Bandai / Emotion
UFO
Limited Edition Reissue Boxes

A Review - Steve Pilant

This review is the work and opinions of Steve Pilant © 1998

Dedicated to the FAB-UFO gang...

I am but one of numerous collectors of various shows on laserdisc. I decided to write up this review since I had not seen one on the re-issue Bandai Emotion boxes. This review is on the four out of print and rare box sets of UFO manufactured by Tohokushinsha Home Video on the Emotion label and presented by the Bandai company.

History

UFO was originally released in 2 larger ITC Memorial box sets known as the "Straker" box (BELL-412) and the "Foster" box (BELL-413). Both are quite rare with the "Straker" box being the rarest of all laserdisc box sets ever made in my opinion (after amassing a very large and varied collection over the past decade).

Not long after releasing the first 2 ITC Memorial boxes, Bandai/Emotion re-released the series in 4 smaller boxes similar to the way they did with Gerry Andersonís Thunderbirds. All of these boxes were an expensive proposition when new. The episode sequence order was maintained per the original larger box sets order, so the contents of the "Straker" ITC Memorial box are the same as the first 2 reissue UFO boxes and the "Foster" ITC Memorial box having the same episodes as the 3rd and 4th reissue boxes. The Bandai episode order is not necessarily the order in which the episodes were filmed, but my understanding from Marc Martin is that the Bandai order follows the original order of release when the series aired in Japan in 1970.

The ITC Memorial "Straker" box (BELL-412) does have an extra supplement disc not included in the first 2 reissue boxes. Itís value is uncertain and up to interpretation and the preference of collectors. Having not seen it, I cannot comment personally. It is the one major difference between the "Straker" ITC Memorial box and the first 2 re-issue Bandai smaller boxes. The smaller boxes have the same episodes, but not the supplemental disc. I would have liked to have owned it, but am quite happy just the same just to have these episodes in their re-issue form.

The 4 reissue box sets are numbered with standard numbers 1,2,3,&4 as well as each having a different name and UFO character on the cover. Boxes 1,2,& 3 contain 3 bilingual discs per box with box 4 containing 4 bilingual discs. Box 4 is of the same physical dimension as the other boxes, just a little tighter inside with the contents. These are CLV (Constant Linear Velocity) and contain approximately one hour per side. The first 4 letters of the catalog numbers - BELL is the acronym for Bandai Emotion Linear Laserdisc meaning CLV discs. Bandai titles in CAV (Constant Angular Velocity) contain approximately 30 minutes per side and begin with the prefix BEAL which is the acronym for Bandai Emotion Angular Laserdisc. BEAL-334, the ITC Samplers disc is one such example.

These 4 box sets in addition to being Arabic numbered have the following printing on them and are referred to by some collectors as the following:

These boxes also feature a major character photo along with photographs of the above vehicles/location. Each box features the following:

Since the first 2 Memorial big boxes are known as the "Straker" and "Foster" boxes, some confusion could be made with reissue boxes 1 and 3 by those new on the hunt for these gems. If buying used, make sure of the BELL catalog number to avoid confusion. Also asking how many discs are in each box should help figure out if it is an 8 disc ITC Memorial box or a 3-4 disc re-issue box. I suggest the following names be assigned to these reissue boxes to avoid confusion with the original big ITC Straker & Foster Memorial boxes:

UFO (The series)

I would be remiss if I did not defer you at this point to ufoseries.com - the definitive UFO web site lovingly assembled and maintained by Marc Martin.

Some of the aspects of the show that appeal to me are that like Spectrum before in the Gerry Anderson series Captain Scarlet - the "good guys" donít always win which is more believable than the hero sailing away into the sunset/bedroom with a different babe each episode. Both Captain Scarlet and UFO involve man against an alien invasion/threat and bookmark each other quite nicely. Captain Scarlet was also released by Bandai/Emotion and is also rare in its own right although not as rare as the Bandai UFO.

Also of note is the model work and set construction of UFO as well as other Anderson series. For those of you out there who have enjoyed the classic Bond movies and the various sets and model work used (always those steel steps with no railing on a center beam) youíll be quick to note the work and styling cues of those such as Derek Meddings and others who cut their teeth on earlier Anderson shows such as UFO. Some of the Anderson alumni went on to do modeling and other effects for such films as Star Wars.

