DVD Review: “The Starlost: The Complete Series”
Released By: VCI Entertainment
Release Date: September 30, 2008
Number of Discs: 4
Approximate Running Time: 800 Minutes
Special Features: US Promotional Sales Film
Suggested Price: $49.99
The giant Earth ship Ark, drifting through deep space over 800 years into the far future. Its passengers, descendants of the last survivors of the dead planet Earth locked in separate worlds, heading for destruction. Unless three young people can save – The Starlost!
In the future, the Earth has become uninhabitable and the last remaining humans venture off into space in hopes of finding a similar planet to colonize. Around the one hundred year mark in the voyage, a catastrophe leaves the crew dead and the various segments of passengers sealed off from one another. Over the years, these different domes each develop into their own cultures and make use of the resources available to them. Their original mission is forgotten and successive generations believe they are all alone.
The series begins in Cyprus Corners, a sort of “Little House on the Spaceship” community. A free thinker named Devon is in the process of being cast out for questioning why he cannot marry the woman he loves, Rachel. Devon uncovers a ruse by the elders to control the people and ends up on the run. Thanks to an ancient key that unlocks the passageways between domes, courtesy of the village idiot, Devon and Rachel flee into the corridors of the ship with her original betrothed, Garth in hot pursuit.
After discovering the long dead crew on the destroyed bridge and the helpful ship’s computer (played by William Osler), they learn the Ark is on a collision course with a sun that the computer cannot correct. As the gravity of their situation sinks in, they put their individual differences aside and team up to try and find some way to fix the problem and save every living thing on board the massive spaceship.
The Fanboy Factor:
In 1971, Douglas Trumbull produced and directed a quirky little film called Silent Running that warned of the possible eventualities of pollution. In 1972, he took this concept one step further when he produced The Starlost series for Canadian television. The show only ran for one season and its sixteen episodes were all but lost themselves in US syndication. Aside from some hastily edited TV movies, the series has been unavailable since the original broadcasts.
Producing a science fiction television series on any type of a budget is never an easy job and a low budget can make the task almost impossible. Nevertheless, Trumbull still managed to assemble a respectable cast (headed by 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Keir Dulla), Harlan Ellison as a writer, and a revolving roster of name guest stars (including John Colicos, who would go on to play Count Baltar in Battlestar Galactica, Simon Oakland from Kolchak: The Nightstalker, the always nice to look at Angel Tompkins, and even Walter “Chekov” Koenig from Star Trek).
The Starlost series starts out strong as the travelers (and viewers) explore their new environment and discover what has happened to the various segments of the huge Ark in the intervening centuries. As the episodes progress, the stories become weaker and plot holes begin to open like craters as opportunities are ignored in favor of a quick wrap up. The end of the season delivers a few real duds (“The Return of Oro” is terribly written and features a robot that looks like it was liberated from a supermarket display, while “Farthing’s Comet” is boring and set bound) that indicate any hope for a second season had already been abandoned.
While the special effects for this series are innovated for an early ’70’s television production, the blue screen technology never really lives up to its hype. Some scenes work fine but the process lines are often evident and objects and clothing occasionally disappear momentarily. This would not be a problem if the episodes were not so saturated with effects shots. It also appears that someone associated with the production must have owned the patent on green egg crate foam since it appears in almost every episode with a wide variety of applications!
The audio and video transfer is surprisingly good for a television series of this era shot primarily on video. The dialog does become muffled in some parts and is drowned out by the soundtrack in others but this is not uncommon for a production of this type. There is only one extra included on this set but it is a much appreciated one. The sales film used to sell the series into syndication in the United States is composed largely of stock footage from Silent Running (including the realistic robots) and a pitch from star Keir Dulla. This promotional short gives some valuable insight into where the producers hoped to go with the series and how much stock they placed in the new special effects process.
The Bottom Line:
This series is a forgotten treasure that few people, especially outside of its native Canada, have ever had an opportunity to view. The early episodes hold the viewers attention and carry the series past the weak entries later on. Thanks to VCI Entertainment, science fiction fans can finally find The Starlost.