Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t respect the lives that some folks lead because nothing could be further from the truth. I have tremendous regard for folks who’ve contributed in even the smallest ways to the worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, and you’re looking at the proof right now: if I didn’t, then why would I have a website like SciFiHistory.Net wherein I’ve researched an incredible amount of genre minutiae for the purpose of sharing it with like-minded folks at each and every opportunity? The footsteps left behind – no matter how impactful or insignificant – do deserve preservation in the truest sense of the word, and that’s precisely what I’m all about in this space.
I suppose it would be safe to point out that biographies tend to operate a bit too much from the perspective of the biographer and not so much the person being eulogized in the feature. Like it or not, every single one of us has an agenda, and I think that the natural human tendency to remain true to one’s unique perspective gets in the way, especially when dealing with things that might otherwise be as trivial as dates, names, and places. Because of how we’re wired, we intrinsically try to ascribe meaning to these little components when – realistically – there may be none. So … color me cynical when it comes to the traditional biography. That’s how I’m wired.
Still, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to view Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted … and I’m all too happy to explain why. Succinctly, I grew up on these shows on this side of the pond (i.e. America) when not too many of my contemporaries or classmates did. Stingray, Fireball XL5, and – most especially – Thunderbirds were exactly what I watched whenever I could find them in U.S. television syndication. Heck, even segments of them played as part of some weekday morning children’s programming out of Chicago (not all that far where I was raised), and these stories captivated me. I couldn’t get enough of them, and – those days long ago being an era wherein your only hope was watching something live when it aired – I’d stop whatever I was doing when they came on.
When I got to college, I was aghast to find that – lo and behold – practically no one had ever heard of them. Granted, there were shows they treasured foreign to me (or ones I wanted no part of), but I just couldn’t believe that Anderson’s adventures had escaped their discovery. You can only imagine how much I pitied those poor, unfortunate souls …
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“In a fitting tribute to a television and film pioneer, and with permission from the Gerry Anderson estate, Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted uses a wealth of intimate audio archive combined with deep fake technology to allow Gerry to tell his story on screen for the first time. With additional new interviews and commentary from friends, family, and colleagues, this film provides a unique examination of Gerry Anderson’s life and his perspective on his tumultuous personal and business relationships.”
It ain’t easy being a genius.
If you take one thing away from my review of A Life Uncharted, then I want it to be this: Anderson is, was, and will remain a genius in my eyes ‘til my last days. He pioneered children’s programming unlike anyone else in the industry, always choosing to push the envelope up to the point wherein – if he couldn’t push it any further – then he’d simply create an all-new one. While other ‘creators’ were simply picking up an already established storytelling rubric and reformatting it to the genre, Anderson was busying himself and those around him with trying something that hadn’t quite been done before.
What Uncharted charts very well is Anderson’s often tumultuous relationships with his family – with his creatives – and with those who joined him – however briefly – in his rise to fame and not-so-much fortune. Yes, it dabbles here and there with an almost tabloid perspective – anyone who knows even a small part of the man’s story is aware that he and Sylvia didn’t exactly part amicably – and, as a viewer, I merely chose not to make too much of those vignettes. Ultimately, they are what they are – they certainly can’t be changed – and, thankfully, not a wealth of time is spent trying to psychoanalyze any of the particulars; those tasked with responding to them in the biography largely stay respectful, choosing instead to focus on the legacy and not the liaisons.
Also, the documentary benefits from giving son Jamie Anderson the opportunity to explore his late father’s true biography, exploring a bit more about Gerry’s upbringing as well as the personal struggles a flawed formative experience likely descended from organically. Thankfully, it never wallows in forgiveness the way some other bios I’ve seen has; instead, it just tries to paint as accurate a picture it can – without taking a stand – while preserving the respect perhaps a child feels is owed a parent.
Mind you: not an awful lot of time is spent actually on Anderson’s various creations. Of course, they fit in well enough with the chronology of the man’s life as recounted here; but if you’re tuning in for the purpose of getting some inside trivia regarding Super-marionation at its finest, then you might come away disappointed. The creator and those closest to him always remain Uncharted’s central focus, and for that I suspect all in the audience can be thankful.
Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted (2022) was produced by Anderson Entertainment and The Format Factory. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at MVD Visual. As for the technical specifications? Though I’m no trained video expert, I thought the sights and sounds of this production to be fabulous. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? Alas, there aren’t any … but that’s not a real disappointment here. What matters most in biographies is the biography, and this one informs and educates fairly evenly throughout.
As I’m predisposed to distrust biographies (for reasons I explained above), I did go into Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted not expecting all that much. It’s show business, after all, so any person who did as much as he did was going to make friends and enemies; and that’s largely how the first half (or so) unspooled. But as director Benjamin Field shaped the second half – the aging creator’s twilight years – I found myself slowly won over by the charm of an old man facing his last days and still wanting to contribute something – maybe even something greater – than all he’d already accomplished. That and the ability of true fans to want to reach-out-and-touch the genius that inspired so many of their best days of youth did have this one tugging at my heartstrings.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MVD Visual provided me with a complimentary DVD of Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.