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Gerry Anderson's Five Star Five

By Matthew Kresal


The man who started it all, Gerry Anderson.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


 

Mention the name Gerry Anderson and what comes to mind? The Supermarionation thrills of Thunderbirds and Stingray? The live-action excitement of UFO or Space:1999? Or other projects such as Into Infinity or the film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun?

 

In a different world, you might think of a 1980 feature film called Five Star Five, a project Anderson and frequent collaborator Tony Barwick scripted in 1978. A film that, like so many projects, wasn’t meant to be, but found new life as a novel and audiobook in 2021.

 

Described by Anderson’s son Jamie as his father’s “chance to put forward his own version of Star Wars”, Five Star Five certainly had the makings of an epic. The peaceful planet of Kestra is under threat from the forces of the militaristic Zargons, who have turned an asteroid they purchased in the Kestra system into a fortress from which to attack them.

 

Kestran Colonel Zana turns to an Earth military hero, John Lovell, for help in an attack on the Zargon stronghold, with the human recruiting a team to help him take on the task before Kestra has Zargon destruction rained upon it from orbit. A team including a chimp with a degree in military philosophy, a warrior monk, a nearly indestructible robot named Rudy, and a psychic boy with a robot dog.

 

Described as “The Magnificent Seven in Space” (a description also applicable to Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars released the same year Anderson’s movie would have come out), Five Star Five has only the most superficial similarities with Star Wars. What the script resembles is a cross between that famous Western and The Guns of Navarone. Or, indeed, any of the “team on a mission” war movies made throughout this period. All brought together, complete with an Anderson SF twist.

 

For a time, it looked set to make it to the screen as part of the post-Star Wars rush of sci-fi films. Pre-production work was well underway in 1979 with director John Guillermin of The Towering Inferno and the previous year’s adaptation of Death on the Nile attached. Studio space at Pinewood had been booked for live action sequences with visual effects work to be done at Bray Studios with a budget set of £11 million. Which is when, as so often happens and as related by Anderson’s son Jamie in 2021, the financing fell apart and with it the entire project.


Aerospace vehicle model.

Picture courtesy Dinky Toys.



More than forty years later, with Jamie having continued his father’s legacy at Anderson Entertainment, novelist Richard James was tasked with turning the Anderson and Barwick script into prose.

 

From its action-packed opening chapter depicting a Zargon raid, James (whose association with Anderson began as an actor on Space Precinct) never lets the pace up. There’s plenty of action on display, from space battles to fights and gun battles. All of which are described by James in a visceral, visual style that makes it easy to imagine. Indeed, for the space scenes, it’s easy to close one’s eyes and imagine model shots from the legendary Derek Meddings, in between working on Roger Moore-era James Bond films, gracing the screen of the mind’s eye.


Five Star Five is available as an audiobook from Bigfinish.com

Picture courtesy Bigfinish.com


Of course, action sequences aren’t everything. Without good characters, something like Five Star Five would be nothing more than action pieces strung together. Thankfully, James’ prose brings out the rich characterisations from Lovell’s likable rogue (with some shades of Han Solo, admittedly) to the various members of his team and the villainous Zargons. There’s a surprising amount of humour on display, especially in the interactions between Lovell and his companion, the military philosopher chimp Clarence. That said, it’s worth remembering the novel’s source material comes from the late 1970s. As a result, some of the characterisations (particularly that of the warrior monk Sumara) have dated. Even so, the characters go a long way to making this a fun experience.

 

As does how well produced this audiobook of the novelisation turned out to be. Robbie Stevens, a veteran of Anderson productions of the past, proved himself a fine narrator for this piece, bringing a sense of the dramatic to action sequences and an army of voices for the numerous characters. His choices in voicing the characters make it intriguing to consider just who might have played the parts on-screen. Giving him able backing is composer and sound designer Benji Clifford, whose soundscape and music are nothing short of cinematic, giving this potential movie the aural equivalent of widescreen.

 

How would Five Star Five have fared on-screen based on the novel and audiobook? It’s hard not to think that the film would have been a joyous thrill ride, full of Anderson’s high adventure, likeable leads, and villains easy to boo.

 

Given that it would have been released in the same year as both Battle Beyond the Stars and the infamous flop Raise the Titanic that ended one-time Anderson backer Lew Grade’s film career, it’s easy to imagine it also being overlooked or even an outright flop. What we have, in prose and audio, is a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.

 

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Matthew Kresal is the author of the SLP book Our Man on the Hill.

  

 

 

 

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