Filmation (1978), BCI (May 8, 2007), 3 discs, 500 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Not Rated, Retail: $29.98
A galactic soldier of fortune assists Star Command in its battles with the evil Dragos.
The Sweatbox Review:
File this one under “I can’t believe they put this out on DVD!” As a child, I was intensely curious about this Filmation program, but somehow I don’t think I ever actually watched it. I remember the ads from the comic books that networks used to do, showcasing their fall line-ups. I even remember seeing promos on television for the series, but unfortunately it must have been on the same time as some other show I liked, because I never caught it. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I didn’t make every effort possible. After all, it debuted in 1978 on CBS’s Tarzan And The Super 7, a year after Star Wars had made space opera incredibly popular. It was also the same year that I was totally digging the Star Wars-inspired Battlestar Galactica; and yet, Jason Of Star Command had gone unseen by me all these years. But now… ah, I love TV-on-DVD. Finally, finally, finally, thanks to BCI I can watch this standout program.
Jason Of Star Command was conceived as a spin-off to the previous season’s live action Space Academy, a show about eager young space cadets that starred Lost In Space’s Jonathon Harris. For Jason Of Star Command, the large budget of Space Academy was kept, but poured into a fifteen-minute format, making Jason incredibly expensive as well as impressive. Indeed, its special effects match up favourably with its contemporaries Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. Aside from making the show shorter and placing it within a longer program, Jason differed from its predecessor by having a definite single hero— lanky, square-jawed Jason himself, played by Craig Littler. Jason was perhaps too inspired by Han Solo’s appearance, but while he could be impulsive and strong-willed, he was not quite the rogue that that Star Wars’ “scoundrel” was. Jason was an independent agent who assisted Star Command, basically the secret policing or military wing of Space Academy. His closest friends at Star Command were Captain Nicole Davidoff (played by soap actress Susan O’Hanlon) and the befuddled Professor Parsafoot (character actor Charlie Dell). Jonathon Harris might have appeared on this spin-off, but a dispute saw him leave Filmation and instead Jason got a Star Trek actor— “Scotty” himself, James Doohan, as Commander Canarvan.
Space Academy was constantly under threat from the evil would-be intergalactic conqueror Dragos (Sid Haig). Each 15-minute episode would see Jason and his comrades thrust into danger by Dragos, who employed drones and mercenary queens to do his bidding. Genre fans will appreciate seeing Julie Newmar as Queen Vanessa in a few of the first season episodes, and yes there is animation on the show too, in the form of some stop-motion alien monsters. Considering the show’s budget and schedule the monsters actually come off quite well, being fairly fluid and appropriately Harryhausen-like. All sixteen Season One segments appear on Disc One of this set, and they appear to be syndication versions with one set of opening and closing credits per two segments.
The show proved to be the most popular segment on Tarzan And The Super 7, so it was elevated to half-hour status as its own show the following year. There were changes in the cast as well, as Doohan left to film Star Trek: The Motion Picture, being replaced by John Russell as the blue-skinned Commander Stone. The cute Captain Davidoff was also replaced, by Amazonian Tamara Dobson as Samantha. The second season continued to showcase the threat of Dragos, though instead of a season-long storyline, the cliffhanger endings only lasted three or four episodes before going on to the next story. Scripts for both seasons were largely by Sam Peeples, who had scripted Star Trek’s successful (second) pilot as well as Filmation’s Flash Gordon telefilm.
Viewing it now, the tone of the series is obviously in keeping with it being a Saturday morning show. There is jeopardy without things becoming too scary, action without much violence, and the cast (except for the bad guys and surly Commander Stone) has a bad case of “the smiles;” but the scripts are strong enough for an adult viewer to still find them enjoyable if lightweight. Professor Parsafoot is enjoyably goofy, the female co-stars are strong, and there are cutesy robot antics from the miniature robot W1K1 and Space Academy holdover Peepo. If nothing else, the special effects are fascinating in their sophistication considering the time period, particularly the outer space shots. While not feature quality, the miniature effects are surprisingly well done and generally convincing. The creature effects are less convincing, as the artists went for more of a Doctor Who feel when it came time to quickly assembling creature suits. It is all in good fun, though, and the show certainly makes for a pleasant nostalgia trip during the course of its 28 episodes on this three-disc set.
Is This Thing Loaded?
I never would have expected this show to come to DVD, until BCI started making good on their promise of fully exploiting the Filmation library, and the set they’ve put together is fairly impressive. Leading things off on the third disc is the letterboxed retrospective featurette The Adventures Of Jason Of Star Command (31:04), which features interviews with producer Lou Scheimer (by now a fixture on these sets), and actors Littler and Haig. In a very nice touch, creature and special visual effects supervisors were also interviewed. It’s a good overview of the show that neatly explains its place in television history.
The Special Effects Demo Reel (6:34) presents some scenes from both seasons with sketchy video and The Adventures Of Flash Gordon music. The Image Galleries are reasonably loaded with stills for promotional materials, cast & crew, spaceships, and a style guide apparently for a never-produced animated spin-off. More From Ink & Paint gives the same collection of show openings and movie trailers seen on other I & P collections of late. Even though I keep encountering these, I can never resist playing a few, since it’s such a fun nostalgia ride.
DVD-ROM: If scripts are your thing, this set has 27 of them! That’s all but one of the Jason scripts (it appears episode 3 is missing).
Jason comes in two separate slim cases (the second one holding two discs), housed in a slipcase. The artwork on the cases comes from promotional shots done for the show back in the day. A foldout episode guide with lots of trivia in included, and there is also a Funimation catalog inside the package.
Ink And Paint:
I had read once before that Filmation filmed their live action shows on 16mm in order to save costs, and I would say that is likely the case here. The transfers consequently lack some sharpness and fine detail… BUT all things considered they do look very good, with reasonably vivid colors. The prints used are generally clean and the show appears to have been taken good care of while in the vault all these years. I did not take notice of any compression artifacting either. It’s not terrific video, but it’s better than I had hoped.
The soundtrack is nothing special, but I never expected it to be. Would a 5.1 remix have been better? No, while that might be a fun idea, I think that would have just sounded out of place. The original mono soundtrack here is just fine and relatively natural sounding. Again, considering budget and age of the show, this sounds pretty good.
Sure, there’s lots of kitsch value in seeing Craig Littler in his Han Solo outfit piloting spaceships and taking orders from Scotty, but that doesn’t mean the show isn’t entertaining in it own right. Taken as what it is— a Saturday morning show inspired by the space serials of old, it’s a breezy watch with decent acting from the principles and good special effects. It was never meant to be as deep as something like Babylon 5, it’s just a really good kids show that even I can still enjoy in my advancing years, and I think it probably holds up well enough that today’s youngsters could be entertained. As usual, BCI has gone above and beyond on the special features, so there is plenty to enjoy in this three-disc set.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?