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Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Blu-ray Review

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) movie poster Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Theatrical Release: July 12, 1961 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Irwin Allen / Writers: Irwin Allen (story & screenplay), Charles Bennett (screenplay)

Cast: Walter Pidgeon (Admiral Harriman Nelson), Joan Fontaine (Dr. Susan Hiller), Barbara Eden (Lt. Cathy Connors), Peter Lorre (Commodore Lucius Emery), Robert Sterling (Captain Lee Crane), Michael Ansara (Miguel Alvarez), Frankie Avalon (Lt. Danny Romano), Regis Toomey (Dr. Jamieson), John Litel (Vice-Admiral B.J. Crawford), Howard McNear (Congressman Llewellyn Parker), Henry Daniell (Dr. Zucco), Skip Ward (Crew Member), Mark Slade (Seaman Jimmy "Red" Smith), Charles Tannen (CPO Gleason), Del Monroe (Seaman Kowski), Anthony Monaco (Cookie), Michael Ford (Crew Member), Robert Easton (Sparks), Jonathan Gilmore (Seaman George Young)

Buy Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray Global Warning Edition DVD Double Feature DVD

Irwin Allen specialized in making a very specific type of picture: the feel-good disaster film. Allen's movies typically pit a good-looking ensemble cast against a doomsday scenario with minimal gloom. There would be casualties of the non-violent variety, but there'd also be action, special effects, and an original song. Much more fiction than science,
this brand of breezy diversion seems tailor-made for lazy Saturday afternoons, but moviegoers of all ages and dispositions would flock to such fare on any day or night of the week. Allen's success deservedly earned him the nickname "The Master of Disaster" and though we associate the genre with B-movies, his were sometimes critically acclaimed, peaking with The Towering Inferno's Academy Award nomination for Best Picture across from the likes of Chinatown, The Conversation, and winner The Godfather Part II.

By the 1970s, Allen settled into the role of power producer, not taking any additional credit on Towering or The Poseidon Adventure, whose action sequences he reportedly directed. But he had to climb to that position, beginning as a nature documentarian and developing into a jack-of-all-trades narrative filmmaker. Allen quickly gravitated towards sci-fi and fantasy, adapting novels like Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. After conceiving the story and contributing to the script for Joseph M. Newman's The Big Circus, Allen took a stab at directing his first original screenplay in 1961's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

In the mold of Jules Verne, this contemporary adventure takes us inside the Seaview, a state-of-the-art submarine that has been making headlines around the globe. The government-funded nuclear-powered ship is the creation of Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon), an unpredictable genius whose big ideas have been questioned and doubted before. Though newspapers dub his newest preoccupation "Nelson's Folly", the super-sub is very much in service. Our view of the vessel comes on the day that Admiral Nelson is offering a tour of his "expensive toy" to a number of guests holding the purse strings. Also along for the tour is Dr. Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine, of Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca and Suspicion), who is researching the behaviors of men under stress.

Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) is the mastermind behind state-of-the-art super submarine the Seaview in "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."

Stress levels rise when the ship surfaces and finds fire in the sky. A ring of flames dubbed Van Allen's Belt has encircled Planet Earth and it brings immediate climate change. The temperature is at 135 degrees Fahrenheit when the Seaview rescues civilian ice floe scientist Miguel Alvarez (Michael Ansara), who is lightly tanned from his extended exposure to the elements.

This fiery calamity has the world up in arms. Crowds assemble at the Vatican to pray. And government officials discuss how to proceed, after ascertaining that the temperature is rising exactly two degrees every 24 hours (you gotta love round numbers!). Once it hits 175 F, all of Earth will perish.

That gives Nelson and his crew sixteen days to sail to the Mariana Islands, where he and his scientific advisor Commodore Emery (Peter Lorre, looking much rounder and older than we're used to) have pinpointed the exact moment (4:00 on the dot!) when they can fire a nuclear missile into the heart of the Belt and immediately save humanity. Other renowned scientists object to Nelson's plan, but he sets off on the mission all the same, time being of the essence and all.

