Fox // 1964 // 818 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // March 8th, 2006
"Seaview's job is never finished. As long as there are destructive forces in the world, as long as there are secrets of nature to be probed...There'll be work for us. On missions just as vital and dangerous as this one." -- Admiral Nelson to Captain Crane upon completion of their first mission together.
Sssh...What I'm about to tell you is top secret, so step closer and swear you won't repeat a word of this to anyone. You just never know who might be listening, and there are foreign factions that would kill to know what I know. Deep beneath the innocuous-looking Nelson Institute of Marine Research is a dock carved out of solid rock. And in that dock? A super-secret nuclear submarine known as Seaview. Security is tight, but I'll try to get you on board. The Seaview is the brainchild of oceanographic genius Admiral Harriman Nelson and is run by Captain Lee Crane and a top-notch crew. And get this. Most people who know about the Seaview think it's just a marine research vessel. Actually, its purpose is to investigate and eliminate enemies of the United States. It's a spy ship -- and if things really get rough, they're packing a couple of nuclear missiles. So word of warning to all the Blofelds, Dr. Evils, and THRUSH agents out there: Stay out of the ocean, or you'll be taking a permanent Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
In 1964, Irwin Allen made his first foray into the world of TV when he shrunk down his major motion picture Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and turned it into a weekly series. Serious stage actor Richard Basehart took over the role Walter Pigeon (Forbidden Planet) played in the movie, and David Hedison (The Fly) took the Robert Sterling role as captain of the Seaview. Professional wrestler Henry Kulky came on board as Chief Curly Jones, but he died half way through the season and was replaced by Terry Becker as Chief Sharkey. Bland-but-beloved Bob Dowdell was also there as the sub's exec.
With Basehart being stalwart and Hedison being roguish, the crew of the Seaview was sent off on a whopping thirty-two missions in the first season. You'll get sixteen of them in this DVD set. But if you're like most people, you'll be surprised by what this set contains. This isn't monster-of-the-week Voyage. This is first season, and it's a whole 'nother animal.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was an ambitious endeavor back then -- even now! In 1964 when the series debuted, the most popular shows on TV were innocent sitcoms such as The Patty Duke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Munsters. But here was a large-scale adventure show with weekly special effects and loads of underwater photography, based around an enormous submarine set loaded with banks of dials, knobs, and blinking lights. At the time, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea's closest cousin was The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; that is because, despite what most people remember about the series, it started out as a spy show.
On the surface, the pilot episode "Eleven Days to Zero" seems to be your typical disaster movie tale. A tidal wave originating in the Arctic threatens to flood the world, but Admiral Nelson has a plan to stop it. All he has to do is detonate two perfectly placed nuclear charges at exactly the right moment, which will counter the force of the earthquake (which will in turn cause a tidal wave), robbing it of its energy and rendering it harmless. Quite enough plot in and of itself, but there's more! The Seaview's original captain is murdered by enemy agents and there's a German/Asian Communist conclave of villains (led by Werner Klemperer, Hogan's Heros) out to stop the sub from completing its mission! Why? So they can take over the world, of course! That taking over the world theme is an underlying thread throughout most of this season:
Disc One: Side One
* "Eleven Days to Zero"
The Mission: The Seaview is out to stop a cataclysmic tidal wave, but enemy agents want to stop the Seaview.
The Debriefing: A "Ticking Clock" plot with lots of action and excellent guest star Eddie Albert (Green Acres), this is a very exciting first outing. A
* "The City Beneath the Sea"
The Mission: Crane goes undercover to find out why ships are disappearing. He finds a city beneath the sea run by a madman who -- you guessed it -- wants to take over the world.
The Debriefing: An intriguing episode in that much of it takes place off the Seaview, but it is slow in spots. B
* "The Fear Makers"
The Mission: While following up on the demise of another sub, the Seaview crew become victims of a fear gas released by an enemy agent.
The Debriefing: A great look at the psychology of stress and close quarters. Terrific performance by guest star Lloyd Bochner with lots of thrills. A
* "The Mist of Silence"
The Mission: Crane and several of his men are held hostage in a plot to locate a Latin American president. Crane's dilemma: talk, or watch his men die.
The Debriefing: Another land-based episode that isn't as good as it could have been. Hedison just doesn't quite make it as a man stuck between a rock and a hard place. B-
Disc One: Side Two
* "The Price of Doom"
The Mission: A research team is killed by an overgrowth of plankton which is now taking over the Seaview.
The Debriefing: This episode is a portent of things to come with a monster of the week scenario. Still, it features nice performances by Jill Ireland and David Opatoshu. B
* "The Sky is Falling"
The Mission: The Seaview is sent to investigate a UFO that has landed in the ocean.
The Debriefing: Starts as an interesting tale about the usual UFO fight between government and science (the government guy wants to blow it up while Nelson wants to study it), but the story goes sideways when Nelson actually boards the ship and meets an alien. C
Disc Two: Side One
* "Turn Back the Clock"
The Mission: The Seaview stumbles upon an island where dinosaurs still rule the Earth.
The Debriefing: This episode is sort of an Irwin Allen inside joke. First off all, it features Irwin's favorite pet lizard, which you'll spot in almost every other Irwin Allen production! Second of all, there's an ingenious use of prior movie footage -- footage from Allen's The Lost World which not so coincidentally starred David Hedison. A little clever scripting puts Hedison and guest star Vitina Marcus (another Irwin regular) in the same costumes they wore in the movie so bits of footage could be used in this particular episode. C
* "The Village of Guilt"
The Mission: The Seaview goes to Norway to investigate reports of a sea monster.
