Some of the coolest spaceships ever filmed came from Gerry Anderson, who died today after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. Anderson did more for space opera on television than almost any other single creator, launching space show after space show from the 1960s to the 1990s. From Fireball XL5 in 1962 to Space Precinct in 1994, Anderson was devoted to bringing cool-looking spaceships and stylized, over-the-top action to television.
But Anderson is probably best known in the United States for creating Space: 1999, a live-action show about the crew of a Moonbase who must survive after the Moon is thrown out of Earth's orbit. Space: 1999 featured some pretty creepy storylines and some intense performances by Martin Landau and others, although it hasn't aged that well. But also, Space: 1999's designs, especially the Eagle fighters, still look incredibly cool and rugged, with their square boxy shapes and panels.
Anderson first made his mark with shows featuring puppets, via his famous Supermarionation process. Fireball XL5 was puppet-tastic, and so were Thunderbirds and several other shows. The use of stiff, jerky puppets just allowed Anderson to be more stylized with the shows' action, so that everything in the show felt like a piece of space hardware, except with a lot of quirkiness and goofiness. Even when Anderson started working with humans, in UFO, they still looked a bit like toys come to life, with their brightly-colored wigs and stiff performances.
He also wrote a screenplay for an early 1970s James Bond movie that would have been loosely based on Ian Fleming's Moonraker — which fell through after Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman ended their long-running partnership.
Thunderbirds was made into a pretty terrible movie, without Anderson's involvement, several years ago. Another puppet show, Captain Scarlet, was brought back in 2005 as Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet. There's also been some talk about a Space: 1999 revival called Space: 2099.
According to this interview, even at the end of his life, Anderson was still trying to launch new space opera shows — he was working with Phil Ford, from the Sarah Jane Adventures and Wizards Vs. Aliens, on creating a show called Lightspeed.
In a 2009 interview, Anderson explained how he got into making shows about space:
I've always been interested in the idea of space exploration. When I was younger it was just a dream, but the theory of rockets being able to travel through space was very much alive. I found it very exciting.
Not only did Anderson's shows feature some terrific-looking spaceships (several of which were reused on Doctor Who and other shows) but he also helped to launch the careers of some top special effects creators. Notably the Academy Award-winning special effects artist Derek Meddings, who started on Thunderbirds and then worked on the 1970s James Bond films, Superman: The Movie and Tim Burton's Batman.
Late in his career, Anderson embraced CG animation, which he saw as being similar to the puppets that launched his career — only with more realistic motion. In a lot of ways, Anderson was recognizing that the signature look he created back in the 1960s has stayed with us today, except with a lot more technological enhancements. In any case, if you love television space opera, and the romance of swashbuckling in space, then you owe a huge debt to Gerry Anderson. [BBC]