Naturally, the Seaview's journey is not without some obstacles. An extended underwater sequence finds sailors having to fight sharks and giant squids for no apparent reason. There's also an active minefield whose explosion destroys a mini-submarine and a cabin fire that nearly kills the sleeping Admiral. The latter episode raises Nelson's suspicions of a sabotage. Principled young captain Lee Crane (Robert Sterling) grows concerned with the Admiral's judgment, aligning with Dr. Hiller's diagnosis that this exhausting experience could be provoking delusions. As if that all wasn't enough to deal with, there's a near-mutiny by crew members wanting to spend the end of days with their families, torpedoes fired by ships sent out by the United Nations to stop Nelson, and a drastic rebellion by one fanatical passenger.

Lt. Connors (Barbara Eden), Dr. Hiller (Joan Fontaine), and Commodore Emery (Peter Lorre) get an up-close look at the underwater action occurring outside the Seaview's large windows.

What probably represented the pinnacle of cinematic excitement for many viewers back in 1961 today strikes us as stagey and quaint. Voyage appears to be a direct ancestor to modern disaster flicks like Armageddon and 2012. Whereas those movies are generally criticized for being hollow and manipulative, the passage of a half-century renders Allen's influential hit full of appeal.

Sure, the film's outlandish scenarios are easy to question. Its notion of realism is severely lacking. It is antiquated in a number of ways, from clearly being shot on a movie set to unimaginative CinemaScope compositions to unfolding primarily with dialogue.

Technical jargon abounds, meant to provide an air of intelligence. The showy set design puts meaningless lights, levers, and gadgetry on display. And yet, all these hokey elements seem preferable to what has supplanted them in today's disaster movies: the heavily-edited, jerky views of loud computer-generated explosions.

Voyage puts its modest visual effects on display as much as it can. Some of them, particularly the impressive matte work, hold up quite well. Others -- like Lorre's walk of a plainly rubber shark and another scene that seems indisputably shot in a fish tank with models and with inexpensive props playing the inexplicably sinking ice chunks -- remove any remaining veil of realism.

A movie like this may seem corny today, especially to those raised on Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich. But darned if Allen didn't know how to craft something with enduring entertainment value. As in his other works as producer, there is a central human element that keeps us invested and engaged. A skyscraper on fire and a boat turned upside down are creative predicaments, but Allen knew you needed well-defined characters to give the peril meaning. We get those types of characters here, even if some of their development is a bit clunky and calculated. For instance, the trumpet-playing Lieutenant Romano (pop singer Frankie Avalon, whose prospect of a serious acting career soon gave way to his true calling of beach comedies) is a bone thrown to teenaged girls. And because there's got to be some romance, Captain Crane is secretly engaged to the Admiral's secretary (a pre-"I Dream of Jeannie" Barbara Eden).

Because no submarine would be complete without romance, Captain Lee Crane (Robert Sterling) and Admiral's secretary Cathy Connors (Barbara Eden) are engaged to be married.

Voyage wouldn't be as fast and fun a viewing without such hackneyed touches. Its watchability stems as much from its cast of characters as its apocalyptic premise and sometimes passable visuals.

This film would bring Allen to a new medium. He would adapt it into a spin-off television series of the same name that would run on ABC for four seasons and 110 episodes. A year later, Allen would create the shorter-lived, but more iconic science fiction series "Lost in Space", cementing his place in TV's history books.

Like a number of other popular Allen productions, Voyage has been treated well by its distributor 20th Century Fox. They first released it to DVD in 2000 as a single-disc Double Feature with kindred '60s production Fantastic Voyage. Then in June 2007, both movies got souped-up new editions under the Cinema Classics Collection banner; Allen's movie was dubiously dubbed a Global Warning Edition. This week, both films made their Blu-ray debuts via Fox's Studio Classics line.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
4.0 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby 2.0 (Spanish, Isolated Score), Dolby 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: October 8, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Eco-Friendly Blue Keepcase
Still available as Global Warning Edition DVD ($19.98 SRP; June 5, 2007)
Previously released as Double Feature DVD with Fantastic Voyage (September 5, 2000)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea's 2.35:1 CinemaScope visuals look terrific in the Blu-ray's transfer. The element remains clean and completely void of imperfections. A few shots are slightly lacking in focus and there is that aged Technicolor look, but the picture quality seems to be as good as 1080p and restoration technology allows, which may inspire fans to upgrade.

