DVD Review: Space Academy: The Complete Series
Release Date: January 16, 2007
Distributor: Brentwood Home Video
· Jonathan Harris
· Pamelyn Ferdin
· Ric Carrott
· Ty Henderson
· Maggie Cooper
· IMDb: Space Academy
by Paul Schultz
Published: April 30, 2007
School is in session again at Space Academy, as the complete
series of this live-action half-hour science fiction program from Filmation
Studios rockets onto DVD as a four-disc set. Formatted as a Saturday
morning children's program, Space Academy offered simple morality plays set in the outer reaches of the cosmos, with each story aimed at providing an educational lesson. Though it only ran for one season (debuting in the fall of 1977 with syndicated repeats running through 1978), its fifteen episodes had the fortune of airing in the wake of the surprise movie hit of the summer, "Star Wars", and thus rode a wave of science fiction popularity. It evolved into a sequel-of-sorts called Jason of Star Command.
Set far in the future, the titular Space Academy is a special school built
into an asteroid hurtling through space from one adventure to another.
Aboard is an elite class of youth selected to attend because of their special
abilities, and led by 300-year-old Commander Isaac Gampu (Jonathan Harris of Lost in Space fame). The focus is on Blue Team, led by Capt. Chris Gentry (Ric Carrott), sharing telekinetic powers with his sister Laura (Pamelyn Ferdin), Paul (Ty Henderson), bringing brains and exceptional piloting skills, Tee Gar (Brian Tochi), with super-human strength, and Adrian (Maggie Cooper), offering knock-out beauty... okay, I guess her skills also included science knowledge, particularly a knack for simian primate communication ("Monkey Business"). They are assisted by a small robot named Peepo (voiced by Erika Scheimer).
Opening narration: "Welcome to the most magnificent achievement in
space -- the man-made planetoid, Space Academy, founded in star year 3732.
Here we have gathered young people from the farthest reaches of the known worlds. They have been chosen for their unique abilities, and are being trained to cope with the mysterious, the unknown, the unpredictable dangers lurking in the vast darkness of space."
In the first episode, "The Survivors Of Zalon", the group adds another member to their team, rescuing a young blue-haired Loki (Eric Greene) from a soon-to-be exploding planet. He's named Loki by his new "family", and exhibits an ability to appear and disappear at will that you know is going to come in handy down the road. You'll soon wonder if he's worth the trouble as he his body gets taken over by an energy being after skipping class ("Space Hookey") and a sinister alien named Kane tricks him into stealing some important files out of the lab ("There's No Place Like Home").
You'll also meet an evil alien in "Planet Of Fire" who steals an experimental freezing device created by Tee Gar. Otherwise, the threats are usually natural such as getting sucked into a black hole ("Castaways In Time And Space"), or collision courses with asteroids ("Hide And Seek") and comets ("The Rocks Of Janus"). The danger isn't always outside, either, as Blue Team has to deal with a shady cadet ("The Cheat") and superiors who want to oust Gampu after he makes a mistake ("Life Begins At 300"). The latter is noteworthy to see a young cadet played by Paula Wagner, who would go on years later to become Tom Cruise's production partner.
Poor Gampu not only has to deal with this bunch of rambunctious youngsters, but also with his eccentric brother ("Johnny Sunseed") who shuns technology, and an ex-lover ("My Favorite Marcia") on a rescue mission. With George Lucas' space opera freshly on the mind, it's interesting to note references to the blockbuster, as in "Countdown" where we learn that three "star wars" have occurred, and Princess Leia's home planet name is used for a Bermuda Triangle-like section of space in "Star Legend".
Sure, the show is campy, but the special effects -- primitive as they are -- hold up rather well. The Seekers, which are small crafts used for "away
missions" similar to Star Trek's shuttlecraft, are still some of the
coolest space vehicles I've ever seen designed. Other than perhaps
learning how to hold a sťance ("The Phantom Planet"), the lessons imparted are important and universal. An interesting bit of trivia not mentioned in the
special features is that the idea for this show found its genesis in
the animated revival of Star Trek. Filmation originally proposed that children be assigned to each of the senior officers as cadets, including a young Vulcan for Mr. Spock. Gene Roddenberry rightly smacked this down, and the concept wasn't developed again until Space Academy saw the light of day.
The packaging includes a six-panel foldout paper insert with descriptions and
interesting trivia for each episode. Each of the four discs spotlight a
member of the Space Academy team: Gampu on disc one, Chris on disc two, Laura on disc three, and Loki on disc four. The discs are housed in two slim, clear keepcases which hold two discs apiece. The two keepcases slide into a cardboard sleeve which showcases the cast.
Special Features Highlights
A complete list of special features appears in the table below, but highlights include the 34-minute documentary "Back to School with Space Academy" which catches up with executive producer Lou Scheimer, and actors Tochi, Greene, Carrott, Cominsky, and John Berwick (who played errant Cadet Matt Prentiss). This well-done featurette reveals plenty of juicy tidbits about the making of the show, including the hiring of several model builders and special effects artists that were fresh off a little science fiction film called "Star Wars". The multicultural aspect of the cast was noted -- something of a pioneering pattern that Filmation forged in previous shows like the live-action Ark II and
animated Space Sentinels. Tochi and Ferdin had previously appeared together as child actors in the original Star Trek episode "And the Children Shall Lead". It was shot in two months during the summer of 1977, and the whole series was completed in 17 weeks after the addition of special effects.
The episode "Countdown" contains optional Audio Commentary by Special Effects Supervisor Chuck Comisky and Executive Producer Lou Scheimer. It repeats some stories from the documentary, including the use of Christmas lights strung upon black felt as the background "stars". We find out that the budget for the entire series was $90,000! This was helped by the re-use of props, as Comisky points out: "You'll notice the front of the Seeker looks like the front of the Ark II vehicle... because it is." The interior of the Ark II was also heavily redecorated to serve as the inside of the Seeker as well. Another interesting technical note was "rolling back the film" to expose different sections of the frame to include several models in a certain shot. I would imagine they sure don't do it like that anymore!
The episode "The Phantom Planet" contains optional Audio Commentary by Executive Producer Lou Scheimer and actors Ric Carrott, Brian Touchi and Eric Greene. These are more general memories rather than anything specifically related to this particular episode. There are a few little anecdotes including Harris' penchant for supplying the cast with his stash of Tootsie Pops. Both tracks are hosted by author Andy Mangels.
Audio is in English or Spanish. It is neither closed captioned, nor is
subtitling an option.
Previews - He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra, Princess of Power,
The New Adventures of He-Man, Flash
Gordon, Filmation's Ghostbusters, "Journey Back to Oz", Groovie Goolies,
The Complete Series
The Survivors of Zalon
Castaways in Time and Space
Hide and Seek
Audio Commentary by Special Effects Supervisor Chuck
Comisky and Executive Producer Lou Scheimer
There's No Place Like Home
The Rocks of Janus
The Phantom Planet
Audio Commentary by Executive Producer Lou Scheimer
and actors Ric Carrott, Brian Touchi and Eric Greene
Planet of Fire
Life Begins at 300
My Favorite Marcia
"Back to School with Space Academy" Documentary
Commercial Bumpers Version 1 & 2
Galleries: Promotional Photos (42), Behind the Scenes Photos (22), Cast Reunion
Photos (5), Memorabilia Photos (9)
DVD-ROM Content: All 15 scripts complete and series bible (PDF format)