Many people know Irwin Allen as the innovator behind projects like “Lost in Space,” “The Time Tunnel,” “Land of the Giants,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and “The Towering Inferno,” but before all of those came a little film called “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” In a time when imminent destruction was all the rage in science-fiction, Allen decided to throw another one on the heap with his story of a submarine crew commanded by Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) and Captain Lee Crane (Robert Sterling). Not long after the launch of their new sub, a ring of radiation around the Earth ignites and begins to raise its temperature a couple of degrees per day. Nelson has the radical, but supposedly sound idea of firing a missile at it from a specific place and at a specific time, which would push it away from the Earth. Finding it too dangerous, the UN disagrees with the plan, forcing Nelson and his crew to go on a rogue mission to carry out the missile launch. They face many dangers on the way, but with time ticking down, they can’t afford to let anything hold them back as they attempt to save the Earth.
“Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” has an interesting premise, but the problem lies in giving the crew something to do on their way to carry out their mission. You would think there would be enough tension already what with them being a hunted ship, in addition to the stress of being humanity’s last hope, but instead Allen feels the need to fill the story with rather random events that act as mere distractions on the way. The crew must deal with a minefield (who put that there?), a saboteur (a subplot that could have been better if explored further), a religious fanatic (random hardly begins to describe it), and not one, but two encounters with giant squids. Luckily the film has its positive elements as well. The fantastic cast includes Walter Pidgeon, Robert Sterling, Peter Lorre, Joan Fontaine, and Barbara Eden, all of whom give fine performances. There are also the film’s visual effects to consider. They may not be particularly impressive when watched today, but you have to remember that a lot of what they pulled off was hard to do back in 1961. Plus some of it is even good for a laugh thanks to a high level of campiness. Just try not laughing at the squids. Unfortunately, these elements aren’t quite enough to override the slack pacing of the narrative, which is dragged down thanks to a “one thing after another” structure. Better integration and more logical events would have helped it immensely. It’s not terrible, but it’s a voyage where you’ll more than likely wish you’d gone elsewhere.
The film is presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that makes the film look fresh and new. You’d hardly believe it was over 50 years old after seeing how much care 20th Century Fox put into its restoration. When compared with the footage from older versions of the film seen in the special features, the difference is night and day. The 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is likewise fantastic from the dialogue to the score to the sound effects. All in all, there’s nothing to complain about in either area.
Commentary by Author Tim Colliver: An informative commentary track from the author of a novel about the making of the film. He shares insights into how some of the effects were done, as well as facts about its history. It’s definitely worth listening to if you’re looking to learn more about the film.
Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality Documentary: This featurette starts off interesting, talking about Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and a little about the history of science-fiction, but it eventually strays into something of a PSA about saving the Earth through better living habits.
Interview with Barbara Eden: An interview with the star as she recalls working with Irwin Allen, Walter Pidgeon, and Peter Lorre. It’s brief, but her reflections are somewhat interesting to listen to.
Isolated Score Track: For those who enjoy the score, you have the option to play the film with it being the only audio.
Despite “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” looking and sounding amazing, plus the inclusion of a worthwhile commentary, the release is still held back by the film itself. It’s worth noting that the film spawned a TV show of the same name in 1964, lasting for a whopping 110 episodes. It’s funny because the film feels rather episodic in how multiple random events are thrown in to test the crew. Perhaps TV was exactly where this concept belonged. If the longevity of the show is any indication, it would appear so.
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This review is based on a copy of the Blu-ray received for reviewing purposes.