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Glitterball, The (1977)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Glitterball, The (1977)
35mm, 56 minutes, colour
DirectorHarley Cokliss
Production CompanyMark Forstater Productions
ProducerMark Forstater
ScreenplayHoward Thompson
Original storyHoward Thompson
  Harley Cokliss
CinematographyAlan Hall

Cast: Ben Buckton (Max Fielding); Keith Jayne (Pete); Ronald Pember (George 'Filthy' Potter); Marjorie Yates (Mrs. Fielding)

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Two boys befriend a stranded alien in the shape of a little silver ball and help it to return home.

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This popular Children's Film Foundation effort is usually recalled as some sort of precursor to Steven Spielberg's ultimate friendly alien tale E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (US, 1982), although it's unlikely Spielberg had ever seen or even heard of The Glitterball, given the low-key distribution and promotion of CFF output. The villainy of the adult authorities versus the innocence and purity of children - the emotional key to Spielberg's magical movie - is largely absent from this more straightforward action/adventure, in which the alien glitterball's nemesis is a petty thief rather than the heartless, unthinking bureaucracy of the armed forces.

The Glitterball is not even an innovative tale in itself, merely the latest effective update to an ongoing CFF tradition. A series of films, including Supersonic Saucer (d. S.C. Fergusson, 1955), The Monster of Highgate Ponds (d. Cavalcanti, 1960) and the popular CFF serial Danny the Dragon (d. Pennington Richards, 1967), saw kids protecting and rescuing visitors from outer space from unfeeling adult authority figures. These were themselves fantasy extensions of the 'kindness to animals' theme seen in CFF films like The Last Rhino (d. Henry Geddes, 1960).

This earthbound piece of science-fiction doesn't require much in the way of special effects, but what it does have is modest but effective. Tricks such as backwards filming and stop frame animation are used to bring the hungry glitterball to life.

The film's timing was fortuitous - The Glitterball was initially released in 1977, but the release of Star Wars in the UK in January 1978 ushered in a wave of popularity for anything in the genre, to the CFF film's benefit. Direct links to George Lucas's sci-fi series were made when director Harley Cokliss and effects man Brian Johnson both worked on the second Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back (US, 1980), with Cokliss as a second unit director.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. On the loose in Woolies (3:29)
2. First contact (3:04)
3. Balls to the rescue (3:58)
CFF: An Introduction