The default soundtrack is a 4.0 DTS-HD master audio mix presumably staying pretty faithful to the film's original exhibition. It too satisfies, with dialogue remaining crisp throughout and the music nicely opening up to the rear channels.

For some reason, "Fantasy to Reality" takes a sharp turn from science fiction to environmental tips. Actress Barbara Eden reflects on one of her more notable film roles in this undated interview.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Gladly, this Blu-ray retains nearly all of the bonus features from Fox's 2007 DVD, with videos remaining in standard definition.

The extras begin with "Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality" (16:50), a featurette that celebrates the genre in print and on film and how it relates to our planet. It features clips from sci-fi movies from over the years (from Metropolis to The Day After Tomorrow) and some remarks by screenwriters, stop motion effects legend Ray Harryhausen, film historians, scientists, and "Mr. Sci-Fi" himself, Forrest J. Ackerman. Voyage is one of the more prominent of the dozen or so films excerpted in it. It's more general and a lot more environmentally preachy than most DVD extras (which it clearly wasn't produced as). But it's a welcome inclusion and not just for illustrating how good the Blu-ray's feature presentation is.

Next up comes a 2000s interview with Barbara Eden (5:57), whose "Play All" option seems like a no-brainer, but whose short snippet titles make her remarks a little easier to understand. The actress fondly recalls working with Allen, her castmates, and sci-fi sets and effects.

Two alternate soundtracks bolster the disc's replay value.

The isolated score plays the film exclusively with music, starting with the Frankie Avalon-performed title song and proceeding with the score by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter. It's more of a listen than a viewing as the large stretches without music are completely silent and chapter stops aren't used to close the gaps. This doesn't warrant additional remark beyond the obvious recognition that it's always a nice feature to get.

An audio commentary is provided by Tim Colliver, author of a 1992 making-of book. He speaks amiably about what's onscreen, knowing plenty about the movie, the cast, and the ensuing TV series. He dissects the film's effects, tricks, and techniques, shares characters' expanded histories (or lack thereof) from the show and novelization, and reflects upon its warm reception. There is a bit of dead air throughout, but when Colliver talks, he says something worth hearing.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea's trailer shows off some of the film's limited underwater action. This graphic design serves as the static menu for the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Blu-ray.

Finally, Voyage's original theatrical trailer (3:12) promotes the movie with bold on-screen text, underwater imagery,
and extended showcase of its cast.

Failing to make the cut here are navigation-based extras: the original exhibitor's campaign manual and galleries of posters, lobby cards, production art, production stills, and original props. One gathers that such content is not easily converted to Blu-ray, but it's a shame for it to be lost.

The menu plays loud score over a static graphic of unknown origin. The disc both supports bookmarks and resumes playback. For some reason, though, I found I needed to kill my Blu-ray player's Internet connection, or else playback suffered from the sluggishness, skips, and clipping that Fox BDs from a couple of years back used to experience (that was easily fixed in the same way).

The eco-friendly keepcase isn't joined by a slipcover or any insert.

The cast of Irwin Allen's "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" assembles outside, where Van Allen's Belt has turned the sky red, to decide what to do next.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is unquestionably dated, but that factors into its considerable charm. Like the other Irwin Allen movies I've seen, this early '60s adventure is not the height of sophistication, but it is consistently enjoyable in a way that few modern disaster films are.

While I would recommend that you see this film whatever way you can, Fox's Blu-ray is stellar and substantial enough to consider adding to your collection even blindly.

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Related Reviews:
New: From Here to Eternity Fantastic Voyage House of Wax A Letter to Three Wives Seconds
Joan Fontaine: Rebecca | Peter Lorre: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea The Man Who Knew Too Much
1960s on Blu-ray: Ship of Fools Planet of the Apes Lawrence of Arabia Barbarella The Apartment Babes in Toyland
Walter Pidgeon: Funny Girl Big Red Rascal | Written by Charles Bennett: The 39 Steps
Journey to the Center of the Earth Armageddon Titanic The Boatniks Island at the Top of the World

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Reviewed October 11, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1961 20th Century Fox Pictures and 2013 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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