This series made a strong impact on me as a child and I was completely thrilled to rediscover it again as an adult - first with the difficult to obtain US domestic Image discs, and later with the even harder to find Bandai discs. Of other Anderson fans and collectors Iíve talked with - UFO is their favorite of all of Gerry Andersonís shows. I remembered the theme music, styling and feel of the show from when I was a kid, but the stories had all faded away. As an adult I was quite pleased to "discover" them all again and surprised at how well they stand up over time. If Hollywood can make Lost In Space into a motion picture the way they recycle yesterdays ideas due to a brain drain in the biz, then UFO should be a prime candidate provided itís done carefully.

These 4 Bandai boxes containing all of the UFO episodes are highly prized by collectors as demonstrated in the number of wanted posts and the prices these command. The addition of these to my collection was the definitive moment of collecting laserdiscs for myself personally. I never had so much difficulty, time, money and effort locating discs as I did with these and would advise those looking to be EXTREMELY patient as well as being prepared to spend a great deal of cash and time networking. Perhaps Bandai will re-release the series on DVD at some point, but even if they do - there is a chance that some episodes may be subtitled as they did with the Thunderbirds DVDís. Since Thunderbirds was not remastered, I would expect any potential Bandai UFO DVD release to have the same video and sound as these laserdiscs in addition to region 2 coding, Macrovision - and possibly subtitles. There was also a rights question involving a few of the episodes - due to their being used in the compilation "movie" Invasion:UFO. As of this writing I am unsure of the status of these. In Japan, moratoriums are often shorter as they donít always recognize certain aspects of western copyright/proprietary practices.

These episodes definitely deserve a special place in any well rounded science fiction / action adventure video collection and if it has been years since you saw the series and can only recall the theme song in your head, search these out and watch them again from an adult perspective and you will NOT be disappointed. Theyíre a blast! J

The Bandai UFO Laserdisc Video/Sound

Please see Marc Martin's review of the ITC Memorial boxes reference Sound and Video as it closely parallels my observations as well. Owning ITC Memorial box episodes and the reissue boxes, I can actually say I have sat down and made A/B comparisons with both in one sitting as well as comparing/contrasting quality of packaging simultaneously. I may be one of a few who have had the rare honor of being able to have done so. Marc Martin had pointed out that the intro sequence appeared yellowish and that he had seen better on TV not long back. As a rule I have noted that standard stock sequences used many times in the series did in fact appear a bit yellowish, but the episode specific material appeared quite brilliant. This is a phenomena Iíve noted with other episodic television series on video and laserdisc as well. Overall though the Bandai UFO laserdiscs are noted for their high video quality. One reason they are sought after by collectors.

My ears and eyes basically discerned no difference in quality between original big ITC Memorial box and reissue box quality. They appear to be from the same masters. The reissue discs however are not from the same production run as the Straker and Foster big ITC Memorial boxes and just repackaged as some think. They are from a separate and later production run. Only in a minor few instances did I discern any differences and these were all of video quality - no sound difference.

One such difference in video was a scene in the underwater dome fighting sequence in "Reflections In The Water". I compared this side by side with the same episode from the ITC Memorial "Foster" box. The re-issue seemed to have a little better color. Not a tremendous amount of difference, but just a tad bit better. Some would say this is impossible because the same elements were used. I can only call them as I see them and again - 98% of the material appeared no different. This slight difference in quality may have something to do with the manufacturing technique though and not the masters themselves.

In the inner ring around the hole of the disc, the BELL catalog number can be plainly seen as well as an A/B/C/D/E/F following the catalog number. For instance, coding of BELL-596 F (Ellis/Moonbase reissue box 4) corresponding with the 6th side/episode from that box.

These discs all utilize the right audio channel for the English soundtrack and the left track is used for the Japanese soundtrack. This is the same as used in the Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Space:1999 and other Bandai/Emotion laserdiscs as well as other Japanese laserdiscs in general. This results in there being no need for subtitles. This is but one reason Bandai discs are so highly sought after. Note that UFO was originally recorded in mono anyway, so no channel information is lost in this alternate audio track process although magnetic media would have been a better choice over the optical tracks as there is a fidelity drop off.

The overall quality, packaging and layout in these 4 reissue boxes is quite nice and the video quality is drop dead gorgeous. I suspect the sound used for the English channel was taken from the optical audio tracks of the film elements themselves and not magnetic media. For those with home theaters, a hall type setting on the processor seems to work nicely as long as one doesnít go nuts with delays and the like.

