If you know what you are getting into Captain Video Master Of The Stratosphere is a very enjoyable watch. Back in the good old days, movie theatres ran a few news clips, a couple of serials, and a cartoon or two before the main feature. Captain Video was brought to the silver screen by Columbia in 1951 to capitalize on its very successful run the DuMont network, home of The Honeymooners and various Jackie Gleason shows. This is episodic science fiction adventure at its finest though it has the usual weaknesses of the genre and of the time.
Serials usually had very low budgets and fairly mundane sets and special effects. Captain Video Master Of The Stratosphere is no exception to that rule. Still, the special gun the captain and his sidekick Ranger carry, which looks like a gun with a trumpet hat on it, does look cool, as do all the other gadgets and doodads he and the villains use. Serials also tended to stretch a plot line as long as they could so evil and of course mad scientist Doctor Tobor (George Eldredge) gets to fool Captain Video (Judd Holdren) for quite a few shows and escape quite a few times before our hero catches on and catches him. No sci-fi serial would be complete without cool inventions involving invisibility rays, spacial communication, rockets, explosions, weird creatures from outer space, scientific sounding words and stuff, and so on and Master Of The Stratosphere has that in spades.
The basic premise of this serial is evil Vultura (Gene Roth) of the planet Atoma is not only content with being the despot of neighboring planet Pharos but has his eyes set on Earth. To accomplish this he enlists the help of Doctor Tobor but has to contend with Captain Video, his trusted sidekick Ranger - kind of makes the guy sound like a dog but anyways - and all the other rangers on the planet. This being a low budget affair, the bad guys are dressed like extras in a Genghis Khan movie and the poor folks of planet Pharos fare no better costume wise. You know you are on Atoma when everything is filmed through a red lens and you know you are on Pharos when everything is filmed through a green lens. Of course, Vultura has evil robots he sends after Captain Video but these minions make the Tin Man in Wizard Of Oz look like a technological marvel. A little harder to swallow is the black and white cartoon animation used to show rockets, asteroids, and so on.
Still, it is easy to see why the Captain Video series was such a hit and why the movie Master Of The Stratosphere was such a cool serial. VCI Entertainment, which specializes in the DVD mastering of this kind of thing and all sorts of B movies in general, did an absolutely great job in restoring this serial to Dvd. Just about every scene is crystal clear, the menu selection shows some care and originality, and there is even a well-written insert that walks you through the history of the Captain Video series.
The only caveat is the annoying VCI semi-transparent cookie that shows up on the bottom right hand of the screen. Oh well, it's the only thing that bugged me so might as well mention it.
Captain Video Master Of The Stratosphere is really interesting though a bit long but will definitely meet the expectations of knowledgeable fans of the genre.