Children’s Film Foundation Collection: Outer Space (DVD review).

The Children’s Film Foundation was responsible for making films for a young audience to be broadcast in the cinemas and also TV. In the early days, Saturday morning cinema around the country used to show lots of their material and, in later years, the TV took over the role of presenter. Now essentially defunct, lots of archive material remains in storage but the British Film Foundation has collected together three little films, remastered them and put them out on a DVD as part of their programme for releasing CFF material.


The general theme of this release is ‘Outer Space’. It contains three short films from three eras which give a distinct historical perspective to society and its attitudes over the years. Looking these little movies as an exercise in sociology is one thing but they are also there to be enjoyed. Despite the years in distance between them and us, they are still very acceptable to a modern audience. Whatever their age, kids will like them even though they look a bit dated.

The first film is called ‘Supersonic Saucer’. It’s from 1956, in black and white and is 46 minutes in duration. For some reason, children’s literature of that era, comics and books, seemed to dwell on public school settings, especially boarding schools. Think of Billy Bunter! Maybe this was a good setting for adventure but it is strange because most kids knew nothing of this environment and certainly couldn’t afford to go anywhere near a public school. ‘Supersonic Saucer’, filmed in a public boarding school, is a morality tale depicting class segregation and attitudes.

Little creatures from Venus mature into flying saucers which can scoot about the solar system. One lands at a public boarding school during the summer holidays where only two boys and two girls remain. The Venusian befriends the children and communicates by telepathy. Trying to help them out, it conjures up lots of scrumptious goodies from the local baker but the boys, considering the implications of free food, reluctantly send it back. In the meantime, the sneaky janitor, a lower class individual of dubious distinction, has already observed the silverware getting placed in a safe and contacts a criminal associate to undertake a robbery. The message appears to be that uppercrust people are noble while the lower class are crooks. Undeterred, the children try to defeat the plot by enlisting the help of the little Venusian.

‘Kadoyng’ from 1972 is of 58 minutes duration. This is a time when Britain was rapidly changing both socially and physically. Motorways were going up all over the country and the old lifestyle was evaporating. In this jolly film, which is humorous and witty, a couple of children attempt to stop the bulldozers from knocking down their quaint village to make room for a motorway. It is a hopeless task but an alien comes along to help. Bill Owen also known in ‘The Last Of The Summer Wine’ adds a distinctly new dimension to the film. Although it’s a comedy, it has its serious undertones because it’s a fight between the old and the new, a fight which continues right to this day with the third runway at Heathrow coming to mind.

‘The Glitterball’ is from 1977 and is of 54 minutes duration and in colour. By now, social attitudes have changed and it’s a world away from 1956. In this film, a tiny alien is stranded on Earth. You would think an alien would be all-powerful but this little guy is reliant on two children to help him get back to his own planet. It is not all that simple, however, because both the military and the criminal world have interests in the alien. In a really well-acted and directed film, a situation is presented on several levels. Children see it as a straightforward adventure tale while the slightly older can discern threads of conflict emerging between society and government. Again, this is something that has lasted to the present day.

The CFF not only made many films for children’s entertainment, it provided the basis for many aspiring actors and directors to make their way in the media world. Some of their work is surprisingly good. It had to be because keeping a huge bunch of children occupied during a Saturday morning was not an easy task. If they lost their interest, a riot would ensue and ice cream tubs would end up being thrown about the cinema. The BFI now has most of the CFF material in storage but it’s a huge collection which will never properly be released again for public viewing but at least with their programme of putting material on to DVD, this being the sixth such DVD, some of the good work will not disappear into obscurity.

A rather pleasant DVD to watch, it can be recommended to any audience. The DVD comes with a very comprehensive and interesting booklet. There are no extra bits and pieces on the disc.

Rod MacDonald

September 2014

(region 2 DVD: British Film Institute. 2 DVDs 160 minutes 3 black and white/colour film. Cat: BFIVD972. Price: £19.99 (UK))

The Glitterball cast: Ben Buckton, Keith Jayne, Ron Pember and Marjorie Yates

Kadoyng cast: Leo Maguire, Adrian Hall, Teresa Codling and Bill Owen

Supersonic Saucer cast: Marcia Monolescue, Fella Edmunds and Gillian Harrison

Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English

check out website: http://shop.bfi.org.uk/dvd-blu-ray/science-fiction/pre-order-children-s-film-foundation-outer-space.html#

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