20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Richard Basehart, David Hedison
Extras: Interview, Blooper Reel, Still Gallery
Settling in to review this mid-60s Irwin Allen concoction, I prepped myself to kick back and enjoy an old-fashioned TV cheese fest. I couldn't have been in for a bigger shock. Oh, I certainly enjoyed this. But "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" is by no means the lame-brained drivel that we've all come to associate with Allen, the mastermind behind such guilty pleasures as "Lost in Space" and "Land of the Giants." I fully expected to see parades of eight-legged sea monsters and man-eating beasts, but this was not the case. During its first season, "Voyage" boasted some fantastic writing and turned out to be an intelligent adventure series with tension to spare. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment now unveils the second installment of Season One for fans to savor.
Following the underwater escapades of Admiral Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart) and Captain Lee Crane (David Hedison), "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" is based on Irwin Allen's 1961 film of the same name, which starred Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine and…Frankie Avalon? Aboard the famed Seaview submarine, Nelson and Crane conduct oceanic research for the government, using the most advanced computers and technology available. Aiding other marine explorers and scientists whenever they can, the Seaview crew regularly find themselves thrust into dire circumstances, from deadly attacks by poisonous jellyfish to threats of nuclear war. Taking the helm during every situation, Nelson and Crane courageously battle their enemies by any means necessary. Whether it be psychological warfare or all-out brawls, nothing keeps the Seaview down, and our heroes always come out on top.
Richard Basehart and David Hedison are perfectly cast as the level-headed seamen. They share a definite onscreen chemistry that lends a perpetual believability to their roles. Much of the reason why the show works so well is because we are thoroughly invested in these two men and how they react to each predicament. On hand to provide able support is a crew of equally talented supporting actors, including Bob Dowdell as Lieutenant Commander Chip Morton and Del Monroe as the dependable Kowalski. Never stopping to wink at the camera, these actors capture the steadfast authority needed to sell their characters.
"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" ran from 1964 to 1968. Reportedly, the series took an artistic dive after this first season and became the typical "monster-of-the-week" extravaganza that such an admittedly ridiculous title would suggest. This was also the only season to be filmed in black and white, which I feel adds to the moodiness of the series. Expressive shadows and low lighting are utilized well to create an atmosphere of dark foreboding. Of course, there are a few duds among these episodes that ask us to accept some pretty far-out ideas, but we are presented with enough thoughtful chapters to keep us glued to the show. The visual effects are primitive and, at times, downright laughable by today's standards, but luckily they are not the main emphasis.
Volume 2 of this season includes 16 episodes spread over three flipper discs. Each episode lasts roughly 50 minutes. Disc 1 contains: "The Last Battle," "Mutiny," "Doomsday," "The Invaders," "The Indestructible Man" and "The Buccaneer." Disc 2 contains: "The Human Computer," "The Saboteur," "Cradle of the Deep," "The Amphibians," "The Exile" and "The Creature." Disc 3 contains: "The Enemies," "The Secret of the Loch," "The Condemned" and "The Traitor."
Among the best episodes are "Doomsday" and "The Human Computer." In "Doomsday," the United States is put on nuclear alert after a foreign country launches a string of missiles. This means that the Seaview may have to release their own missiles in response, but one member of the crew is having serious doubts about whether or not he can willingly set them off. This episode, which no doubt reflected some of the anti-war views of the 1960s, has particular relevance today, pondering the ongoing conflict between remaining true to one's country and standing up for personal beliefs. "The Human Computer" finds the Seaview making its first automated voyage controlled by a computer. Captain Crane goes along as the sole occupant to observe the experiment, but he soon discovers that he may not be alone. In my opinion, this was by far the most suspenseful episode, keeping me on the edge of my seat the whole time.
One of the fun aspects of viewing these episodes was spotting the famous guest stars. Among them were Leslie Nielsen, Henry Silva, Tom Skerritt and George Sanders. The most outrageous guest appearance was by none other than Robert Duvall, a virtual unknown at the time. He appears in the episode entitled "The Invaders," playing a 20-million-year-old humanoid creature who threatens to destroy the current human race and reproduce his own! A pre-"Mary Tyler Moore Show" Ed Asner also turns up, sporting an awful European accent, as an ex-premier who plans to engage his country in a war with the United States.
Getting back to the DVD, the transfers look great with sharp images and excellent contrast, beautifully displaying the wonderful shadows. The episodes are preserved in their original fullframe formats. There is some good grain evident that, in my opinion, enhances the experience and helps add a nostalgic quality. A few scratches and damage marks appear here and there, but they are not distracting. I may have spotted some minor edge enhancement in a few places. The A-sides of each disc are dual layered, while the B-sides are single-layered. Overall, I was very pleased with the quality of the transfers.
Audio was also impressive in an English stereo track and the original mono. Naturally, it's not as dynamic as the presentations for more recent series, but it sounded very clean with no background hiss, and the dialogue was always clear. Music and sound effects were nicely arranged and were never overly harsh. An alternate Spanish mono track is included, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Special features were a little scarce, but they were fun just the same. First up is a brief still gallery, apparently displaying a series of promotional comic book covers. I'm only assuming they were comic books, as they seemed to represent different issues and were marked 12¢ at the top (yeesh, that was definitely before my time).
Up next is a four-and-a-half minute blooper reel that certainly displays the lighter side of our leading actors. These bloopers are uncensored and amusingly contain a few choice phrases.
Lastly we have a five-minute interview with David Hedison. Mr. Hedison looks remarkably the same after more than forty years, and he had some interesting things to say in the limited time. He commented on how he got the role, what he thought of his co-star and how he views the series now. He even talked about the blooper reel! Oddly, the short interview is divided into chapters, but the viewers may (and should) opt to play all.
I cannot express clearly enough how surprised I was at the level of complexity and intelligence to be found in this series. "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" is an entertaining show that keeps your attention and offers some thought-provoking ideas decades after its TV run. It is well-acted, thoughtfully written, and now lovingly preserved by 20th Century Fox. I'm sure the fans don't need me to convince them to purchase this second volume for their collections. For anyone else who enjoys classic sci-fi adventure, hop onboard the Seaview for some old-fashioned thrills.