Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1961 USA)

To those who were reared on pre Star Wars sci-fi, it’s hard to grasp the complaints of the modern audience about old time genre flicks and the effects that reside within. Before George Lucas took sci-fi/cinema watching to a different level, involving pacey violence every other frame, mucho explosions and bloated CGI effects: audiences were happily catered for by solid stories, character development and some inspired special effects (for their time). Enter Irwin Allen’s Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, which boasts all these points mentioned.

That the film was turned into a television series that ran for 5 seasons (1964-68) is arguably its biggest legacy. For at the time of its release the critics gave it a very mixed response, but the public made it a hit. Made for roughly $2 million it comfortably made $7 million at the box office to justify Allen’s faith in the movie. I admit that I was put off a little bit by the beginning of this film – and especially by the title song sung by Frankie Avalon, which seemed to set this up as some sort of light comedy or romantic adventure. It’s not comedy, and while there’s a bit of romance – between Captain Crane (Robert Sterling) and his fiancé Cathy (Barbara Eden) – this basically stands up as a fairly tense and exciting sci-fi adventure.

No doubt the science behind the movie is implausible. A meteor shower sets ablaze the Van Allen radiation belt around the earth, quickly escalating our planet’s temperature, and Admiral Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) comes up with a scheme to fire an atomic missile into the belt to extinguish the flames before the heat extinguishes the world. The world opposes his plan, but he orders the submarine Seaview to head for the firing point. Along the way the crew face all sorts of challenges, from a religious fanatic who convinces much of the crew that the end is near, to a potential mutiny from that portion of the crew who want to spend their last hours with their families at home, to various underwater and dangerous sea creatures, to sabotage, to attack by another sub trying to stop them. There’s a lot packed into this. Along the way, Crane and Nelson themselves have differences over the correct course of action.

The main thing wrong with this film is that it was made in colour with too much money. Some nice grainy black and white film stock, a cast of relative unknowns, and it would have been just about right. But in full-colour widescreen with all those big-name (if aging and relatively inexpensive) performers it’s just embarrassingly overproduced. There’s no disguising that the fact that the story is a load of old cobblers. Not only is Admiral Nelson a top scientist as well, he plans to launch the nuclear weapon in the face of other scientific evidence that would suggest the annihilation of mankind would result from his actions. The cast must have rushed through this for the paycheck. And they certainly wouldn’t have needed Viagra for any reason–they are already as stiff as a board. The scenes in the UN are hilarious, and when the Admiral says “I don’t listen to the UN, I only listen to the President of the USA”, you can’t help but wonder…was this movie recently shown in the White House?

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