|The intergalactic struggles continue in SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND, now on UK DVD. Images: FOX|
SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND –THE COMPLETE SERIES
Released on UK DVD in a six-disc box set from MEDIUM RARE ENTERTAINMENT. The series feature-length pilot is also available as a separate release.
Reviewed by Scott Weller
“If there is life in outer space, there is also death…”
Quote from teaser trailer for SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND
Masterminded and shepherded along by writer/producers Glen Morgan and James Wong, fresh from their then critical and audience success working with Chris Carter on THE X-FILES, the creative duo (within their Hard Eight Pictures production company, and using other fine writing/behind the scenes contributors from the paranormal detective series) would get the chance to flex their inventive muscles in presenting a sci-fi war series that would ultimately prove to be much more than gung-ho space battles and planetary shoot ‘em ups during its singular but memorable 22 episode run. Launched on the FOX channel in 1995, SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND would present viewers with a show and series idea much better than early expectations: a quality production which projected multi-faceted story telling elements of drama, character, suspense and occasional humour/quirky offshoot situations against the intriguing, and as realistic a portrayal as possible, thought provoking arena of heroism and heartbreak that war brings to everyone and everything it touches, even in the very deepest regions of outer space.
Partially inspired by the classic sci-fi novels STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein and Joe Haldeman’s Vietnam-in-space epic THE FOREVER WAR, about the lives and experiences of young soldiers fighting in numerous battles on faraway worlds, and their personal coming of age dramas that unfold, SPACE’s live every day like it might be your last consequences continue to resonate with fans and audiences, alongside the reflected courage and human spirit undertaken against incredible odds in a period of emotional and history making complexity. Here is an imperfect universe, of life takers and heart breakers, where triumph and tragedy make shades of grey bedfellows…
Well chosen by late casting director Randy Stone, the series boasts a fine ensemble of young actors and emerging characters, headed by Tyrus Cassius McQueen, the tough but fair commander of the 58th, as played by series fan favourite James Morrison (who later went on to play Bill Buchanan in 24). McQueen is a top solider, tough and uncompromising, but fair and noble, who has overcome the prejudices and bigotry shown towards him with his In vitro upbringing, one of millions of genetically engineered life forms originally created to serve mankind in a war against rebellious Artificial Intelligence creations (nicknamed Silicates) gone amok, and knows what its like to fight Earth’s new enemy, the alien Chigs, first hand: his own Angry Angels squad having been early casualties in the opening stages of the conflict, of which he was the only survivor. Battle hardened and embittered, he is determined to not let that same fate befall the fighting 58th. A decorated and dignified war hero, he’s also a respected father figure to his young team.
|The series core heroic trio: Nathan West (Morgan Weisser), Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke) and Cooper Hawkes (Rod Rowland)|
Next in the command line is Lieutenant (later Captain) Shane Vansen (played by lovely, husky voiced, Angelina Jolie lipped Kristen Cloke, later to appear in Wong and Morgan’s second season re-shaping of MILLENNIUM), the spirited young spitfire and mother hen of the 58th “Wildcards”, and following in her late parents naval footsteps, both of whom were savagely murdered by the A.I.’s in the war, who proves a courageous and spirited leader, nicely played by Cloke, who brings an intriguing balance of resolute abilities mixed with a tender and vulnerable side.
Joining the core to find out what happened to his missing girlfriend, presumed dead on the Tellus colony with the aliens first series of sneak attacks, young Nathan West, in an under-rated performance from Morgan Weisser, joins the core to ultimately try and find her, as well as discover just what led the aliens into starting their offensive against Humanity. Further heartbreak for the lonely but determined officer follows with the arrival of his younger brother into the service, giving his life and career within the 58th an even more concerned and isolated air of responsibility about him at times, though his bravery and dedication to the Corp- a top pilot second only to Vansen- and his new family of loyal friends is firmly without question.
The third main series lead would be a character whose genesis would be in the same vein as McQueen, a fellow In vitro (also known as a Tank), Cooper Hawkes, born at eighteen years old and with only the practical experiences of life for six years onwards, sees McQueen as a kind of father figure and mentor. At first showing a hatred of the Core and wary of Human Company, Cooper (or Coop) soon finds life and career tough going in the early episodes, and has his loyalties and abilities cruelly tested, too, but he soon becomes an integral part of the 58thfighting family and ultimately finds his humanity and gains comfort in his origins. Drafted into military service having been a prior fugitive, Hawks also brings a slightly roguish alien quality to the show in early episodes as he discovers his humanity through his colleagues-picking up not just their best but also their worst aspects from time to time. With his loyalty and bravery, Coop, nicely played by Rodney Rowland, often becomes the most compulsive to watch character on the show.
