The following is the complete text of an article which originally appeared in issue#58 (October 1992) of the SHADO-USECC UFO fan club COMMUNIQUE newsletter. The original article included a few photos, which are not included here. Two comments from September 1998 have been added in blue.
Laserdiscs from Japan: UFO Part 2
by Marc MartinLaserdiscs are a form of home video that are capable of much better picture and sound quality than standard VHS videotapes. They are the same size as a 12 inch record album, and have the same type of reflective surface as a compact disc. They are capable of holding one hour of video on each side, for a total of two hours per disc. They have digital stereo sound capability, and can sound just as good as a compact disc.
While not all that popular in America, laserdiscs are quite popular in Japan. As a result, many titles are available in Japan that are not available in America. Since the Japanese have the same type of NTSC video system as America, laserdiscs sold in Japan will play just fine on American laserdisc players and televisions. The only problem for American viewers is that most of these discs have distracting Japanese subtitles on the bottom of the picture.
Recently in Japan, Tohokushinsha Home Video released all 26 episodes of UFO onto 13 laserdiscs. The episodes were transfered to video using brand new 35mm film sources. Rather than using subtitles, these discs have separate English and Japanese soundtracks. These laserdiscs have been packaged into two deluxe boxed sets, which contain a few extras of interest to collectors. The first boxed set was released in December 1991, and the second in June 1992. Unfortunately, both sets were released as limited editions, and have been pretty difficult to find in America. This review will focus on the second set, as I have been unable to obtain a copy of the first.
The Second Boxed Set
The title of the second boxed set is, appropriately enough, "UFO Part 2". The box measures 13 by 13 by 2 inches, and weighs 8 pounds. Inside are 7 laserdiscs and a collectors booklet. Each disc comes shrink wrapped in it's own separate disc cover, as if it was intended to be sold separately. The collectors booklet is 32 pages long, and is loaded with color and black and white photos from the show.
The box itself is very nice, featuring professional graphics and high quality materials. Although this is a Japanese release, most of the text on the box is in English. The front of the box features a large picture of Paul Foster strapping himself into Sky One. The back features medium small pictures of the Interceptors and Sky One, and very small pictures of 12 of the regular characters. The back also contains the names of the episodes contained inside, the show's production credits, and a brief cast listing.
The 7 discs are labelled Volume 7 through 13, as Volumes 1 through 6 were released in the first boxed set. Each volume contains two episodes, for a total of 14 episodes. The episodes are:
- Vol 7: Flight Path / The Square Triangle
- Vol 8: The Man Who Came Back / The Psychobombs
- Vol 9: Destruction / The Responsibility Seat
- Vol 10: Reflections in the Water / Mindbender
- Vol 11: The Dalotek Affair / Confetti Check A-O.K.
- Vol 12: Court Martial / Timelash
- Vol 13: A Question of Priorities / The Long Sleep
The disc covers are pretty nice, and are made of cardboard that is slightly thicker than a record album cover. Like the box, most of the text on the disc covers is in English. Each front cover features the volume number, the episode titles, and two large, publicity photos from UFO. The photos are different on each volume. Each back cover features brief production credits, cast listings, and three photos from each episode. These photos are not publicity shots, but are actual still frames taken from the shows. I imagine that they were developed off of the 35mm film that was used for the film to video transfers.
This second boxed set contains 7 of the 9 episodes that were made in UFO's second shooting block at Pinewood studios. However, this is about as much as you can say about an adherence to any sort of approved running order. In fact, a key early episode, "A Question of Priorities", which is used in flashback sequences in both "Sub-Smash" and "Mindbender", is contained on the very last volume ! (Note: I've since learned that the order is exactly the same as the original 1970 broadcast of UFO in Japan, and seems to be the "official" order in Japan!)
The episodes appear to be completely uncut. Since most of my previous UFO video collection contained a number of small cuts, it is nice to see all of these missing scenes after all these years. There is also no time compression in any of the episodes, which is a problem that I have encountered with both broadcast and home video versions of UFO in the past.
When UFO was originally broadcast, the episodes "Confetti Check A-O.K." and "The Psychobombs" did not use the standard opening sequence that explains the different elements of SHADO. In these laserdisc versions, this opening sequence has been added to the beginning of these two episodes.
