Director: Irwin Allen
Fox Home Video

In 1959, Twentieth Century Fox made a great adaptation of Jules Verne’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH which was released to good reviews and excellent box office. In 1960, in an effort to cash in on the success of the 1959 film, Fox joined forces with producer Irwin Allen to do a color remake of the 1925 classic, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s THE LOST WORLD. The film was severely criticized for not being up to the original (mostly because live lizards disguised as dinosaurs were used in lieu of stop motion animation), however, it was a big box office hit, and Allen was again hired by Fox to do an original science fiction adventure and the result (co-scripted by Allen and Charles Bennett) was this entertaining 1961 star-studded (albeit absurd) epic.

The magnificent futuristic submarine U.S.O.S. Seaview is making its maiden voyage in the Arctic. On board are its designer Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon), his protégé Captain Lee Crane (Robert Sterling), Crane’s fiancée and Nelson’s secretary, Cathy Connors (Barbara Eden), trumpet player Lt. Chip Romano (Frankie Avalon), and Dr. Lucius Emory (Peter Lorre). Joining the crew, are psychiatrist Dr. Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine), Congressman Lou Parker (Howard Mc Nair…"Floyd the Barber" from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW), and Vice Admiral B.J. Crawford (John Litel).

No sooner is the Seaview on its way when heavy meteorite activity sets the Van Allen radiation belt (which encircles Earth) on fire. The resulting explosion turns the blue skies of Earth into a weird red glow which pushes the temperature to 173 degrees with no end in sight. However, before Earth is completely burned to a crisp, Nelson and Emory devise a plan to explode an atomic missile in Earth’s atmosphere in an effort to extinguish the flaming belt. Before the plan can be put into effect, Nelson faces a barrage of problems including a saboteur, a giant squid, a religious fanatic (marvelously played by Barbara Eden’s then husband, Michael Ansara), a minefield, and an attack by U.S. submarines trying to prevent the Seaview from launching the missile at the insistence of Nelson’s scientific rival, Dr. Zucco (Henry Daniell).

Producer Irwin Allen always had a penchant for emphasizing the more fantastic elements in his science fiction stories. Almost all scientific reality is thrown out the window in favor of pure spectacular entertainment. This concept served the producer well in his 1960s films and television series like LOST IN SPACE (1965-1968), VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1963-1967), THE TIME TUNNEL (1968-1969), LAND OF THE GIANTS (1968-1970) as all reality was chucked in favor of thrills and excitement. After the 1960’s, Allen would be hailed as “the Master of Disaster” with such genre classics of the 1970s as THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), the infamous THE SWARM (1978), BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979), and WHEN TIME RAN OUT (1980). With its theme of destruction and global annihilation, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA can be seen as a precursor to those disaster films of the 1970s.

As with almost all Irwin Allen productions, he would always stock the film with major star talent from all generations in an effort to attract as large an audience as possible. For example, THE LOST WORLD (1960) featured the great Claude Rains for the older set, while up-and-coming actors like Jill St. John and David Hedison appealed to younger audiences. In THE TOWERING INFERNO, Fred Astaire, Jennifer Jones, and William Holden were cast to attract audiences from Hollywood’s golden years while 1970s superstars Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and Faye Dunaway would attract younger, contemporary audiences. In VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, older Academy Award veterans like Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, and Peter Lorre were cast with younger actors like Barabara Eden (still four years away from I DREAM OF JEANIE) and Frankie Avalon. Television stars like Robert Sterling (TV’s TOPPER) and Michael Ansara (TV’s COCHISE) were cast to appeal to television audiences.

Although loaded with talent, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA does not really present a major acting challenge to any of the stars. They do as well as they can in their one-dimensional roles. The real star (as in all Irwin Allen films) is the miniature work and special effects and in this film, they are superb. From the moment the opening credits end, Allen has his Seaview explode from underwater with a majestic feel with Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter’s spectacular music in the background. The sets of the different compartments on Seaview are also beautifully designed and executed and many of the computer sets from Fox’s DESK SET (1957) and THE FLY (1958) have also been re-used. The Seaview itself is a magnificent looking model with a great glass nose in which the characters can view the wonders of the deep. Many readers of this reviewer’s age group (mid 30s) would most likely have owned Aurora’s beautiful model kit at one time or another!!!!

Fox’s DVD of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA seems to be the same as the excellent transfer done in 2000. The picture is sharp and clear and the colors are vibrant. The picture is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The audio is in English 4.0 Dolby Surround and mono English as well as a mono French track and a stereo Spanish track. What distinguishes this DVD from the 2000 release is the inclusion of several notable extras. These include an audio commentary by author Tim Colliver, a documentary entitled “Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality,” production art, production stills and original prop galleries and original exhibitor’s campaign manual, a poster and lobby card gallery, and an original theatrical trailer. Also included is an on-camera interview with Barbara Eden who is still absolutely gorgeous for her 70+ years and can easily slip into her old genie costume. She speaks enthusiastically about the late Irwin Allen as well as of her co-stars Walter Pidgeon and Peter Lorre.

Anyone seeing VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA will find it totally devoid of any scientific logic, but will be so totally caught up in the brisk pacing and action that it would be easy for a suspension of disbelief. After all, Irwin Allen was first and foremost a showman and this film is a showcase for his talent in that respect.

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(Joe Cascio)