|Ready for action. Lanei Chapman as Vanessa Damphousse.|
|Some Christmas cheer from Paul Wang (Joel de la Fuente).|
Rounding out the squad is Vanessa Damphousse (Lanei Chapman, a charming young actress well known at the time for several appearances in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) who, wanting to find a new life for herself, specifically chose to enter the core (and would be nicknamed Damned Fool as a surname by her friends and family in the process) soon proves herself as a top technical whizz, as well as an efficient and loyal fighter against the Chigs, whilst Paul Wang (played by the youthful Joel de la Fuente) is a serious but friendly soldier, a bit of a romantic and a lover of baseball, women and mysteries, like Damphousse trying to carve a niche for himself in life and possibly escape some prior weighty personal issues. Valiant to the end, though an often-flawed sometimes sensitive character who makes mistakes, Wang is ultimately a good and loyal man to have on your side in a battle.
Though not in the main credits, we should also mention the strong contribution to the series of Tucker Smallwood, a real-life veteran of the Vietnam War, as Commodore Ross, head of the Earth space cruiser Saratoga, the home base of the 58th, whose role increases over the course of the show: a strong and very humanist leader, passionate about his life and career, and who, alongside McQueen, make for dedicated Chig fighters, though equally protective and aware of the men he sends out to fight and die. Oh, and he plays a mean guitar, too…
As the warfare intensifies, humankind’s new enemy is seemingly far beyond anything ever previously encountered in its space traversing explorations: the armoured, face plated humanoid shaped Chigs, their alien features hidden, their aggressive stance against us (often allied with the renegade A.I. Silicates) revealed gradually and violently, as well as teasingly and highly effectively by seasons end. There’s a big twist and a conspiracy around them explored by the writers that proves very satisfying by years end…
Also appearing in and out of the series there’s also the occasional guest stars from other TV sci-fi universes, like STAR TREK’s Robin Curtis and Patrick Stewart’s son, Daniel. Even David Duchovny makes a fun uncredited cameo appearance later in the run (as a ratings boosting favour to Morgan and Wong) playing a seemingly unbeatable android pool player on a military rest and recreation center-a kind of Las Vegas of space.
Its backers at the FOX network may have wanted it more as a kind of STAR TREK ACADEMY than a serious character and action drama, but Wong and Morgan give SPACE its own unique and fascinating identity, which confidently finds its stride by the mid-point. Badly treated from the shows leap from the starting gate, as FOX constantly shifted its day and time slots and pre-empted it with sports events that resulted in it never gaining a solid foothold with regular audiences, the shows cast and crew were disappointed that one of the most expensive and well made shows produced for TV at that time was being thrown away by such poor management/decision making. A hoped for second season (of which some early story/character plans had already been partially thought about-check out the great behind the scenes documentary within the DVD set) sadly never materialized, but its innovative storytelling and gritty realism would go on to inspire successive sci-fi series, most notably the modern re-imagining of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, which would prove equally gritty in its 2000’s realisation.
Now, fans in the UK can finally enjoy SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND in its best picture and sound quality presentation ever, for its new Ultimate Edition Collectors DVD release from FOX via the MEDIUM RARE ENTERTAINMENT company (of which the shows early days CGI effects from the AREA 51 company hold up pretty well, as do the numerous location/studio bound created alien worlds that regularly crop up), alongside special features material light years superior to the very basic US Region One release of six or seven years ago. Top marks for the excellent all-new seventy minute behind the scenes documentary, with contributions from the entire cast (all of whom look great) and main behind the scenes crew, alongside rare footage, outtakes and effects dailies. For additional added value, the archives have been well and truly plundered in the most favourable of ways: there’s another documentary concentrating on the intriguing design work for the series, fun and cheesy VHS copy episodic trailers (mostly from the pilot and opening episodes), deleted scenes (mostly from the pilot and the episode Stardust), original cast interviews (mostly recorded during the outdoor shooting for Ray Butts), detailed pre-production and production artwork stills galleries and audio commentaries on several key episodes, all making it a thoroughly essential purchase.
Surely generating revitalized interest for a whole new generation to discover, this long overdue new release of SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND will also be a fond remembrance for its original die-hards fans. Heroism with heart and soul, within a high quality series that has held up to the test of time, it’s great to welcome back the Wildcards!
