Thursday, March 02, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964)

(This covers the initial disc of the first season set of the TV series.)

To the extent that Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is remembered, since I don’t think it has played much on TV over the last decade or two, it is in probably in its color, monster-of-the-week incarnation, when the show was a goofy toss-in-the-kitchen-sink sci-fi campfest.

Created by producer Irwin Allen, and adapted from his feature film of the same name, the program followed the same path as Allen’s Lost in Space: It started as a black and white, and comparatively ‘realistic’ series (at least compared to the complete craziness that was to come), before going to color and outright insanity in the second season. In Lost in Space it was Carrot Men, in Voyage it was scientists turning into giant underwater monster, whose cardigan sweaters conveniently grew along with them.

In the first season, though, Voyage was more typically a Cold War espionage show, reflecting the then giant vogue for spy series. There are sci-fi elements found, but they tend to be of the advanced drone plane, underwater city sort of thing. No mummies loose on the boat, as we saw later. In fact, with action taking place in foreign ports and given the emphasis on intrigue, the first shows often reminded me of nothing more than (very) dumbed down versions of the superior Patrick McGoohan show Danger Man, a.k.a. Secret Agent Man.

The setting of the show was the Seaview, the damn coolest movie submarine ever. Designed by Admiral Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart), the Seaview was publicly a non-military research vessel, but (at least in the early episodes of the show) in actuality a weapon against the shadowy enemies of Freedom. This included an unnamed organization featured in the first episode, which was presumably meant to be an on-running adversary, although I don’t think things much turned out that way.

These baddies clearly were Communist in nature, although the show never explicitly spelled this out, so I guess the bad guys could be viewed more as a generic SPECTOR kind of operation. However, I kind of couldn’t help noticing that one senior henchman looked a lot like Lenin.

The first episode, Eleven Days to Zero, is basically a pared down redo of the theatrical movie. A series of colossal earthquakes threatens to destroy much of mankind. Nelson proposed to explode a nuclear device at a fault line at the North Pole, which should dissipate the quakes. (And remember, this is by far the more ‘realistic’ science you’re apt to see in an Irwin Allen show.) Against him are the baddies, led by a literally kept-in-shadows Blofeld knock-off, who wants the destruction to occur because, uh, bad stuff is good for bad guys.

The bad guys ambush some of the crew, and kill off the Seaview’s captain. With the clock running, manly Captain Lee Crane (David Hedison, the doomed scientist from the original The Fly) assumes the post. Also on hand is the guy who will be in charge of the nuke, played—and pretty well-by guest star Eddie Albert. He has a history with Crane, for the obligatory dramatic tension. Various action stuff occurs, including a drone plane dropping depth charges on the Seaview, a shark attack, and a fight with a giant rubber inflatable squid. I don’t want to blow the ending, but the Earth is saved.

In the second episode, The City Beneath the Sea (a title Allen recycled for an unrelated TV pilot a few years later), Crane goes undercover in a Greek fishing village to discover what happened to several destroyed ships. It turns out to be the work of a madman who’s built the titular community.

The Fear Makers involves two scientists (Edgar Bergen [!!] and TV perennial guest star Lloyd Bochner) conducting stress tests on the Seaview crew as the latter attempt dangerous deep sea experiments, duplicating ones that destroyed an earlier advanced sub and crew. Bochner, meanwhile, is actually a spy, and uses a “fear gas” on the crew to make sure the experiments fail.

The last episode on the disc is The Mist of Silence, which refers to a new, albeit non-lethal, chemical weapon. The Seaview remains parked off the shore of a South American country, as Crane tries to extricate a popular democratic political figure held captive by a Commie dictator. He is aided by revolutionary Alejandro Rey (the male star of TV’s The Flying Nun), who secretly considers the prisoner a traitor and who actually plans to murder the guy, not save him.

Of the four shows, the sci-fi elements are nominal (for instance, the Flying Sub has not been introduced yet), and the Seaview itself often takes a backseat to land bound espionage stuff. The boat itself is spectacular, and while the footage of it is mostly recycled from the movie, it still looks great. Seriously, I’ve always loved this boat.

One evident problem, though, is that many shots (or the same one or two, used over and over) show the Seaview from underwater as it glides along right under the surface—presumably because the prop boat—the primary one was six feet long—was by moved by an unseen, over-the-water rod—when according to the script the boat should be in deep water. This happens quite a lot. Second, it’s hard not to notice, especially when watching the shows back to back, that the Seaview always seems to be going past the same rock formations when it dives, no matter where in the world it’s supposed to be.