The video transfers for all of these episodes is superb. I doubt that there will ever be a UFO video release for NTSC video that looks this good again. The 35mm film sources from which these transfers were made are in almost perfect condition. The transfer from film to video is also excellent, with razor sharp detail, a wide range of contrast, and extremely vivid colors. The laserdisc pressing is also excellent, with no color noise or pressing defects of any kind.
One very nice feature about these discs is that they do not have any Japanese subtitles. Since UFO was produced in mono and laserdiscs are capable of playing in stereo, Tohokushinsha Home Video wisely chose to present the original English soundtrack on the right channel, and a dubbed Japanese soundtrack on the left. All laserdisc players allow you to isolate one audio channel, so that you can easily listen to the show in English, Japanese, or both at the same time !
Unfortunately, the sound quality is not as good as the picture quality. On the English soundtrack, there is no high frequency information at all in any of the episodes, resulting in muffled dialog, music, and sound effects. To make matters worse, there is some sort of distortion that occasionally occurs in the louder sequences. To be fair, less critical viewers may not notice the poor sound quality, and think that it is adequate for a show produced in the late sixties. I however, find it somewhat disappointing.
While I do not understand the Japanese language, I have listened to some of the Japanese soundtrack. Naturally enough, there is a narrator who explains the workings of SHADO during the standard opening sequence. However, from time to time, the narrator interrupts the episode to explain what's going on. This happens mostly in the beginning of the shows and during musical interludes, and rarely interferes with the dialog.
One thing that I noticed right away when listening to the Japanese soundtrack is that the sound quality is much better than it is on the English soundtrack. The Japanese soundtrack has plenty of high frequency information, and no distortion during the louder sequences. Now, I am not talking about the sound quality of the dubbed Japanese dialog, which, by the way, is excellent. I am talking about the sound quality of the music and the sound effects, which is by far the best quality I've ever heard from UFO.
I originally figured that this dramatic difference in sound quality was probably due to negligence in the transfer of the English soundtrack, but after careful listening, I decided that the only explanation was that a much better source was being used for the music and sound effects on the Japanese soundtrack. When UFO was originally recorded, a recording of the music and sound effects without the dialog must have been made in order to simplify making dubbed foreign language versions of the show. This recording must have been made on a high quality reel-to-reel magnetic tape, and a near perfect copy is being used for the non-dialog portions of the Japanese soundtrack. I imagine that the source of the English soundtrack was the 35mm film used for the video transfer, which may sound bad on the film itself.
The Japanese soundtrack has many scenes where the dialog has mistakenly not been dubbed into Japanese. In these scenes, the original English dialog is used instead. Tohokushinsha Home Video was obviously aware of this problem, because all of these scenes are marked with a laserdisc chapter marker, and the text of the dialog has been translated into Japanese in the booklet that comes with the set. Of course, this is a poor substitute for having the entire show dubbed properly, and must be annoying to Japanese viewers. (Note: I've since learned that the Japanese audio track is the same one used during the original 1970 broadcast of UFO in Japan, and the scenes which are not dubbed on the laserdisc were originally edited out of the broadcasts)
The Japanese soundtrack also alters the music score in many of the episodes during the Moonbase Interceptor launch sequences. For some reason, they chose to not use the original music, and use the theme from the Thunderbirds instead. Fortunately, the English soundtrack does not have any such alterations.
This boxed set also includes a very nice collectors booklet, which is loaded with color and black and white photos from UFO. The booklet is 32 pages long, and is printed on high quality glossy paper that measures 12 by 12 inches. Almost all of the photos are in full color, and of excellent quality. Unlike the box and disc covers, almost all of the text in the booklet is in Japanese, which I cannot read. English is used only for the titles, which are occasionally misspelled. Some of the more noticeable misspellings are "RUNA MODULE" and "RUNAR CARRIER".
A large portion of the booklet is devoted to photos of the regular characters. All of these photos are publicity shots taken from the show, except for one of Ed Bishop taken in 1989 at the Fanderson convention. Other sections include guest characters, machinery, and UFO toys available in Japan. A breakdown of the booklet's 32 pages is presented below.
Front Cover (page 1). The front cover has a large photo taken from a frame at the beginning of the episode "The Man Who Came Back". The UFO title and copyright notice is superimposed over SID tumbling out of control above the Earth.
