24 June 2008

[toons] Terrahawks: Obsessed By A Show We've Never Actually Watched


Once upon a time, in Geek TV Land, there was a husband-and-wife team; they ruled Kidland with a benevolent hand. The Andersons, Gerry and Sylvia, created a bunch of oddly compelling and geekily-popular series that remain fond memories; Captain Scarlet, SuperCar, Joe 90, and, of course, Thunderbirds.

The puppetry animation system has gone down in history as Supermarionation, of course. The thing about this process is that it livened up the traditional marionette by augmenting it with electromechanics; the puppets responded more realistically to the voices. The solenoids required for this, however, made the heads a little out of proportion to the bodies; they were larger than they should have been, but not so much that you could put your finger on it. So the Tracy family were inspiring, but a little creepy. But we couldn't stop watching, because Thunderbirds in particular were ripping good yarns.

Then came the Anderson's era of Live Action. You may know it well. UFO and, of course, Space:1999. Space:1999 was notable for its being an oasis of geeky televised SF in the droughty era between the original Star Trek and Star Trek of the Latter Day Saints. No, it wasn't great, but it wasn't bad, and hey, you got Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. What's not to like.

Sadly Space:1999 ended quite a few things, most notably the marriages of both Landau-Bain and the Andersons. So, for the first time in decades, Gerry Anderson was without a wife ... and without a show. But Gerry's a survivor, though it was until 1983 before he found a new creative partner (Christopher Burr) and came up with a strange, quirky gem ... Terrahawks.

Here's a mashup of the extended-length theme tune and the opening titles. Watch, and wonder.

Gloriously weird, no? I've never seen this series, and now I want to. I can't get the tune out of my head! And there's such glorious bizarreness in the post-Supermarionation figures.

The look of the titles is compelling. It's another one of those sequences that look CGI but actually aren't, not at all. Just as many of the scenes in Tron are actually rotoscoped and not CGI at all, this entire sequence was hand-rendered cel animation. There isn't a stitch of CGI in this one.

The backstory is tellingly Thunderbirds-esque. Just as in Thunderbirds, we have a small elite group doing the good-guy job, each solidly identified with their corresponding signature hardware. They have a secluded (in the Terrahawks case, secret) base (the Hawknest) is apparently located in northwestern South America, somewhere near the Ecuador-Colombia border. All the hardware is secreted into secure spots: the SSTO Treehawk launches from a tree which splits open; the Battlehawk launches from a silo capped by a mansion; the hybrid Hawkwing is catapulted down a long tunnel under the ocean's floor and exist via a vortex generated by a huge undersea rotor. All gloriously overdone and a lot of fun to watch. The Terrahawks work to protect earth from invaders from the planet Guk (yes, seriously), let by the cyborg Zelda and a crew of grotesque and sometimes downright gross allies who have taken Mars and are using it as an attack platform for Earth (because in the world of such shows, planets are never more than a few million miles apart).

The whole thing is a glorious mishmash of bizarre invaders, virtuous heroes, and technology that regularly violates every known physical laws (the Zeroids, for example, can increase thier mass to that of a black hole somehow without destroying Earth, and one of Zelda's ships can assume pretty much any size it wants in a literal flash).

The characters were a bit odd, to say the least. The leader of the Terrahawks, Dr "Tiger" Ninestein, is one of a set of nine clones of a shadowy figure, Dr. Stein (we never learn his first name, if he has an actual one). If Tiger is lost, one of the other eight Stein clones can be dispatched within a day. While the series didn't take itself as serious as some of the other Anderson productions, some of the humor was gratuitous; the thick Japanese accent of Lt. Hiro (in and of itself a rather silly joke) was continuously mocked by everyone, including the Zeroids (when departing for the Spacehawk, Ninestein wishes that Hiro have "a nice fright")

The animation process – an evolution called Supermacromation - solved many problems that Supermarionation couldn't avoid – such as much more realistic walking – being a cross between latex puppetry and Muppet-style motivation – but the limited range of response of the face combined with the soft matieral made them look Botoxed to the max.

But still, there's something compelling about the goofiness of it all.

I've got to see if Movie Madness has these. I'll bet they do.

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