28 November 2010

Forgotten Classics: SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND

Forgotten Classics is a new series on FWS, that will explore military science fiction that have disappeared from the collective memory of the general public. I can think of no other better example of a forgotten classic that the subject of the first installment of the FWS Forgotten Classics of Military Sci-Fi: SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND (SAAB). This was a short-run military FOX TV sci-fi series that ran from September 1995 to June 1996, over  the course of just 24 episodes. The series was created by X-Files producers Glen Morgan and James Wong. The series originally was to run for a total of five season, only lasted one and ending on a cliff-hanger. The series was released in its entirely on a (very) basic DVD collection in 2005. For some fans of sci-fi, this was one of the open salvos of FOX cancelling promising science fiction shows before their time. This was Firefly before Firefly

The Basic Plot
SAAB takes place in 2063-2064 has mankind is struggling with wounds from the bloody A.I. Rebellion, and attempting to colonize deep space. The pilot opens with the United Nations and the massive Aerotech corporation establishing the most distant settlement from the Sol system, the Vista Colony around Episilon Indi (11.8 LYS from Earth). Shortly after, the colony is attacked by a hostile alien force. Another colonial ship is being readied to send to the Tellus colony with young Aerotech colonists and lovers, Nathan West and Kylen Celina. Nathan is thrown off the mission due to a movement on Earth over In-Vitro rights (In-Vitros are artificially gestated humans bred for a war against the AI rebels). Nathan, out of desperation joins the USMC to become a colonial sentry on Tellus.
Nathan qualifies for Marine Space Aviator training in Alabama, where he meets the rest of the regular class, including a In-Vitro sentenced to the USMC, Cooper Hawks. During their training, the colonial vessel bearing Kylen was attacked and crashed on Tellus. The UN informs the world that not only does life exist outside of Earth, but these alien wiped out Vista and Tellus. Nathan and the rest of the 58th are rushed through training and mobilized to the front in their He3 burring SA-43 Hammerhead dual atmospheric fighters The 58th Squad, now named "the Wildcards" is led by Colonel T.C, McQueen (one of the best sci-fi characters!), an In-Vitro Special Operations attack jet pilot, wounded in the opening battles of the war, and now assigned to the United States Naval Space Carrier Saratoga. Throughout the rest of the series, the core characters personal struggles are highlighted against the backdrop of the bloody war with the "Chig" aliens. The series ends on a bittersweet note, a cliffhanger coupled with death and hope.

The Impact of SAAB
Up until SAAB, there had not been a show firmly centered around a future war on a space carrier since the classic Battlestar Galactica. This show came at a time when Star Trek and it's clean vision of the future dominated the sci-fi landscape, while SAAB showed the grittier, darker side of a future in space.While the show is not well known today, due to the infancy of the Internet at the time of its TV run, it has impacted people creating sci-fi today, with its more realistic air. All one has to do, to see the impact of SAAB is by watch the new Battlestar Galactica, if it was not for SAAB then the new Battlestar Galactica would not have been as breathtaking and groundbreaking. 
While CGI effects were featured on other sci-fi shows like Babylon 5, SAAB aired on a major network with a healthy budget allowing for then-cutting-edge CGI. These effects were one of the most expense elements of the show. While I cannot confirm this, it is my firm belief that SAAB influenced the first HALO game. One just has to look at the M590 and the MA5B, the Pelican dropship and ISSCV to witness that Bungie mined the series for their games. In addition, SAAB,was one of the few military science fictions to use conventional weaponry and not energy based weapons, and shortly after this, the trend in military science fiction was to use conventional bullet-firing kinetic weaponry. Consider the USMC 7.62x51mm M590 of Space:Above and Beyond and the UNSC 7.62x51mm MA5B of HALO: Combat Evolved. Along with the ISSAPC from SAAB and the Pelican from HALO.

