Quatermass and the Pit (Blu-ray Review)
DirectorRoy Ward Baker
Release Date(s)1967 (July 30, 2019)
Studio(s)Hammer Film Productions/20th Century Fox (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
Quatermass and the Pit is the third, and what many believe to be, the finest entry in the Quatermass film series. Based upon Nigel Kneale’s earlier TV serial of the same name, it was a film that took a number of years to get made since the previous sequel (Quatermass 2) was released ten years prior under the direction of Val Guest with Brian Donlevy in the titular role. Quatermass and the Pit was the first in the series to be photographed in full color with Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember, The Vault of Horror) in the director’s chair and Andrew Keir in the lead role, who had just appeared in Dracula: Prince of Darkness for Hammer and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. for Amicus the year before.
The story concerns a discovery made during work on an extension to the London Underground. A large object, which is initially believed to be an unexploded bomb, is later theorized to be a five million-year-old alien spacecraft. Upon gaining entry into a sealed chamber inside, large locust-like creatures are discovered dead but preserved. Concerned about the implications of the object’s origins, but also questioning them at every turn, the head of the operation, Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), intends to cover it up, but at the dissension of Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir), Doctor Roney (James Donald), and Roney’s assistant Barbara (Barbara Shelley). Soon after, telekinetic activity sourced from the ship is felt and witnessed, leading to a public panic that Quatermass, Roney, and Barbara must try and stop if their minds can withstand it.
Since the film’s release, fans of the series and its TV serial counterpart have debated the its merits ad infinitum. My own feelings about Quatermass and the Pit are just as complicated. On the one hand, the lack of obvious monsters is appreciated. It’s a story about the oncoming threat of something horrifying, yet seeing the threat is often not as effective as what can be imagined. On the other hand, the languishing pace that eventually leads to a show-stopping climax is totally detrimental. I also appreciate the ideas of the film more than the film itself, specifically the idea that religious iconography and belief can come from an alien source. It’s fascinating material, which is also explored in other works of science fiction. However, it’s just not that exciting to watch. It feels a bit cold and calculated with only minor moments of exhilaration; never mind the questionable special effects, none of which I really had much of a problem with other than the infamous “footage” of the locusts on their home planet, which is laugh-inducing.
That said, many regard Quatermass and the Pit to be one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, and who am I to refute such a claim? It was a success upon its release, but didn’t make it to the US until a year later and under the title Five Million Years to Earth since the character of Quatermass is nowhere near as popular as he is in the UK. Although a fourth film, which was also done as a TV serial, was produced in 1979 (The Quatermass Conclusion), many believe the true ending to the series to be Quatermass and the Pit, feeling that the series went out on a high note that was all but impossible to top.
Scream Factory debuts the film on Blu-ray with what appears to be the same HD master used for the film’s overseas Blu-ray releases, which is sourced from a transfer performed in 2011. Despite its age, it’s a strong representation of the film with high levels of fine detail, though lacking in the shadows. Grain is slightly clumpy, but the high encode gets the most out of each frame. It looks far better in motion than in stills. The color palette can be lush when given the opportunity, including bold reds, greens, and blues. Blacks are also deep and solid. Contrast and brightness levels are satisfactory and the frame is stable with only minor speckling leftover. A fresher scan would yield sharper and more precise detail, but as is, it’s still a potent presentation.
The audio is included in both English 2.0 mono and English 5.1 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of the Anchor Bay DVD to compare to the 5.1 track on that release, which was a remix done for the 1998 Elite Entertainment Laserdisc. The 5.1 track on this release widens out the various elements, but also gives more room for the sound effects and score to breathe. There’s little in the way of panning activity, but dialogue is certainly given more presence all around. The 2.0 mono is definitely more reflective of the film’s original sound design, which is much more narrow and centralized, including the dialogue. Your mileage may vary as to which is the more effective experience. At any rate, both tracks are clean and free of damage such as hiss, crackle, distortion, or dropouts.
The extras selection is numerous and it includes a new audio commentary with author Bruce G. Hallenbeck, which is a detail-heavy listen about the genesis and making of the film; a new audio commentary with author Steve Haberman and filmmaker Constantine Nasr, which is an enjoyable and fluid listen as the two chat about the film with reverence and its importance as not just as a sequel, but for science fiction storytelling in general; a vintage Laserdisc audio commentary with writer Nigel Kneale and director Roy Ward Baker, which is the least interesting of the lot as the two have little to say and there are too many moments of silence; a new 7-minute interview with actor Hugh Futcher; a new 5-minute interview with special effects technician Brian Johnson; a new 9-minute interview with second assistant cameraman Trevor Coop; a new 3-minute interview with focus puller Bob Jordan; a vintage 18-minute interview with author and illustrator Judith Kerr; a vintage 31-minute interview with actor Julian Glover; a vintage 20-minute interview with actor and writer Mark Gatiss; a vintage 12-minute interview with filmmaker Joe Dante; a vintage 31-minute interview with novelist Kim Newman; a vintage 13-minute interview with Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn; the 26-minute Sci-Fi episode of The World of Hammer, narrated by Oliver Reed; the US trailer for the film under the title Five Million Years to Earth; the UK trailer for the film; 2 US TV spots; the alternate US opening credits sequence; and an animated still gallery with 76 images of promotional shots, behind-the-scenes photos, posters, promo materials, lobby cards, and newspaper clippings. Not included from the German Region B Blu-ray release is the Super 8 version of the film, the German trailer, and a Trailers from Hell version of the UK trailer narrated by George Hickenlooper.
Scream Factory’s recent dips into the Hammer vaults have warranted a cadre of fine Blu-ray releases, and Quatermass and the Pit is among them. Another beloved genre classic has been given plenty of TLC with a nice transfer and an entertaining set of extras.
– Tim Salmons