The Glitterball (1977)

The Mothership!
The mothership!

In the UK two boys make friends with a stranded alien that resembles a small, metal ball. They try to help the silvery being return home, but have to deal with a crook called George “Filthy” Potter. A mothership eventually arrives and it disgorges a whole swarm of alien metal balls to deal with Potter.

Bad guy Potter gets rolled away by the Glitterball's buddies!
Bad guy Potter gets rolled away by the Glitterball’s buddies!

This low budget British kid’s flick, made for the Children’s Film Foundation, features an extraterrestrial that looks just like a metal ball bearing. This silvery alien is hunted by the military and likes to eat a lot! As so often happens in these CFF movies, the main villain is a small-time criminal (played here by Ron Pember), but there’s never any real threat: it’s all very child-friendly.

Max (Ben Buckton) and Pete (Keith Jayne)
Max (Ben Buckton) and Pete (Keith Jayne)

FX-wise, in many scenes the Glitterball is just a small, metal ball rolled along the floor, but for scenes where, for instance, it gobbles-up some food, stop-motion animation is used.

Glitterball's got the munchies!
Glitterball’s got the munchies!
The Glitterball prepares to eat a banana...
The Glitterball prepares to eat a banana…
The Glitterball: you can't get a simpler-looking alien creature!
The Glitterball: you can’t get a simpler-looking alien creature than this!

THE GLITTERBALL was directed by Harley Cokeliss, who’d made the non-science-fiction movie THE BATTLE OF BILLY’S POND the year previously, also for the Children’s Film Foundation. Harley went on to be second unit director on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980), then directed flicks like DREAM DEMON (1988), BLACK MOON RISING (1986) and WARLORDS OF THE 21ST CENTURY (1982).

Pete reads a copy of poster magazine SCI-FI MONTHLY
Pete reads a copy of poster magazine SCI-FI MONTHLY

Brian Johnson did a lot of the special effects on THE GLITTERBALL, which was quite a coup for such a cheap production. Brian came on board after Harley, through a mutual friend, met up with Brian, who was supervising the model and effects work on Gerry Anderson’s SPACE: 1999 at the time. Brian was happy to help out, but needed Gerry’s okay to do so. Harley met with Gerry at his Bray Studio offices and Gerry generously gave his blessing to the project. Brian and his crew then created flying scenes of the mothership and made a working model of the Glitterball’s own min-spacecraft, complete with lights and an opening hatch.

The hatch of the Glitterball’s mini-spacecraft opens...
The hatch of the Glitterball’s mini-spacecraft opens…

Barry Leith, who’d worked on the British children’s TV series THE WOMBLES, did the stop-motion animation.

Barry Leith animated sequences such as when Glitterball eats some fruit
Barry Leith animated sequences such as when the Glitterball eats some fruit
The novelisation of the film
The novelisation of the film

THE GLITTERBALL was recently released on DVD by the BFI as part of a triple bill of Children’s Film Foundation movies, which also includes SUPERSONIC SAUCER (1956).

BFI DVD
Trend Video VHS cover
Trend Video VHS cover
A close-up of the Glitterball’s mini-spacecraft
A close-up of the Glitterball’s mini-spacecraft
The mothership hovers high in the sky
The mothership hovers high in the sky

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