KOOL TV RATING (OVERALL EPISODES AND SPECIAL FEATURES): 4 out of 5
Here’s KOOL TV’s choice of memorable episodes…
|Away Team. Our heroes on Mars in the shows pilot episode.|
PILOT EPISODE (includes audio commentary on DVD)
Gathering together for the first time on a training mission, the soon-to-be members of the 58th Squadron Marine Space Core encounter for the first time the alien Chigs- a race of metal clad alien warriors- who have started a savage war on Earth for treading foot on their territory- then go on to win a decisive and exciting first battle against them (set within the dizzying confines of the Jupiter asteroid belt). From here, the Corps finest soldiers are on the road to a long and bloody war, but in the long run they may also prove to be their worlds last hope…
Lots of important scene setting for future episodes is laid down in this pilot episode by writer/creators Wong and Morgan, alongside some enjoyable CGI effects and space battles, as the Tri-wing alien fighters take on the human built Hammerhead vessels in the kind of enjoyable cat and mouse action first seen in the likes of STAR WARS, mixed in with a little of Tom Cruise’s TOP GUN, both of whose influences are inevitable but enjoyable (the formers thrill-a-minute Death Star battle actually based on real-life footage of old dogfights of WWII).
Filmed in Australia (with the rest of the series shot in Hollywood for easier production issues), the pilot uses the country’s main acting talent in guest star roles, including NEIGHBOURS/LOST TV favourite Alan Dale!
Overall, the series opener is a promising, well-made affair, backed up with a stirring main theme and incidental episodic scores from the late Shirley Walker, whose musical talents in film and TV as a composer and orchestrator were shamefully overlooked by the Academy Awards when she sadly passed away in 2006, as well as confident series launch direction from another top X-FILES talent, David Nutter.
THE FARTHEST MAN FROM HOME (EPISODE TWO)
With news that there may yet be survivors from the doomed colony on Tellus, Nathan violates orders to search for his missing girlfriend, Kaelen: only the planet is firmly located in Chig controlled territory. A solid first episode continuing plot threads from the pilot and launching a new intriguing sub-plot which hints of an emerging conspiracy linked to a Earth technology/exploration company-who may have known of the existence of the Chigs before the rest of Humanity…
THE DARK SIDE OF THE SUN (EPISODE THREE)
Guarding the remote Icarus mining colony on a far off asteroid, our heroes come under attack from a force of Silicates: artificial intelligence humanoids created by humans who previously rebelled against their masters and are now collaborating with the Chigs. This first encounter will test Vansen to her emotional limits as the past-her parents slaughter at their electronic circuited hands-comes back to haunt her, in another action packed adventure, this one directed by actor Charles Martin Smith, who contributes his visual style to several other fine SPACE episodes down the line.
RAY BUTTS (EPISODE FIVE)
One mean son of a bitch capable of giving bloody noses to both Humans and Chigs, the determined, very tough and uncompromising Ray Butts (well played by Steve Rankin) uses his unique power of authority to send the 58th on a dangerous and highly secretive mission into alien territory. But is there more to Butts and the mission than meets the eye?
EYES (EPISODE SEVEN)
Tensions flare on Earth and within the warship Saratoga with the assassination of the Earth President by an In vitro. Because of this frightening scenario, McQueen and Hawkes are forced to partake in a loyalty test during an important summit meeting linked to the inauguration of the successive president-to-be.
Laced with hidden agendas and sabotage, EYES is a welcome and suspenseful conspiracy thriller from Wong and Morgan, with clear tribute links to those great films of the sixties and seventies like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and THE PARALLAX VIEW.
|Our heroes are often pushed to the edge of their emotional limits throughout the series.|
THE ENEMY (EPISODE SEVEN)
Planet of madness! On a rescue mission to a longtime war zone world, the 58th are hit by a Chig weapon that heightens their fears and anxieties and turns them against each other. Suitably eerie and tense character piece episode from writer Marilyn Osborne, and well directed by Michael Katleman, which makes fine use of a studio bound alien planet set that works to the shows favour.
WHO MONITORS THE BIRDS? (EPISODE TWELVE. Audio commentary on DVD)
Alone and trapped on the hostile world of Tigris after a combat mission gone bad, a singular Hawks has to survive against his pursuing enemy. At the same time we see his struggle in the alien environment, and gaining a stronger foothold of his overall humanity. Viewers also get a glimpse into his early beginnings and the stranglehold life he had as an In vitro slave. Atmospherically filmed on location, Morgan and Wong’s script, which actually has very minimal dialogue, is excellent and emotive, with strong direction from prior modern STAR TREK helmer Winrich Kolbe, alongside some fine incidental music from Shirley Walker. Rodney Rowland, a fine young actor whose career should have taken off better, excels in this episodes character showcase.
