Irwin Allen, master of the disaster film and one of the preeminent purveyors of sci-fi television in the 1960s, offers a tantalizing preview of his special effects marvels to come in the 1970s with his 1961 adventure Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Strictly popcorn fodder, the film nevertheless is a fun viewing experience thanks to a top-notch cast of stars and sterling featured players, terrific special effects, and the Cinemascope format which was the perfect vehicle (no pun intended) for delivering the story of a massively long atomic submarine on a perilous mission which in some ways functions as a precursor to the effects of today’s global warming.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 4.0 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 2.0 DD, French 1.0 DD (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Run Time: 1 Hr. 46 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 10/08/2013
Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) is justifiably proud of his atomic submarine the Seaview. While showing off its marvels to a committee composed of psychiatrist Dr. Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine), disapproving Congressman Parker (Howard McNear), and Admiral Crawford (John Litel), the ship is bombarded with ice that seems to be sinking. On investigating they find the Van Allen radiation belt circling the Earth has caught on fire and threatens to turn the planet into a cinder in a matter of weeks. Admiral Nelson and his friend Commodore Lucius Emery (Peter Lorre) have devised a plan of destroying the burning belt with an atomic missile launched from the sub, but before he can get the go-ahead from the President, all communication with Washington is lost. The Admiral decides to act on his own much to the displeasure of his second in command Captain Lee Crane (Robert Sterling) and a competing scientist (Henry Daniell) who thinks the belt will burn itself out without anyone doing anything. Nelson has only sixteen days to get clear around the world to the Marianas Islands in the Pacific to launch the missile, but one peril after another (including a saboteur on board) slows down the ship’s progress at every turn.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Irwin Allen’s story which formed the basis for the screenplay by him and Charles Bennett spreads out the obstacles the ship must face throughout the film’s running time (a ravenous squid, an angry swordfish, the generator going out, fire, gas, a near-mutinous crew, a mine field, an octopus, an enemy sub shooting torpedoes) although by the last quarter hour, the perils topple one on top of the other making the denouement seem a bit rushed and more than a little forced. The identity of the saboteur (these kinds of movies always seem to have one) will actually be a surprise for first-time viewers, and that character’s demise gives the audience a double dose of satisfaction. The Cinemascope screen is perfect for the enormously long Seaview which sometimes extends even beyond the film frame, and the widescreen is also perfect for accommodating the large cast of characters who on quite a few occasions stretch from one end of the frame to the other. Allen’s direction is sure and solid, but there’s nothing showy about his helming, and there are occasional problems with pacing when the sailors are lying around in their room listening to a broadcast or waiting around for something to happen. Special effects were pretty state-of-the-art at the time, and they still hold up today for the most part (the blast of the Van Allen Belt being the only real letdown in the film apart from a fairly unrealistic squid).
For an adventure film, the performances are just fine with none of the stars outshining any of the others. Walter Pidgeon is certainly commanding as the Admiral, Barbara Eden and Robert Sterling make a cute romantic couple (and he gets to do most of the “gathering fury” acting in the film, and Joan Fontaine brings class to the role of the psychiatrist. Michael Ansara plays his religious fanatic more low key than is usual for this kind of role, much to his credit, and familiar faces like Regis Toomey as the ship’s medic, Peter Lorre as the Commodore, Howard McNear as the perpetually frowning congressman, and Frankie Avalon (who sings the ludicrously lush title song) as a chippy youngster make positive individual impressions. Mark Slade and Del Monroe, two of the Seabees, went on to appear in the subsequent ABC television series based on the movie.
The film’s Cinemascope 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. There really are no problems at all with the quality of this high definition presentation. Sharpness is striking and consistent throughout the running time of the movie. Color is nicely saturated and maintained wonderfully throughout with appealing and believable flesh tones. Even the deeply saturated reds of the inflamed Van Allen Belt are beautifully under control. Black levels are excellent, and contrast is consistently rendered. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 sound mix replicates what moviegoers of the time were likely hearing in the theater were they lucky enough to have a theater which offered a stereo aural experience. The well recorded dialogue is pretty much spread across the entire front soundstage but not with the same kind of vivid vocal separations into alternate channels that one can hear in other 4.0 Cinemascope soundtrack mixes on other Blu-ray discs from Fox. Music and ambient effects get a nice spread across the front soundstage with occasional spills into the rear channel. While there are a sizable number of booming sound effects in the film, the bass is not especially heavy in this mix.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea expert/author Tim Colliver offers an entertainingly enthusiastic analysis of the film identifying the actors and providing information on how effects shots were handled.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Isolated Score Track: The music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter is offered in a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix.
Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality (16:50, SD): film historians and filmmakers like Nicholas Meyer, Ray Harryhausen, Bob Burns, and Glenn Erickson discuss the history of science fiction films and relate how some of them uncannily presage events in today’s world.
Barbara Eden Interview (5:57, SD): the actress shares memories of making the film and working with people like Irwin Allen, Walter Pidgeon, and Peter Lorre.
Theatrical Trailer (3:12, SD)
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is still an entertaining if supremely innocent science fiction adventure yarn. This beautiful Blu-ray edition brings viewers a sterling picture and good sound mix with a nice sprinkling of bonus material. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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