The Bandai UFO Boxes

Each box set contains the individual discs in individual cardboard laserdisc sleeves similar to regular laserdisc releases. This is unlike some box sets of other material by other companies where multiple discs are unceremoniously placed in cheap clear plastic covers or simple paper sleeves. The quality in packaging really shows. These boxes were meant to be fan pleasers. Unlike the Foster Box having somewhat greenish tinted jackets as their base color, reissue boxes 3 & 4 (as well as 1 & 2) have silver as the base color for the jackets which actually look nicer and have slightly better printing quality to them.

Each volume also comes wrapped with a paper band specific for that box as well as inside a different colored supplement book slightly smaller than the laserdisc package itself. The paper bands are sometimes discarded by collectors - a practice I highly recommend against as value tends to stay higher with those box sets that contain all original materials. The bands and booklets are colored as follows:

These booklets have numerous misspellings. Interesting enough - in the Memorial big boxes, "Lunar Carrier" was misspelled as "Runar Carrier". Somebody at Bandai must have been told they had it wrong the first time and they tried to spell it correctly in the reissue boxes, but in the reissue box it is now "Luna carrier" with the "r" dropped! Maybe a 3rd issue, 2nd reissue will finally get the sound and spelling right! J

The standard Bandai advertising materials one sees with other Gerry Anderson Bandai discs are also included. Although the photos look good, the majority of fine print is in Japanese and obviously more for the Japanese collector than the western one who doesnít often speak or read Japanese. Still of some curiosity though and quite worth the tradeoff to have the packaging primarily in English as far as externally and in photo captions. Perhaps a Japanese collector or collector born from an international marriage can translate at some point as it appears to be a substantial amount of material.

In the following reviews - the price listed is the original retail and one should not expect to be able to order these laserdiscs for that price as they are long out of print. I personally paid close to $2,000.00 for the 4 boxes - the most Iíve paid for any laserdiscs. The hobby has been very good to me and Iíve picked up many discs new which later became quite collectible and expensive, so paying the price was not too different than paying the base price plus buying 10 regular out of print discs at collector prices. Perhaps at some later date if a reissue is made, this will be considered a great deal of money. Keep in mind the discs were not cheap when new on the market and any future Bandai releases will probably top the $1,000 mark for the entire series.

Bandai originally released the ITC Memorial boxes of Thunderbirds (BELL-410, 411) and followed with UFO (BELL-412, 413). The information I have as of this writing is that Bandai is skipping over UFO in their rerelease order and following their DVD release of Thunderbirds with Captain Scarlet although not officially announced as of the time of this writing. Note too that Bandai unfortunately added some subtitles to their Thunderbirds releases on DVD - a practice they may well follow with future Gerry Anderson re-releases including UFO.

Straker/SKYDIVER Reissue Box 1

Bandai/Emotion (BELL-563) UFO ¥17,400

This rarest of the four boxes is silver in color as are the other 3 and features Skydiver and Straker on the cover. This is the first and rarest of the box sets. This observation is from corresponding with other collectors who were only able to obtain the last 2 reissue boxes, and in one case with a fellow who has all but the first box. Perhaps like the original Straker Memorial box release, the reissue box caught folks off guard and there were few preorders making this a low production numbered item.

Some who were only able to locate the Foster Memorial box and who were caught snoozing and missed out on the rare Straker box may have snatched up the first 2 reissue boxes to complete the series and to insure they didnít miss out again as they did with the rare Straker "Memorial" box. This would also account for the scarcity of the first 2 reissue boxes. I suspect as in other laserdisc purchases, some collectors only desire to have a representative example of a series and were quite satisfied to own just the first reissue box as well or ran out of funds to buy the other boxes in the collection.

Those of us who archive an entire series would find it more difficult to obtain the first 2 boxes for this reason. Over time, many of the box sets get matched up and will leave some folks forever unable to obtain the box they need without buying an entire set. Often rare laserdisc box sets can only be sold as part of an entire collection. This is true of many TV series on laserdisc and videotape.

