Thursday, December 27, 2012

In Praise of Quatermass

In the 1950s Nigel Kneale wrote three science fiction stories revolving around his character Professor Bernard Quatermass. They were written as multi-part television plays and when broadcast on the BBC they were so popular that England's Hammer Studio adapted them into films. The first two were paired down by director Val Guest into the SF classics The Quatermass Xperiment(a.k.a. The Creeping Unknown) and Quatermass 2 (a.k.a. Enemy From Space) both of which were huge box office hits at home and in the US. Kneale was unhappy with many things about the Hammer productions, not the least of which was the choice of American Brian Donlevy to play Professor Quatermass. When Hammer finally got around to filming the third Quatermass story in 1967 Kneale was allowed to adapt his own story and luckily the fantastic Andrew Kier was cast as the Professor. All of the Quatermass stories are among the best of intelligent filmed science fiction, weaving scientific theories and speculation into a scenario that seems both plausible and frightening. Kneale creates very recognizably human characters, throws them into outlandish SF plots and manages to make the stories believable. In 1980 Kneale wrote one last Quatermass story for TV that has yet to be transferred to the big screen but with it's extremely downbeat ending I doubt it would survive the process intact. It's a shame because there are few better examples of smart SF then Kneale's clever Quatermass stories.

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