Now at the series mid-point, SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND begins to carve out its own unique identity. Quite simply, WHO MONITORS THE BIRDS? is one of the shows finest episodes.
|Good hunting! McQueen goes after a Top Gun Chig in The Angriest Angel.|
NEVER NO MORE/THE ANGRIEST ANGEL (EPISODES FOURTEEN AND FIFTEEN)
Never No More is the exciting set-up but The Angriest Angel is the rewarding pay-off as a vengeful McQueen, overcoming personal health and safety issues, takes on the Red Baron of the Chig space fleet, as human pilot after pilot are slaughtered by a superior cloaked enemy ship, in a tense and memorable two-parter with great character moments (Vansen, in part one, loses her former love to the enemy, whilst the 58th see one of their own murdered before their eyes), and an epic, if too short, closing battle with some great CGI work.
The Angriest Angel episode comes with a DVD audio commentary.
DEAR EARTH (EPISODE SEVENTEEN)
A slow but involving mixture of character drama and emotional outpouring as the 58th get the chance to get in touch with their loved ones on Earth in a brief respite from the war. Meanwhile, McQueen and Hawkes find themselves uneasily being used in a military propaganda film. An interesting script from series newcomer writer Richard Whitley, with subtle direction once again from Winrich Kolbe.
|Martin Javis makes a memorable salute atop Pearly.|
PEARLY (EPISODE EIGHTEEN)
Oddball but enjoyable tale where the 58th, stranded on the planet Meirvana, acquire a new mode of transport: a tank named Pearly which they use to traverse a dangerous war torn landscape so as to reach their assigned rescue point. Martin Jarvis gives fun support as a surviving stiff upper lipped British soldier/ Colonel Blimp type figure who helps and occasional hinders the team, alongside guest appearances from THE X-FILES favourite Doug Hutchison (slimy and tunnel crawling creep Eugene Tooms forever!) and Kimberley Patton as equally stranded and damaged Silicates who threaten Paul Wang.
Another interesting story idea from Richard Whitley, backed up with some good location filming (at the FOX Ranch location in California) from Charles Martin Smith.
STARDUST (EPISODE TWENTY)
A past encounter between the Chigs and humanity (a plot line that will have significant importance later in the series), a terminated Earthbound criminal on Death Row and a bold new interpretation of a plan previously initiated by the military during World War II sees the 58th caught in the middle as they partake in their most secret and high stakes mission yet - which may determine the ultimate course of the war-in an intriguing episode from producer Howard Grigsby, with some fine atmosphere and direction from Jesus Trevino. Look out for a guest appearance from NYPD BLUE’s lovely Gail O’ Grady as a military technical whizz.
SUGAR DIRT (EPISODE TWENTY-ONE)
It's breaking point for the 58th when they are left to fend for themselves on the alien over-run planet Deimos, as an unexpected and decisive military opportunity over the Chigs suddenly becomes reality for the human fleet…
The entire cast shines in a strong story from duo writers Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkemeyer, based on the real life World War II events of the battle of Guadalcanal. Tucker Gates is particularly memorable as Commodore Ross, alongside James Morrison. Another ambitious and action-packed installment from director Thomas J. Wright.
AND IF THEY LAY US DOWN TO REST… (EPISODE TWENTY-TWO)
A recon mission to the toxic amazon jungle world designated as Anvil leads the young marines into a difficult situation that will have later have tremendous ramifications for the continuing battle between Earth and the Chigs.
An intriguing episode from Wong and Morgan as they begin to close the season, with some mild STAR TREK overtones (of the positive kind) for the series, backed up with some strong cinematography in the studio realized alien environment. Another impressive incidental music score from Shirley Walker adds to the atmosphere of what leads into an exciting surprise discovery regarding the aliens by episodes end, as well as an important lead-in to the game changing series finale.
|Will the true face of the enemy Chigs be revealed?|
…TELL OUR MOMS WE DONE OUR BEST (EPISODE TWENTY-THREE. SERIES FINALE)
In an episode of heroes and heartbreak, courage and friendship, the 58th show their true mettle in an exciting and terrific finale, as Wong and Morgan brings shocks, surprises and lots of action to the table for viewers to enjoy and be saddened by-a perfect bookend to the series opener, and providing a series of cliff-hanger moments that are highly memorable (and which we won’t spoil, for those haven’t yet seen the show). A fine end to a series that really got into its creative stride, and certainly a real shame that a second series was never commissioned…
Check out KOOL TV’s other SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND FEATURES here: