Apparently unaware that, in sci-fi, it's usually the role of government agencies to put a lid on this kind of thing, the Ministry of Defence are completely relaxed about allowing press and public access to the discovery, which they lazily assume is a hoax. That just leaves brainy Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Kier) to do their job for them and insist that it should be kept under wraps. Assisted by several of the on-scene eggheads, most notably the lovely Miss Judd (Barbara Shelley,) he soon discovers that the craft holds a number of secrets which might have deadly implications for the human race.
Admirers of Nigel Kneale generally rate the original TV version over the Hammer adaptation, but the film is full of good things. Although not widely known to the general public, Andrew Kier is fondly remembered by Hammer fans, and there's certainly never a dull moment in his turn as the eminent professor. He thunders like Jehovah as he tries to talk some sense into the upper-class nincompoops obstructing his researches, but also brings an elbow-fondling tenderness to his moment with Shelley, another beloved Hammer veteran on her very best form here.
Kneale's screenplay occupies a sweet spot somewhere between horror and science fiction. The consultation of crumbling annals in ye olde local library (the site of the dig, it transpires, has been a locus of paranormal phenomena throughout the ages) is counterbalanced with orgies of knob-twirling as Quatermass and co attempt to investigate the alien relic with sophisticated audio-visual equipment. Personal traits emerge through an idiom of deft understatement and dry humour – the camaraderie of the boffins, Quatermass's mild flirtation with Miss Judd. Even the hostility of supercilious MOD man Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) is expressed in terms of frosty politeness. This makes the last reel, when all hell breaks loose and rioters take to the streets, all the more shockingly effective.
Visually, too, the film stands up very well in this newly restored print. True, when we finally get to see the aliens' home planet, it looks like footage from a lost episode of The Clangers, but Arthur Grant's Technicolor cinematography is sumptuous, and there are some impressive physical SFX involving spinning barrels, writhing cables and flying two-by-fours. Director Roy Ward Baker builds expertly from the muted, humdrum opening scenes, through the Omen-like chills of the middle section, to a lurid, near-apocalyptic ending. All in all, Quatermass and the Pit ranks as one of the most satisfying of Hammer's later movies, and deserves to be recognized as a gem of British science fiction.