While the first episodes are atypical for what the show eventually became, it seems like the second disc (which I haven’t rented yet) will feature a lot more of the monster action that the program is known for. Still, the first disc isn’t bad time-wasting stuff, assuming you don’t mind the more spy-oriented action.

By the way, the show had some great theme music, too.


At 10:22 AM, Blogger Marty McKee said...

VOYAGE aired on the Sci-Fi Channel for awhile and it was seen in syndication for many years (I believe WGN in Chicago used to run it?), but, yeah, it hasn't been nearly as popular as LOST IN SPACE or even THE TIME TUNNEL, IMO.

Me, I love LAND OF THE GIANTS best. It has probably the worst science of any Allen show (which is saying a lot!), and its characters are direct ripoffs of the LOST IN SPACE roster, but I love giant props. What can I say?

VOYAGE is a pretty decent show, and in terms of quality, I think it's the best of the four Irwin Allen series.

At 2:18 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Oversized props are cool, but as a kid I grooved on monsters, and like I said I've always loved the Seaview (although I couldn't understand why they didn't install seat belts, since monsters where always grabbing the front side fins and tossing the bridge crew around), so Voyage was by far my favorite Allen show.

I really can't wait for the second season to come out, as that's when things really started getting wackier.

At 6:18 PM, Anonymous KurtVon said...

Wacky indeed. The episode that stands out most in my mind is when the crew faces off against Blackbeard's Ghost (who appeared and disappeared with one of pretty much the only two sound effect Irwin Allen ever used). If I remember correctly, they defeat him with a laser.

Let me repeat that: the futuristic submarine crew defeats Blackbeard's Ghost with a laser.

Even at the tender age of eight I knew something was wrong with that plot.

At 10:32 PM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

You're right about the theme music. I can still here that wonderful theme (complete with radar pings) decades after I last saw the show.

I don't remember the show much, other than its sheer goofiness.

At 6:09 AM, Anonymous wjl2 said...

I recall fondly the first seasons of both Voyage and Lost in Space, mostly for the reasons you state. The problem with the occasional replays on various stations, is that they often don't show the black & white episodes, which are really the only ones I'm interested in. My father used to opine that when a TV show went color it seemed like the people doing the show got intoxicated by the color aspect and forgot about everything else. I don't know if it's true, but these two series are good props for that argument.

- Bill

At 6:25 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

I can definately see how some might prefer the earlier, (comparatively) more serious seasons of LiS and VBS. The tonal change was pretty major, and Allen tossed out any idea of scientific fidelity when the shows went to color.

Blackbeard wasn't the only disappearing adversary the crew of the Seaview faced; I seem to remember a time traveling guy who used a pocket watch to appear and disappear on the boat. (If he was shifting time, wouldn't he have ended up in the deep ocean?)

I'm sure some of LiS's teleporting aliens also were featured at some point. As Kurt notes, there was a very definate continuity in Allen's sound effects, including that "boiiiing" one when something disappeared.

Aside from Blackbeard's Ghost, the Seaview also saw an assortment of aliens and time travelers, a maurading gorilla, a mummy, lava men, an evil leprechaun, a yeti, a werewolf and a lobster man. And that's a very imcomplete list. That was during the third and then final fourth season of the show.

Say what you will for how insane the show was, it remains ten times as entertaining then the supposedly more sophisticated SeaQuest DSV, which even when it eventually tried to go the goofy route just couldn't pull it off.

And of course, all those '60s TV shows just had terrific guest casts, full of familiar faces, like Vincent Price.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger baby copernicus said...

Though I give kudos to the original, I must admit that I still prefer the spin-off, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF URANUS.

Yup. Never old.

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Governor Breck said...

Not to be a nit-picky douchebag or anything, but it's SPECTRE, not SPECTOR. The SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, which is the greatest acronym ever created.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

We can't stand nitpickers at Jabootu! Must people obsess about every little mistake?!

At 12:32 PM, Blogger Keith said...

We used to play "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" back when we were kids. Funny thing is, no one really wanted to be Richard Basehart. Everyone wanted to be Crane or, weirdly enough, Kowalski.

That crew fell out of their chairs even more than the crew of the Enterprise.

At 2:00 PM, Anonymous twitterpate said...

Possibly those two series are at least partially responsible for the growth of legislation that now make seatbelts mandatory?

Seriously, I think it shows the difference in mindsets between that era and today, when small children must be virtually hermetically sealed in place to travel in cars. I can see the set designer now - "Yeah, so, all the characters will be repeated thrown around the set, which is loaded with LOTS of sharp edges... What's your problem with that?"

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous yate corsair said...

almirante nelson


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