Before Star Wars: Invasion: UFO (1970) (1980)

A long time ago, on a future Earth far, far away . . .

In the year 1980 Earth is visited by a race of liquid-breathing aliens from a dying planet who abducts human beings to harvest organs for their own bodies. Believing a full-scale invasion is forthcoming, an international, top-secret and high-tech military agency, SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization), is established to defend Earth. . . .

As with the Canadian-produced The Starlost, the British-produced UFO was intended to ride the sci-fi coattails created by Star Trek; as with its Canadian counterpart, the sci-fi fans that embraced Gene Roddenberry’s vision—even going as far as starting a write-in campaign to save the voyages of the starship Enterprise from cancellation, and earned it a third season—rejected the prophecies of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

The Anderson’s Century 21 Productions, in conjunction with Sir Lew Grade’s ITC Entertainment (Saturn 3), previously found great success in worldwide syndication with the children’s science fiction programs—using marionettes—Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stringray, Thunderbirds (the most successful of the lot), and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

The Anderson’s then decided to take the children’s show concept one step further by eliminating the puppets, in a quest to appeal to teens and adults, while retaining the show’s SFX—and using live actors. The end result was Doppelgänger, a 1969 theatrical feature film starring Ray Thinnes (of TV’s The Invaders); the film became better known outside the U.K by its alternate title: Journey to the Far Side of the Sun.

(Although it’s not Anderson-production related, the Doppelgänger concept of an astronaut trapped on mirror-Earth on the far side of the Sun was repurposed for The Stranger, a 1973 The Fugitive-styled U.S TV series pilot.)

Doppelgänger was successful enough in U.K theatres and U.S Drive-Ins, so the Anderson’s decided to expand the concept once more, which lead to the creation of their first live-action TV series, UFO, which utilized the same actors, props, costumes, and locations from the film.

While the 26-episode series, which ran from late 1970 to early 1973—set in the “future” of 1980—was able to expand its reach beyond the U.K into U.S syndication, the show’s U.S broadcast failed to appeal to Star Trek fans and live up to its U.K rating success. With the hopes of increasing the show’s appeal, a subsequent retooling of the show—taking it off the Earth and concentrating more on “moon-based action” as UFO: 1999—eventually morphed into Space: 1999. (Once Star Wars-mania was in full effect, Anderson also has that precursor cut into overseas theatricals, beginning with Destination Moonbase Alpha.)

. . . Then some guy named George Lucas with a crazy space opera called Star Wars came along.

So while Canada’s CTV and 20th Century Fox Television were slicing up episodes of The Starlost into a theatrical features, ITC edited six of the twenty-six episodes of UFO—Ep. 1: “Identified”; Ep. 6: “E.S.P”; Ep. 16: “The Man Who Came Back”; Ep. 21: “Computer Affair”; Ep. 22: “Confetti Check A-Ok”; and Ep. 24: “Reflections in the Water”—into a Star Wars-inspired theatrical feature film for syndicated television and foreign theatrical distribution.

Italy’s KENT and INDIEF Productions took ITC’s theatrical film concept one step further and took the series’ remaining episodes and created five more films: UFO: Red Alert . . . Attack on Earth, UFO: Destroy Moonbase, UFO: Catch them Alive, UFO: Contact . . . They are Landing, and UFO: Annihilate. And in the midst of Star Wars-mania in Japan, the Anderson’s version, Invasion: UFO, met with great success in 1984.

As far back as 1995, and since 2009, there’s been several attempts to reboot the series into a theatrical film, headed by producer Robert Evans (The Godfather, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby) with American actors Ali Larter (the Final Destination film series, the Resident Evil video game series) as Col. Virginia Lake, and Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek, the 2008-2013 sci-fi series Fringe), as Paul Foster (originally played by almost-James Bond, actor Michael Billington), attached. Subsequent rumors had Matthew Lillard (Wing Commander, Scream) and Neal McDonough (Star Trek: First Contact, Minority Report) attached for the role of Col. Edward Straker (originally portrayed by Ed Bishop; the only actor to appear in all 26 episodes).

The rebooted film was to be set in the year 2020. And here we are, coming up on the year 2020. The year 2040 is looking pretty good to me now.

* * *

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is currently in theatres and was released theatrically on December 20 in the United States.

About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

4 thoughts on “Before Star Wars: Invasion: UFO (1970) (1980)

    • Yeah, the Melrose Place-Beverly Hills 90210 casting on it — I don’t see that “audience” running to see a space flick redux of an old ’70s TV series. I think Tom Cruise needs to go blonde and Charlize Theron needs to go purple to get people in the seats.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, me too. I’ve burnt through the DVD box sets twice over the years. The movies are, for being patched from the TV series, very inventive on how they pulled a storyline together from multiple episodes. They’re not “hacked” at all. Very fluid.

      Liked by 1 person

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