Original production numbers may have a factor in this as well. Production numbers are unknown at this time. In speaking with fellow collectors who were fresh on the scene when the original Bandai discs were released (they walked right by many of us), it was mentioned that the first Memorial boxes had next to no advance notice in the United States and that even many of the most avid Gerry Anderson collectors were caught off guard when those volumes streeted and that many missed out on the Straker (BELL-412) volume as Bandai had produced just enough to cover preorders and a slight production overrun above the pre-order amount. Once this first volume was known to exist and the word got out - others (although still relatively few) scrambled to pre-order the Foster box and more of it were produced for this reason although still in relatively low numbers and still quite rare in its own right. My primary source in Japan shipped a majority of the Bandai UFO sets sold to the U.K. when my source had them years ago. If this is true of most retailers back then and the fans have kept their discs, then a majority of these NTSC discs should be in the U.K. With an international fan base, time having elapsed and items changing hands - this may have shifted a bit.

The reissue boxes seemed to have come and gone overnight just as quickly as the original Memorial boxes did when they were released.

Box 1 - The Episodes

Waterman/INTERCEPTOR Reissue Box 2

Bandai/Emotion (BELL-582) UFO ¥17,400

Although it features the interceptors and Lew Waterman on the cover, the booklet has Alec Freeman on the cover. Noticeable misspellings include "Moon Bace" instead of "Moon Base" and "Luna Carrier" instead of "Lunar Carrier". The booklet matches the style used in the previous ITC Memorial boxes, but just not as many pages. This box contains the second group of episodes that (together with reissue box 1) make up the episode contents of the Straker ITC Memorial box. This box is a good one for the SHADO Mobile and Gabby fans. This is the second rarest of the 4 reissue boxes.

Box 2 - The Episodes

Foster/SHADO MOBILE Reissue Box 3

Bandai/Emotion (BELL-595) UFO ¥17,400

This box has Paul Foster and the SHADO Mobiles on the cover. The booklet inside also has Paul Foster on the cover and the photographs are predominately of the vehicles used in the series.

Box 3 - The Episodes

Ellis/MOONBASE Reissue Box 4

Bandai/Emotion (BELL-596) UFO ¥23,200

This last of the 4 box sets features Lt. Gay Ellis and Moon Base on the cover of the box. This box is remarkable from the other 3 in that it contains 4 discs instead of 3 and had a higher retail price accordingly. The booklet also features Gay Ellis on the cover and the photographs are primarily of episode specific photos of those episodes contained in this last box set.

An interesting item to note, and often missed by collectors, is that unlike the other 3 boxes where the name is the same on the outside of the box as it is on their respective booklets - in box 4 the booklet says SHADO Mobile although it is the MOONBASE box! My thoughts are that at some point the 4 boxes were to have vehicle names on all of them similar to the 4 reissue Thunderbirds, but the booklet for box 4 was discovered to have been printed with the same name as box 3. To avoid confusion with box 3 having the same name, Moonbase was printed on the outside of the box instead although the booklets have SHADO Mobile on them.

Box 4 - The Episodes

Release On LD Again Soon (or DVD)?

There is always a chance the series may be reissued either domestically in the U.S., the U.K. or in Japan at some point. Bandai and others are no doubt aware of the collector market values on these. The problem is whether or not there are now enough collectors to support releasing them again. My personal thoughts on this would be that the Japanese re-release would probably be limited to DVD only and may possibly have subtitles as well as being region 2 with Macrovision. This was the case with the Bandai Thunderbirds re-release unlike NO subtitles on the original Bandai Thunderbirds laserdiscs. Region 2 import DVDís will be an expensive proposition for US and other non region 2 collectors until such a time as region free players are the norm and/or conversion of players is inexpensive.

As far as a domestic U.S. laserdisc/DVD release, my fear is that they would release a handful of discs, but not release the entire series due to poor initial sales. Believe it or not, the initial Image laserdisc releases were not very well received. There are those of us who really love the show, but there was not enough fan base and purchasing power to get the series released in its entirety the first time around. My fear is this may happen again - especially with DVD entering the picture and diluting LD sales. I think DVD may not yet be well established for a domestic U.S. DVD release yet either. It all boils down to just how much one considers themselves to be a fan as to whether or not these will be re-released. Many fans are happy to see edited Sci-Fi channel and other versions or buy VHS tapes as their format of choice. Unfortunately relatively few of us are willing to fork out the big money for the laserdiscs. Personally I wish we could all buy new IB Tech/LPP 16mm prints the way we do laserdiscs for the best image possible.

Enough Already! Where can I Buy These?!!

