Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Global Warming Edition – DVD Review

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Irwin Allen

Walter Pidgeon … Admiral Nelson
Joan Fontaine … Dr. Susan Hiller
Barbara Eden … Lt. Cathy Connors
Peter Lorre … Comm. Lucius Emery
Robert Sterling … Capt. Lee Crane

Release Date: June 5, 2007
Running Time: 105 minutes

The Movie:

The name, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is something of a misnomer. Based solely on the title, one would expect a movie about underwater exploration; perhaps an intrepid crew searching the unchartered depths of some sea. In actuality, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea has very little in the way of exploration; it mostly takes place inside a submarine, but it’s a race against time to reach their destination, with nothing in the way of exploration.

In a development you wouldn’t expect from a movie about a submarine, it seems the Van Allen Belt has caught fire and is slowly cooking the planet Earth. Fortunately Admiral Nelson has come up with a plan to use a precisely timed and fired nuclear missile to explode the belt harmlessly out in to space. Of course, it’s not nearly as simple as that. There’s only a small window of opportunity for the admiral’s plan to work and there some some elements who want to keep the Admiral from reaching his goal.

As you might have expected from the description of the ‘global warming’ problem, the science of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea isn’t exactly its strong point. The idea of the Val Allen Belt catching fire is pretty silly (though to the movie’s credit, it had only been discovered a few years earlier, so they probably didn’t know much about it) and there are some pretty obvious scientific goofs (like the huge chunks of ice sinking to the ocean floor). For the most part though, these mistakes are ignorable.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea could have easily been a formulaic, by-the-numbers, disaster movie. And in some ways, it is. There’s a definite sense of building tension throughout the movie though. As tensions begin the Admiral and the rest of the crew mount, and time draws short, there’s a genuine sense of uncertainty about how everything is going to unfold. In both early 60s science fiction and the disaster genre, you have to admire a rare movie where you don’t know exactly how everything is going to play out.

When area where Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is far from unique is its opening act. Like many other science fiction movies, it has a lot of information to convey to the viewer early on, particularly about the futuristic new submarine (the movie is supposed to be set in the mid-70s, ten to fifteen years into the future), Seaview. To do this, some visitors (and the audience) are given a rather lengthy, and exposition-filled pointing out all the various features of the submarine, from its mini-sub to the nuclear reactor, that you know well come into play later in the film. Literally everything from this sequence, even the aquarium, will be utilized later in the movie. It is important to introduce things in advance instead of seemingly pulling them out of thin air, but the length of the tour and the number of items (and crew members) introduced, makes it hard to care about any of it.

The number of characters is another problem with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The thing is there are so many characters needed to fill different functions (from operating machinery to dying in an accident to being a suspected saboteur) that it would have been hard to really trim down the list of characters by more than one or two names without having a negative impact on the story. At the same time, with so many characters it can be difficult to keep track of them all (especially some of the lower tier crew), let alone care about their actions.

Special effects in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea are a bit of a mixed bag. The underwater shots of the Seaview were probably really impressive in their day, but now they’re just okay. It still looks nice, but there’s never a moment where it isn’t obvious that you are watching a miniature submarine (somehow the sub seems even smaller than its 8 feet). The fire effect on the sky is neat though and the sets actually look like something you might expect to see inside a submarine in the not too distant future (if you were living in the 1960s anyway).

While the special features will try to convince you this movie has something to say about global warming, it doesn’t really. At best it deals with how people (and scientists) have a hard time agreeing over what the best course of action is, and that data can often be twisted to suit any one scientist’s goals. No matter how bad global warming may get, I don’t think we’re going to be looking at many of the same kinds of problems brought about as a result of the sky catching fire.

Despite its slow start and bloated cast, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is a rather well made sci-fi thriller; just don’t expect to glean some deeper message from it and you’ll be fine.

The Video
The movie is presented in 2.35:1. Some work has obviously been done to clean up the film and it pays off. The colors are really bright and the actors look good. Unfortunately, a lot of the backgrounds don’t look nearly as well and any large mono-colour surface tends to flicker a bit.

The Audio
4.0 Dolby Surround audio on this one. The sound is pretty good. Voyage has a very active musical soundtrack, but there’s never a problem hearing the dialog over the music and everything sounds as it should.

The Extras

Commentary by author Tim Colliver
Tim Colliver, the man who does this commentary, wrote a book on the making of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in the early 90s and, as such, is rather knowledgeable on the subject. He relays anecdotes from the filming, information on how certain effects were done as well as ways in which the movie differs from the novelization and the television series. It’s like watching the movie with a well-versed tour guide.

Isolated Score Track
Like the name says, this feature is here in case you want to watch the movie with only the musical score. While the music is nice, I’m not quite sure why you would want to do that. Perhaps you could dub in your own dialog or something?

Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality
This is a 17 minute featurette. The piece starts off talking about how science fiction comes about in relation to modern day events, using clips from a wide variety of science fiction movies. When it gets to talking about Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea specifically, it quickly becomes a piece on global warming (even including a list of things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment at the end). While I’m all for warning people about the dangers of global warming, this probably should have been broken into two separate features, one on how science fiction explores real world issues and one on global warming.

Barbara Eden Interview
A fairly short piece (6 minutes or so) of Barbara Eden reminiscing about her experiences making the film.

Original Props
Some images and quasi 3-D models of some of the props from the movie.

Theatrical Trailer

Galleries tend to be pretty dull by nature, but Voyage at least has a ton of information in its galleries. Not only are there galleries for concept art and on location shots, there are also movies posters and even the exhibitor’s booklet that was sent out to movie theatres when the movie was first released.

The Inside Pulse
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is a fun 60s sci-fi movie that has aged surprisingly well. Just don’t expect to gain some shocking new insights into global warming and you’ll be fine.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
(OUT OF 10)