The Debriefing: Though this appears to be a monster of the week scenario, it's really more of a modern Frankenstein tale about the consequences of man's messing with nature. This one's a little slow, but atmospheric. B-
* "Hot Line"
The Mission: The Seaview carries two Soviet scientists (one of whom is an enemy agent) on a mission to disarm an errant Soviet nuclear satellite.
The Debriefing: Michael Ansara (who also starred in the Voyage movie) guest stars, and he's always a delight. B
* "Submarine Sunk Here"
The Mission: When a control room crewman loses his cool, the Seaview hits a mine field and sinks to the bottom of the sea. Will rescuers arrive before the air runs out?
The Debriefing: A wonderfully claustrophobic and tense episode that rivals the great sub sunk movies such a Gray Lady Down. A favorite of mine. A+
Disc Two: Side Two
* "The Magnus Beam"
The Mission: Captain Crane plays James Bond once again in this story about a mysterious magnetic weapon used to blast spy planes out of the sky.
The Debriefing: A complicated spy tale with lots of crosses and double crosses but very little submarine action. B-
* "No Way Out"
The Mission: The Seaview is assigned to bring a Communist defector in out of the cold but the mission is complicated when the man won't leave without his wife.
The Debriefing: Typical defector tale, but with some nice twists and turns. B
Disc Three: Side One
* "The Blizzard Makers"
The Mission: It's snowing in Florida! You guessed it, it's another madman bent on taking over the world.
The Debriefing: When you get past the blizzard plot, this is a keen Manchurian Candidate-esque tale. B+
* "The Ghost of Moby Dick"
The Mission: The Seaview helps a famed scientist track down a giant whale.
The Debriefing: A very nice parable about how man is often undone by his obsessions. Add to that the talented June Lockhart (Lost in Space) and you've got a solid episode. A-
* "Long Live the King"
The Mission: It's "bah, humbug!" when the Seaview crew is forced to give up Christmas leave in order to escort a child prince back to his homeland after his father is murdered.
The Debriefing: This is my absolute favorite episode. First off, it's a Christmas story; I'm a sucker for those. Second, the cast: Michel Petit is inspired as the bratty prince while Carroll O'Connor (All in the Family) steals the show as a drifter who teaches the prince how to be a strong-but-benevolent king. Wonderful writing and great performances. A+
* "Hail to the Chief"
The Mission: The President of the United States is in need of secret surgery so the Seaview becomes a floating hospital with (you guessed, it!) an enemy agent on board.
The Debriefing: Points for originality. B
Disc Three: Side Two
* "Unaired Pilot"
Color version of "Eleven Days to Zero" with some small changes from the aired pilot. Amazingly crisp and clean looking.
* Bonus Materials
These are worth the cost of admission! The least of the bunch is a still gallery, but even that has some great photos that I've never seen (and I own more than 100 stills from the series). The "Home Movies" are just like those on the The Time Tunnel: Volume One box set, and they are incredible. Once again, we have 8mm home movie footage of Irwin directing the pilot movie. No sound (8mm, remember), but it really gives you an idea of the scope of the project -- particularly the snow sequences. More than that, it's just so neat to be able to see the work being done. I'm here to tell you that these days, no one works on a movie set in a suit and tie, but you'll see plenty of them in this old footage.
Finally, we have my favorite feature, the promotional reel that was used to get affiliate stations to pick up the show. This is a real riot. You've got Irwin Allen (New York nebbish) trying to look all cool and hip as he talks about his new series. But I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw the "scenes from upcoming episodes." Red Buttons is sent to Africa on a vital secret mission! Ooh, wow, except that the scene is of a very comedic Red Buttons running through an Arab market place with palace guards chasing him ala Aladdin. And wait, that other clip is David Hedison all right, but that's Jill St. John and Irwin's favorite pet lizard! These clips look suspiciously familiar...ah yes, it's more footage from The Lost World and Five Weeks in a Balloon! Talk about false advertising. I have this image of some station manager in Boise writing an angry letter to 20th Century Fox. "Dear Fox, You promised me Red Buttons and all I got was Carroll O'Connor. Please refund my fees."
Fox earns high praise for the box art on this DVD set: gorgeous melding of images of the two leads and the Seaview sub in varying shades of blue. Three snap cases fit into the cardboard sleeve with the cover art repeated on each. There are episode listings and synopses on the back of each case. Navigation is a clean, simple, non-animated graphic.
When looking purely at the first season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, I have only one complaint: the melodramatic presentation of the material. But in all fairness, that style of acting was quite common in the era and it really was a trademark of an Irwin Allen production. Allen was famous for wanting everything bigger, louder, and broader, so it shouldn't surprise me when Basehart bemoans the lack of sugar for his coffee as if it was a clear sign that the Earth was doomed.
"Come with me...come with me...on a voyage to the bottom of the sea..." Nothing like a Frankie Avalon sea chantey to brighten up one's day. Of course, Frankie only sang that song in the movie and not on the show (but hey, this is my fantasy and I'll have it any way I want!). Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is one of those shows from my childhood that filled me with glee to see after all these years. Though it appears to be a manly man's show, I know a lot of women who adore it. Well scripted, with heavy hitter guest stars, the oh-so-sixties spy plots, and men in uniform, lots of men in uniform...what more could a girl ask for?
Check it out and if you haven't seen it, check out Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea the movie. They're both real classics.
The court finds Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Vol. 1 not guilty. Close all water tight doors. Batten down the hatches and get ready to dive, dive, dive.
Review content copyright © 2006 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 818 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Unaired B&W Pilot (Eleven Days to Zero)
* Home Movie Footage from the Set
* Promotional Reel
* Still Galleries
* Irwin Allen News Network