OK let me just start by saying, this films opening credits sequence looks so cool. The way they have rendered the movies title, text and colour wise, is super sweet. I realise this is a minor thing but I notice these little things and this just looked nice to me, kudos.
Anyway so what the heck is this all about? The title could be mistaken for a hardcore fantasy flick or a hardcore space set sci-fi flick. It is in fact a sci-fi movie all about deep sea exploration and research, dare I say a kind of very early version of ‘The Abyss’…kinda. But don’t get too excited because this movie isn’t that awesome. The plot is set deep deep beneath the ocean waves (Off Nova Scotia, north Atlantic) where a small team of scientists research undersea earthquakes. Ironically the undersea lab they are all living in gets hits by an earthquake which sends the lab tumbling down a deep ocean trench. Luckily just before this happened a few team members were leaving the lab for their leave, so now they must go back down to try and save the remaining stranded team members. Time is of the essence.
So this is an early 70’s movie and boy can you tell. All the blokes look like amateur porn stars and their hair is…lets just say dated. Its really quite amusing to see all these blokes clearly with receding hairlines but trying their best to pretend otherwise. But the women don’t get off that easy either, its quite hilarious to watch Yvette Mimieux’s hair change from scene to scene. She clearly has curly/wavy hair and has it straightened here, so in one scene you can see its been straightened (with the usual static electricity side effects). Then in the same scene but seconds later it might be all over the place as if someone just ruffed it all up.
The technology is also fun to observe, indeed its incredible to think we could do such things back then with such outrageously dated equipment (same with the moon landing). The small submarine the team use looks quite agreeable, in other words it looks like what you’d expect a small deep sea sub to look like these days, but chunkier. Its all the internal controls which makes you smile, the array of big coloured buttons, huge metal gear-like controls and levers, massively dated VHS looking recording equipment and monitors etc…Its all so corny looking but also so heartwarming. Of course much of it may be pure fantasy and artistic license, I don’t know what the cockpit of a deep sea sub would look like so….
But here’s the thing, from the start of this movie you kinda assume its gonna be a realistic take on deep sea research. Apparently producer Sanford Howard did a lot of research himself to try and show a highly realistic vision of oceanographic research, aquanauts and the danger they encounter. For the most part this all goes well…right up to the point when they go down the deep sea trench and discover gigantic monster sized fish, anemones, crustaceans etc…All of a sudden we go from a pretty technical looking flick with real threats and real science, to an all out fantasy flick with giant crabs. Worth mentioning the fish are actually tropical yet the ocean is the Atlantic, hmmm. The crew do mention the bottom of the trench being warmed by undersea volcanoes though, but still, hmmm.
Truth be told this was a lifeline for the movie because up until that point everything had been going pretty slowly. But do the various giant sea entities help matters? Well again not really because nothing actually happens. They go down the trench, they encounter giant creatures, watch them through their viewport and that’s it. The giant fish merely swim past or have a nose, the crabs and lobster merely walk around, sea anemones react as they do and that’s it. One crab does try to push the sub around a bit, as does a fish, and apart from losing power for a short time that’s about the height of the excitement you get folks. Don’t get me wrong its still kinda fun in a cheesy, Doug McClure kinda way, but its also underwhelming. Really wanted someone to venture outside and get eaten.
Effects wise its a mixed bag. All the internal sub sets and gear looks really good, very authentic. The equipment the crew use, their outfits, terminology, the oceanlab, ships on the surface etc…its all spot for the time. They do in fact use real minisubs, ships, cranes, undersea labs etc…its all real footage and at the start they clearly shot underwater for a time (using stunt doubles). As the movie proceeds underwater for the exploration things continue to look good within the minisub, I have no complaints here. Apart from the obviously dated equipment it all looks really neat and nicely claustrophobic. The problems start when the crew discover the giant sea creatures, which are actually real creatures not made up monsters (alas). All they have done here is shoot real footage of real creatures and fish, then blown up that footage and used rear projection against the actors to give the impression the fish are huge. At the same time they also used small models of the minisub against real sized fish which looked so flippin’ cute. Remember when you’d put little toys into your goldfish tank…there you go.
Another major issue I had with the movie is how the oceanlab got to its final resting place in the deep sea trench. There was an earthquake and we see the lab topple down the side of the trench, OK. So the lab will presumably just go straight down and crash at the bottom, supposedly implode too it was mentioned but that never happens for some reason. When the minisub ventures down into the trench the crew discover an undersea world, they’re travelling for quite some distance along this trench floor apparently. When they eventually find the lab it feels like they’ve being searching for miles and miles, so how did the lab somehow go all this way? Also when they find the lab the survivors are outside fighting giant eels…but but the pressure??
The movies poster is epic, it drew me in, I knew I had to see this. Alas the movie doesn’t quite live up to said poster, something I have grown accustomed to with these old movies. But nevertheless the movie is still a fun time it must be said. Part of this is down to the hilarious performances from the cast. Ben Gazzara’s over acting as he tries his very best to be this tough, macho, über cool, smooth talkin’ deep voiced sub Commander. I haven’t seen anyone try to look so cool in front of the camera for some time, loved it. Then of course we’ve got the legendary Ernest Borgnine as one of the oceanlab crew, a chief diver. What can I say? The man is epic, he looks his usual gruff self and what’s left of his hair literally goes everywhere when its wet, brilliant stuff. I just adore how bad hair was back in the 70’s. Naturally you can’t have an adventure movie without a bit of young totty to show off, hence Yvette Mimieux and her flowing locks.
If you like classics like ‘Fantastic Voyage’ then this movie will be right up your particular alley of enjoyment. Yes it might be hokey as hell, kinda lethargic and the threats aren’t really that threatening. Yes you aren’t gonna feel that much tension or excitement with this movie, but its still a good old fashioned romp.