Introduction (page 2). The short introduction takes up a fourth of the page. The text is all in Japanese.
Regular Characters (pages 2-15). This very long section covers all of the regular characters in the show. For each character, there are multiple photos of varying size and some Japanese text describing the character and the cast member's other TV and film roles. The regular characters included are: Ed Straker (13 pictures), Alec Freeman (7), Paul Foster (7), Gay Ellis (8), Nina Barry (6), Joan Harrington (5), Virginia Lake (7), Peter Carlin (5), Lew Waterman (3), Mark Bradley (3), Keith Ford (2), General Henderson (4), Dr. Jackson (3), Miss Ealand (4), Miss Holland (1), Dr. Shroeder (1), and Mary Straker (2).
Operatives (page 16-17) This section covers some of the operatives that appear in the Control Center and Moonbase. For each operative, there is one or two photos and a brief amount of Japanese text. The operatives included are: SHADO Operative (Ayshea), Skydiver Operative (Georgina Moon) (2 pictures), Masters (2), Gordon Maxwell, and 4 other uncredited operatives.
Guest Characters (pages 18-20). This section covers many of the guest characters in all of the episodes, even episodes that are not in the second boxed set. This section has some notable omissions, like Jim Regan and Anne Stone. For each character, there is one or two photos and a brief amount of Japanese text. The guest characters included are: Janna Wade, Tina Duval, Spaceship Pilot (Gerard Norman), Col. Grey, John Croxley, Stella Croxley, Alien (Anthony Chinn), Paul Roper, Carol Roper, Craig Collins, Skydiver Captain (Dave Warbeck), Carl Mason, Daniel Clark, Sarah Bosanquet, Russian Base Commander, Jo Fraser (2 pictures), Conroy, Jane Carson, Catherine, Tim, Turner, and Lunar Module Pilot (Alan Tucker).
Article (page 21). This half page article is all in Japanese, and appears to discuss UFO, The Prisoner, and television programs in the sixties.
Machinery (page 22-23). This section covers most of the vehicles featured in UFO. For each vehicle, there is one small photo and a brief amount of Japanese text. Included are: SID, Moonbase, Rocket Launcher, Interceptor, Moon Mobile, UFO, Lunar Carrier, Lunar Module, Skydiver, Sky One, Mobile Carrier, Mobile, Seagull X-Ray, SHADO Gyro, and SHADO Car.
Stage Art (page 24-25). This section covers some of the interior sets featured in UFO. For each set, there are publicity shots which highlight the set designs, and a brief amount of Japanese text. Included are Straker's office (8 pictures), the Control Center (3), Moonbase (2), and Skydiver (1).
Toys (page 26-27). This section covers some of the UFO toys and other merchandise available in Japan. For each toy, there are photos of the item and occassionaly the package that it came in. Included are: Skydiver, UFO, Lunar Module Carrier, Interceptor, Sky One, Moonbase, SHADO Car, Mobile, UFO sketch book, and UFO briefcase.
Interview (page 28). This full page interview is all in Japanese. I do not know who the interview is with, but since it mentions the FBI, CIA, and NATO, it could be about real life organizations and UFO's.
Disc Contents (page 29-31). This section covers the contents of the 7 discs in the second boxed set. The text is all in Japanese, and appears to contain short plot summaries for each episode, and the text of the dialog that has been mistakenly not dubbed into Japanese on the Japanese soundtrack.
Back Cover (page 32). The back cover only contains a small photo from the episode "Timelash", with Straker running outside on the studio backlot.
This second boxed set of UFO laserdiscs is, on the whole, a very impressive package. The box and cover artwork is very nice, the video picture quality is excellent, and the booklet is loaded with color photos. The only disappointment is the poor sound quality on the English soundtrack, which is made even more frustrating by the excellent sound quality on the dubbed Japanese soundtrack. Japanese viewers will also no doubt be bothered by many scenes which have not been dubbed into Japanese.
Title: UFO Part 2 (ITC Memorial Box)
Product Number: BELL-413
Contents: 7 discs, one 32 page booklet
Length: 700 minutes
Video: NTSC, Color
Audio: Digital, Bilingual (English & Japanese), Mono
Laserdisc Mode: CLV
Price: 40600 yen (approximately $320 US)
Produced by: Tohokushinsha Home Video