Friday, March 1, 2013

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Another movie that's returning to the Fox Movie Channel lineup in March is Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. It's airing today at 1:00 PM, but don't worry if you don't read today's post until later in the day. You have another chance to catch the movie tomorrow at 9:30 AM, and then Sunday at 4:00 AM. (There are also several airings in April.)

Walter Pidgeon stars as Adm. Harriman Nelson, the designer of the Seaview, the newest and best submarine in the US Navy's nuclear fleet. At the beginning of the movie, he's putting the sub through its paces up in the Arctic, when something surprising happens: pieces of icebergs are breaking off and "raining" down on the sub below. This is, to put it mildly, highly unusual. The reason for the icebergs breaking up is even more unusual. Solar flares or something have caused the Van Allen radiation belts (which had only been discovered a couple of years before the movie was released) a couple thousand miles above the earth to catch fire! It's a problem that could doom mankind to a fiery death, and nobody knows how to solve it!

So, the scientists of the world have been brought together by the United Nations to figure out what to do, and understandbly, they can't reach any agreement, since this is a problem they've never seen before, and there's no way to do experiments. But, the scientists that the political leaders of the world consider the "best and brightest" minds, tend to think that the fire will burn itself out, and that mankind should be able to survive until this happens. Adm. Nelson, on the other hand, has a different idea. He thinks he can use the missiles on board his ship as a sort of fire extinguisher, but to do so requires getting to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest point in the ocean, at a precise time to fire the missile. It goes without saying that the scientific establishment thinks this is cockamamie, and may only make the problem worse.

Adm. Nelson, for his part, sets off for the Marianas Trench, with the navies of the world sending subs after the Seaview to try to prevent Adm. Nelson from carrying out his plan. Adm. Nelson has his old friend, Commodore Emery (Peter Lorre) along, who supports Nelson's scientific belief. Many of the crew, however, aren't so certain, led by the ship's commanding officer (Robert Sterling). Joan Fontaine plays a psychologist who had come aboard to study the stress submarine crews face, and God knows they're going to get a lot of stress on this mission. Barbara Eden was along for eye candy in Five Weeks in a Balloon, which I recommended yesterday; she's here as well, playing Nelson's secretary who is also the fiancée of Sterling's character. And for the teens, there's not Fabian, but Frankie Avalon.

The movie is scientific nonsense for the most part. This does not, however, mean that the movie can't be entertaining. It recycles a lot of clichés about ship- and submarine-bound films, to be sure, and there are also some terrible effects, notably with the giant squid. Some of the plot points are also badly telescoped. A point is made of making certain everybody on board the Seaview has a radiation detector clipped to their shirt, so you know at some point one of those detectors is going to indicate a fatal dose of radiation poisoning. Still, as with yesterday's Five Weeks in a Balloon, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is one of those popcorn movies: sit back with a bowl of popcorn and prepare yourself for an implausible by entertaining enough ride.

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