Why SAAB is a MSF Classic?
The reason that Space: Above and Beyond (SAAB) is a classic of Military Science Fiction is for it being unique and filled with, what I can only describe as, dark poetry. The last sci-fi property to be set in such a world was ALIENS in 1986. Unlike the Star Trek films and shows, this series did not always project humanity any differently than today, they drank, used drugs, wanted sex, had dirty-minds, along with  racism being alive and well in 2063, and this gave the series an edge not seen in main-stream sci-fi TV show before. Watching marines fight in the terrible conditions of an off-world battlefield while people die, and not just the "red-shirts". 
Another way that it is a classic, is that SAAB setup things to come, namely Battlestar Galactica with its dark tone and realistic military portray. Another reason for me, that SAAB is classic, is that it was original. The concept of marines in space fighting an aggressive unknown alien species is not new, but how they showed the world of 2063 is. The USMC is showed much like it is today, the Chigs were shown as complex and brutal, all while preserving an air of mystery. The show's producers, Morgan and Wong, were able masterfully incorporate elements like Johnny Cash, Imperial Japan war-time poetry, Shakespeare, the band X (I kid you not), and humanoid robots that rebelled, all in the same show without making it looked forced or alien to the overall concept. Only Battlestar Galactica has been able to perform such a task recently.  

The Historical Context of SAAB
When SAAB premiered in 1995, the landscape of TV sci-fi was much different than today. Science Fiction was popular on the major networks and this was around the same time as the launch of Sci-Fi network. Star Trek ruled the airwaves with no less than three shows. Added to the mix, was Babylon 5, Xena, Hercules, and other cheaper sci-fi shows that allowed for viewers to enjoy a variety of science-fiction every night of the week. So, fans of sci-fi were given the choice between low-budget, often cheesy shows, or the clean, holy-than-thou environment of Star Trek, until this dark military science fiction show came along.The mid-1990's were not today, there was peace, a good economy, no social-media, along with an infant world-wide-web, the realistic vision of future warfare was not hopeful, like the 90's were. While the new Battlestar Galactica is very much a product of our dark time, SAAB was calling back to the time of World War II and Vietnam, which a number of people didn't want to see..after all, it was the 1990's, which were a much happier time.

Why Did It End?
SAAB suffered from the same decisions that also killed Firefly, being jerked around the TV schedule, not enough promotion, and a lack of faith in the show itself. In addition, FOX aired SAAB on Sunday nights, after football, and often the show was delayed, losing the audience or like in my case, your VCR would only tape half of it! Also, FOX believed that the producers of the X-Files could create another mega-hit in this dark-sci-fi war show. However, the sci-fi nature of SAAB did not attract the legions of X-Files fans, nor did the dark dirt hard atmosphere of the show attach fans of the happier Star-Trek universe. The other reasons for the canceling the series was money and rating. If SAAB had the pull of the audience , then the ad money would have flowed in, and the rumored one-million-bucks-an-episode production cost would have been justified. It is my belief, that only because of the X-Files success and the connect of  SAAB to that show was the only reason that the remainder of the season completed, if it had not been, then it would have ended like Firefly.

Is There an  Future for SAAB?
I have read a few rumors that Ronald D. Moore, the god of the new Battlestar Galactica, original approached the Sci-Fi Channel about a remake of SAAB, his second pitch wa BSG. If this is true, than it is possible that a remake is in the future. However it took 20 years for BSG to get a remake. At the moment, SAAB is fondly remembered by fans like me who forge a spot for their beloved show in the old interwebs. Sadly, I do not think there is much of a future for this show, but its influence will live on in the hearts and minds of fans.

The 2005 DVD Release and the 2012 Release
In 2005, SAAB  was finally released on DVD in a 10 disc box set, and while it is nice to finally have the complete series on DVD, the release was disappointing. Little money was spend on it, and there is no special features, no interviews, and somehow the Babylon 5 space station makes an appearance on the title menu screen! I really believed when the DVD collection was released, that Space:Above and Beyond would get some respect and notice, but given the bare-bones nature of the release, it looks like more of the same for the series. In 2012, a United Kingdom media company released a Region 2 PAL DVD set that included all of the features missing from the barebones 2005 release: new interviews, deleted scenes, galleries, some commentary on the epsiodes. Sadly, this was not released on a format for United States DVD players, leaving us out in the cold. 

