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Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea - Global Warming Edition
Irwin Allen sold cheap goods, as far as his early Sci-Fi fantasies went. The Lost World has a lousy reputation, Five Weeks in a Balloon is a real stinker and this soggy sea adventure never earned much respect either. But Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea possesses an indelible charm thanks to a goofy story and special effects both imaginative and colorful. The Fox Cinemascope production was the perfect air-conditioned summer break movie to eat popcorn at, as the incredibly cool submarine Sea View glided under the surface of the ocean. Allen gave his name cast a soggy script to wade through, a story full of logical and scientific holes. Ten year-old kids didn't mind a bit.
For all of his crass idiocy, Irwin Allen was an early proponent of upscale genre pictures, a gambit that became the norm after Star Wars a decade later. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea interrupted the flow of low-budget exploitation movies with a studio production boasting color, flashy special effects and star names well past their prime. Following the patented 'kitchen sink' screenwriting method, Irwin Allen and Charles Bennett's story starts with a Jules Verne / Captain Nemo rip-off title and adds an end-of-the-world ecological catastrophe. The futuristic submarine was apparently designed at the GM works in Detroit ... a glass-bottomed (nosed, actually) excursion craft with late-fifties tail fins. The 'scientists' on board do double duty as Naval officers and hold the triggers of a nuclear arsenal ... in case The Bottom of the Sea won't talk, I suppose.
Variety called the film a "a crescendo of mounting jeopardy", a fair description in that the script piles one emergency onto another. We almost expect Peter Lorre to throw his arms up in despair, howling, "Not an indescribable sea monster attack now ... we just escaped a nuclear sub attack!" The on-board drama re-hashes a ten-cent version of The Caine Mutiny, with the Admiral accused of losing his marbles. While the obnoxious psychiatrist (Joan Fontaine) offers unwanted and ignorant opinions, ship's Captain Lee Crane (Robert Sterling) maintains a gotcha list on the Admiral's eccentricities and bad decisions, waiting for the right 'Strawberries Incident' to relieve him of his command. Somebody is messing with the nuclear pile, setting staterooms on fire and rattling the Admiral so that he makes real mistakes, like cruising into an underwater minefield. It's interesting that the sub has a picture-window front end, but no lookout posted to actually watch where the fershlugginer boat is going.
Fussy Peter Lorre is wasted in a role that has him mumbling his dialogue while trying to elbow himself into other people' scenes. Barbara Eden serves coffee and struggles to pass through those raised portways in a skirt three sizes too small. Allen shows his opinion of her acting talent by saving his only non-eye level, non-boring interior shot for a CinemaScope close-up of her derrière gyrating to goldbrick Frankie Avalon's trumpet music. Eden's husband Michael Ansara wanders about cradling a puppy and mumbling deranged prophecies about the end of the world. The annoying radio announcer with the Jersey accent is none other than our producer Irwin, saving a buck. After looking at commercial TV images of fires everywhere on the globe, they should have inserted a local commercial for barbecued baby back ribs!
The sets look pretty cheap, with a swimming pool for sharks on board even though the sub frequently cruises at a 30-degree down angle. The electronics in the bridge are just a lot of blinking lights, including the matter-transmitter from Fox's The Fly, inherited from Desk Set. Yes, it does shoot sparks while the crew lurch and stagger about, as if unaware that boats might pitch and roll. They must surely experience a little mal de mer whenever the Sea View does its show-off, give-everyone-the-bends crash surface maneuver, lurching a hundred feet into the air.
L.B. Abbott's effects include some marvelous master shots of the sub cruising majestically under the fiery surface, and nearing the U.N. building on an East River roasting in temperatures upwards of 135 degrees (it eventually gets to be 173). According to his son, who I met and conversed with on a picket line, Technicolor expert Winton Hoch also helped light the effects setups to get the beautiful color contrasts. The big sub model had plenty of problems, the basic one being that the cool-looking manta ray- like 'wings' up front weren't particularly hydrodynamic. The sub had to be pulled on wires not to steer 'up' and as it filled with water it tended to list to port. But it looks great anyway. The sub chase scene isn't very convincing (Eiji Tsuburaya's implosion effect from Atragon is far better) but the scene in the minefield with the tiny mini-sub is rather well done. Unfortunately, the big climax is botched because the crucial missile launch is under-visualized. The movie ends far too abruptly.
Anybody who's seen Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea will choke at the idea of the film representing anything serious about Global Warming. This is the movie where ICE SINKS, which tells us how scientific it is. The Van Allen belts are tiny particles way out in space, where there's no oxygen to let anything burn. And the crew's radiation badges are a real hoot -- by the time they glow red, the bearer has already received a lethal dose.
All of these inanities are part of the film's charm -- but I doubt that Al Gore will applaud the Global Warming tie-in for this DVD release!
Fox's Cinema Classics Collection Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Global Warming Edition is another schedule-filling reissue masquerading as a special edition with a purpose. The previous release was a double bill with Fantastic Voyage, a film that lends itself much better to sp ed exploitation. Voyage has a slightly improved transfer and a welcome isolated music track. Fox's new habit of featuring music-only tracks is a great idea; if they'll put a Bernard Herrmann stereo iso mx on a hoped-for Garden of Evil disc, they have my blessing to inaugurate a branded line called Fabulous Super Duper Cinema Almost Classics.
Author Tim Colliver provides the feature commentary, offering comparisons with the novelization of the show. He's completely uncritical of anything to do with VTTBOTS and likes to explain special effects in detail. The featurette is Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality, the first half of which gives a rather meandering view of the Sci-Fi movie genre with comments by luminaries like Forrest Ackerman, Ray Harryhausen, et al. The main appeal is a selection of clips from the rare 1930 Fox musical Just Imagine. The featurette then settles into a quick examination of the Global Warming phenomenon using clips from shows like Voyage and The Day After Tomorrow only tangentially. Looking like a million $$ and still perky enough to be a genie, Barbara Eden appears in a long series of interview responses. She has mostly nice-talk generalities to say about the Voyage experience and her lunches with Lorre and Pidgeon: "They were so funny!" The art and photo extras include some preparatory visual ideas for the Sea View that envision a much less interesting sub. The insert liner notes are 100% original publicity baloney.
I remember reading my Dell movie comic of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea until the paper dried up; I missed the first release of the film and stared at the comic's representation of the submarine for hours on end. It was wide like a Cadillac and it battled a tentacled dragon, not a garden-variety octopus. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was the perfect infantile underseas adventure. With two or three thousand minor changes, it really ought to be remade for today's kiddies.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Global Warming Edition rates:
Supplements: Commentary by Tim Colliver, featurette Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality, interview with Barbara Eden, galleries of production art, stills, props, trailer, press book, posters, lobby cards.
Packaging: Keep case in card sleeve
Reviewed: June 7, 2007
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