At one point in Hollywood, Irwin Allen’s films were a genre unto themselves. His big adventure and disaster epics had casts full of diverse stars from a variety of entertainment fields, aimed at both younger and older viewers alike. Built around big ideas and high concepts from science fiction, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fits perfectly in that mold. The Van Allen Belts have caught fire and are quickly burning the world up; only the fearless crew of the world’s most advanced submarine have an idea on how to solve the problem and save the Earth in the process. Starring such names as Barbara Eden, Frankie Avalon, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lorre, and Joan Fontaine, Voyage is a tense, imaginative ride that recalls the writings of Jules Verne.
Admiral Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) invented the Seaview for the American government, the world’s most advanced atomic submarine. It is an obvious rip-off of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, practically an underwater city given the space inside it and size of its naval crew. Serving under the Admiral are Captain Lee Crane (Robert Sterling) and his personal secretary, Cathy Connors (Barbara Eden). Along the way they pick up a psychiatrist, Dr. Hiller (Joan Fontaine), and a few others for various reasons.
It would not be an Irwin Allen production if something big wasn’t in danger, and this time it is the entire world in a doomsday scenario. The Seaview’s crew being oblivious while under the sea, the Van Allen Belts around the Earth catch fire and begin to quickly raise the surface’s temperature. Talk about quick global warming, Admiral Nelson theorizes the Earth will hit unbearable temperatures within a month if something isn’t done to stop the Van Allen Belts from overheating. Nelson takes his theory to the United Nations, which quickly gets disputed by opposing scientists. Nelson runs out of the meeting without approval for his plans, forging ahead in the Seaview to launch an atomic missile from the Marianas Trench before it is too late.
After a necessary but somewhat clunky first act, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea gets going as its story follows the crew’s desperate attempt to reach the launch position under the sea. Then it becomes a more intense psychological drama, as crew members begin to bicker amongst themselves and the stranded passengers have their own oppositions to Admiral Nelson’s goal. The most interesting character is easily Miguel Alvarez (Michael Ansara), a stranded scientist the Seaview picks up. He practices an extreme form of Christian fatalism, preaching it is God’s will the world should end. The ideological conflicts he has with the rational Nelson and his top aides is a thoughtful exploration of the issue, at least for a big-budget Hollywood movie. On top of the varying conflicts, a running subplot about a saboteur gets more and more focus as the narrative draws to a climax.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is a great bag of fun from a different era of Hollywood blockbusters. It has more depth than that term implies today, handling its characters with more nuance and emotion. The model FX were considered amazing for their day by audiences and mostly hold up under today’s more demanding scrutiny. The ’60s had a hopeful optimism about the power of science to solve problems and this movie surely reinforces that notion.
The 1961 CinemaScope film has received a solid transfer from immaculate film elements. Aside from some minor deviations to its intended color palette, the color rendition is fairly accurate. There might be a slight teal push but colors are mostly stable and unfaded, though short of the brilliant saturation seen in the best film transfers. A touch of ringing and aliasing in a few select shots are the only indications of any undesirable processing. This transfer gives a nice, film-like vibe suitable for Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea.
It does not appear this is a new transfer or remaster, but the same one used by Fox for the 2007 DVD release. That does not make it bad because the film scan was likely state of the art for that time, handled by Deluxe Entertainment. The soft cinematography by Winston Hoch does not exude an overly sharp, detailed image. Contrast and black levels are perfect, avoiding poor-looking shadows and crushed details.
Grain has not been filtered on any level and the color timing is restrained given the current state of affairs in that regard. The film elements are in great shape, virtually no dirt or debris mars the 2.35:1 composition. Some minor limitations in the original photography such as mumps and optical distortions rear their head, but the practical FX and model work still hold up quite well in 1080P resolution.
Fox has bestowed the video encode with top-notch parameters. The 104-minute main feature averages 37.49 Mbps on a BD-50. That very high rate allows a perfect video encode, unencumbered by compression artifacts and uncannily replicating the native grain structure.
Its score and music were one of Voyage’s more important elements, as teen idol Frankie Avalon sang the movie’s theme song which opens the film. The orchestral score becomes important during the underwater scenes, as the other sounds go completely quiet in the ocean. The 4.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is a fine representation of the movie’s original 4-track, stereo mix. The audio practically sounds like it was recorded yesterday, the acoustics are impressive for a 1961 recording. A number of sonic cues originate from the surround channels, enveloping listeners in a well-constructed surround mix. The dialogue can get a little thin and reedy at times, but is still intelligible at normal volumes.
Fox has also provided the isolated score track in DD 2.0 form, at 224 kbps. Other audio options include Spanish DD 2.0 and a French DD mono mix. The optional subtitles are: English (SDH), Danish, Finnish, French, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish. They display in a white font, kept inside the 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
Twentieth Century Fox has reused here the supplements from their “Global Warming Special Edition” DVD. Aside from the isolated score, this is a typical set of extra features.
Commentary By Author Tim Colliver – Colliver was the author of the book “Seaview – The Making of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and provides a solo commentary. He is particularly knowledgeable about the entire franchise, comparing and contrasting this theatrical version with the 1964 television series and novelization during his discussion. Some of his comments about the production are fairly interesting but there is too much dead air and has less interesting things to say about the movie itself. Not a great commentary except for diehard fans.
Science Fiction: Fantasy To Reality (16:50 in upscaled SD) – A featurette focusing on science fiction’s pioneers and how they’ve affected the genre on film, beginning with Jules Verne. It nicely includes clips from older Sci-Fi films and features a number of talking heads. It does strangely veer into discussion of global warming.
Interview With Barbara Eden (05:57 in upscaled SD) – This 8-part interview has star Barbara Eden recounting her experiences with Irwin Allen and his films.
Original Theatrical Trailer (03:12 in upscaled SD) – The vintage trailer is in relatively good shape and one of the better made ones from its era.
Isolated Score Track – An excellent special feature that I wish more studios provided on their releases. It’s only presented at 2.0 Dolby Digital but still a welcome addition for soundtrack enthusiasts.
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