The Best Five Episodes of the Series
  • The Farthest Man From Home (episode#2)
  • Ray Butts (episode #5 and my personal favorite)
  • The River of Stars (episode #11. this is the Xmas story that uses a great WWI historic event)
  • Who Monitors the Birds? (episode #12, the original of Hawks and an sniper assassination mission)
  • The Angriest Angel (episode #15, the single best episode of SAAB)
this is the best website for SAAB.


  1. it sad they had a great cast and story line they should remake it .Dean

  2. What is funny, that Ronald D. Moore, god of the New BSG, was rumored to be pitching a remake of SAAB...I whish this series had gone one...

  3. Excellent article on S:AAB, William. S:AAB was my favourite sci-fi show when I was a lowly high school student in the mid 1990s. What made the show cool in my books was that the Pilot episode was filmed in Australia (my home country :) ) with filming done in both Queensland (e.g Bond University Campus and the Warner Bros. Movie World Studios on the Gold Coast) and New South Wales (e.g RAAF Williamtown air base).

    Another thing, William. I read that S:AAB blitzed Star Trek in the ratings games. It goes to show that many people back in the '90s wanted to see a gritty, futuristic military sci-fi show.

  4. Thanks for the comment Jason! It is always nice meeting another fan of SAAB, especially an international one. It just goods to show that things are just better when you film them in Australia! BTW, Was SAAB called Space:2063 or SAAB in Australia?
    The loss of shows like Firefly and SAAB bother me and were a great loss to sci-fi as a whole.

    1. That name was used in reruns in south america

  5. You're welcome, William. To answer your question, S:AAB was known by its original American title here in Australia.

    On another note, William. I agree with your views about the loss of Firefly and S:AAB. These shows featured a future humanity that was a complete opposite to the future humanity shown in the Star Trek series. It showed that the humans of future were no different to humanity in the present day (not to mention, the humans of Firefly and S:AAB were not complete wimps as the humans of Star Trek were on a regular basis :D).

  6. This was one of my favorite SciFi television shows, and the best MilSciFi show ever to appear on TV IMHO. However, I could never quite get over the use of fighter pilots as ground troops. I know every Marine is a rifleman, but the active use of them as infantry seemed to be a bit wasteful.

  7. SAAB was a game-changer for me in the mid-1990's, and got me off of Trek and down the path to my novels and this very blog. It is a real shame that it has been lost to the next generation, because to this day, it is one of the few real MSF shows on TV. And I pick it over BSG, even though I frakking love BSG
    Yeah, I agree about the pilots of the 58th being used has normal infantry, and the show appeared to address the critics and the fans saying this in a episode by Col.McQueen yelling at the 58th that he was "getting an ear full of bitching ans whining about fighter pilots being deployed as ground troopers. Every Marine a rifleman. When needed, how needed!" However this does not happen in the real world. I think they had to do this instead of having some actors has pilots and other as infantry. That could have made the show more interesting...having two sets of main characters that showed the war through different fronts and POVs...maybe if it ever gets remade.

  8. I loved this series as I also loved firefly. As I write this I am watching the series on my laptop. I actually like this series than the remake of Battlestar Galactica.
    The show does have its' faults as described by others the use of the 58th as ground as well as fighter pilots is a fundamental issue but nevertheless the group dynamic and interactions are well conceived and executed making the series highly watchabale. Even today.

  9. Just a quick note on the 'pioneering' aspect of SAAB's CGI content. While I am not explicitly in disagreement I would like to point out that Babylon 5 pre-dates this show by a year and also used CGI in it's 'space' scenes and battles. I loved SAAB and am not trying to denigrate it, but Babylon 5 was just as influential and ground breaking.

  10. You are correct, as someone who watched both back in the day, I should have known better. I do think that SAAB was more "mainstream" than B5, due to SAAB being on FOX and not PTEN. Thanks for the heads up

  11. My favourite episode were:
    Pilot episode
    The Angriest Angel
    Sugar Dirt

  12. Same for me, with Ray Butts as well. Love this show and miss it. FWS will be writing another piece on SAAB in the very near future