Collectors. Collectors are your true source for finding these discs as (guess what) collectors are the ones who have them. The Laserdisc Newsletter is where mine were advertised by another collector - and strangely enough - a fellow collector who had them already and knew I was looking for them gave me the contact information of the seller as soon as the Laserdisc Newsletter came out. I bit immediately and was fortunate to be first. The Gerry Anderson Collectibles website at http://www.ozemail.com.au/~dennisn/INTRO.html is definitely one place to look. The alt.video.laserdisc newsgroup rarely has Bandai stuff as it mostly boils down to DVD/LD flame wars, but if one wades through the multiple Johnny come lately DVD buyers trolling against LD - one may occasionally find something. There were some Prisoner Bandai boxes offered a while back on avl (alt.video.laserdisc - a newsgroup).

Big Reel. I found my BELL-413 ITC Memorial "Foster" box in Big Reel magazine of all places. Big Reel is the true international collectors marketplace for 16mm and 35mm films. Since many films in great condition cost several hundred dollars for a single example, the hobby is quite expensive. Many film collectors have considerable disposable incomes which also allow them to make expensive laserdisc purchases and some of these collectors have items such as rare laserdisc box sets they sometimes advertise. A Big Reel want ad couldnít hurt. I have had great success with wanted ads placed in Big Reel in the past.

The laserdisc newsletter. My reissue boxes were advertised in this publication and another fan who already had the UFO ITC Memorial boxes gave me a hot lead that I followed up on. Other such grass roots publications may do the trick.

Japan. As of the time of this writing, Japan is having some tough economic times. Expensive items can often be shaken loose from collectors when the U.S. dollar is going farther. Many items desired by westerners such as artwork etc bought by Japanese businesses, banks and collectors are making their way back abroad as money becomes tighter in Japan and some collectors rethink their investments and collectibles. Akahabara, Tokyo has numerous laserdisc shops that sell new and used laserdiscs. If you have a military buddy stationed in Japan - you might want to have them look for you. The discs Iíve bought from Japan were either picked up by a friend or shipped to a friend from Akahabara to Osan Air Force Base via FedEx in Japan. My friend on post then mailed to me via the U.S. mail system - the U.S. APO (Army Post Office) on post. By going this route, one saves numerous coins off of the international customs rates Japan slaps on items when sending direct from Japan to an overseas destination.

Closing Comments

This show has some of the best writing and style of Gerry Andersonís series and is (in my opinion) his best show. The often dark nature is more akin to todayís story lines and the series stands out from other offerings of the time. Quality endures over time and with UFO, this is the case as well.

The nature of the dialogue as well gears it more for a mature audience to enjoy. One favorite line from the series was a comment by Alec Freeman where he says words to the effect of "Weíve got about as much cover as a g-string on a belly dancer" when flying into some clouds to avoid a pursuing UFO. The dialogue worked very well for me and when it was good - it was very good. The dialogue is not as wooden as some Irwin Allen U.S. material of about the same time. UFO was "slick" and leading edge.

I was born in 1963 and was at that Major Matt Mason action figure, Matchbox etc. playing age when UFO first came on the TV in the U.S. It was a magic time when my father took me to a NASA buzzing with activity and I saw a Saturn V on the pad for real. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and everything "space" was very very cool. My older cousins always switched over to UFO when it came on TV. Many of us were similarly hooked as kids by all of the special effects and designs, but as adults and having not watched these in years - I believe many will be pleasantly surprised how well this show and story lines hold up and does not insult oneís intelligence. The show takes me back to some great times as well as being a great show to turn ones kids on to and enjoy again which is what Iím doing with my son. Thatís what itís all about. J

Sci-Fi shows of the late 60ís/early 70ís were not cheap to produce and many gadgets were hand fabricated as there was no Radio Shacks to run to. Shows such as Star Trek had to use hand molded resin buttons for the bridge set (just to give one an idea). Keeping the materials available at the time in mind compared with the quality of the final results, the amount of effort spent on UFO really shows. When compared with later offerings of series from the 1970ís, 80ís & 90ís, UFO still has great SFX and looks better than some later offerings.

At the time of this writing, these Bandai laserdiscs are (IMO) truly the best way to own and enjoy this series barring your own pristine 16mm or 35mm IB Tech or LPP film elements or access to Gerry Andersonís film vaults. Bottom line - these discs are worth the wait. If you come across some for sale and procrastinate, chances are theyíll be swooped up quickly.

In closing, Iíd like to acknowledge the following SUPER Gerry Anderson collectors who made my wait for these discs bearable as well as being all around great people chock full of great anecdotal information:

Marc Martin
Bill Griffin
Ken Kolasny
John Davis