of the object, they discover it has various bizarre and dangerous properties, add to that the fact that evidence suggests that the object and the skeletons have been there for five million years. Linking the object to the unusually high number of apparently supernatural phenomena that has been observed in the area throughout history, Quatermass makes a shocking discovery about the nature of human life on Earth and discovers that the object is not nearly as dormant as it appears.

Opinion: This movie was made by the legendary Hammer Film Productions and was the third of their films based on Nigel Kneale's acclaimed Quatermass television serials. The other two were The Quatermass Xperiment (1955, based on the 1953 TV serial) and no, the spelling of "experiment" is not a typo that is how it appears in the movie title as a joke on the "X" ceritficate the producers expected to receive, and Quatermass 2 (1957, based on the 1955 TV serial).
The movie deals with a theme which Kneale returned to over and over again in his work, namely science-fictional explanations for apparently supernatural or paranormal activity. It also deals with the "ancient astronaut" theory which was quite fashionable in the late sixties and seventies. The ideas of the film are developed very well and it manages to maintain a good balance between ideas and action, especially in the last half hour where things really kick into gear. The television serial is often considered the best, and is certainly the best remembered of the Quatermass adventures.
The movie is a good adaptation of the show and follows the storyline pretty closely and, despite having only half the running time the series had, Kneale manages to effectively lay out his themes and provide plenty of room for character development. It's well directed by veteran director Baker with a strong sense of place and the performances are all good. Wisely, the movie doesn't concetrate too much on it's special effects, although one brief but key scene really does suffer from inadequate effects (even by the standards of the time) although it's not exactly a show-stopping flaw.
The serial is one of the masterpeices of television science-fiction and it is well served by this movie, which is one of the best of the Hammer films. Definitely recommended. By the way, in the USA the film was re-titled Five Million Years to Earth.

Barbara Shelley, James Donald, Andrew Kier and friend in Quatermass and the Pit.

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