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  Neptune Factor, The In Too Deep
Year: 1973
Director: Daniel Petrie
Stars: Ben Gazzara, Walter Pidgeon, Ernest Borgnine, Yvette Mimieux, Donnelly Rhodes, Chris Wiggins, Michael J. Reynolds, Mark Walker, Leslie Carlson, Stuart Gillard, Ed McGibbon, David Renton, Joan Gregson, David Yorston, Ken Pogue, Dave Mann, Frank Perry
Genre: Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Project Neptune: it's as exciting as it sounds, an undersea exploration endeavour which its director, Dr Samuel Andrews (Walter Pidgeon), has been fighting to keep afloat, so to speak, thanks to the powers that be not listening to his point of view. It's going ahead at the moment, and one of his staff, the Chief Diver "Mack" MacKay (Ernest Borgnine), is having reservations - not about the project but one of his divers who actually got into the underwater equivalent of a scuffle and now feels he will have to let the man go. Meanwhile, scientist Dr Leah Jansen (Yvette Mimieux) examines the findings with Andrews aboard the vessel Triton while the Sealab provides the material to be analysed. Or at least it does until there's a great, big earthquake...

The Neptune Factor appeared to be, to all intents and purposes, prolific producer Sandy Howard's attempt to recapture the magic of a bigger budget rival, Irwin Allen. Thus he more or less recreated a less lavish Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea for the Canadian industry and added a dash of disaster movie to it in the hopes audiences would respond, though in effect the reaction was more hostile than he would have wanted. It wasn't as bad as something like Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, but it was no Towering Inferno either, and many found themselves bored out of their tiny minds by the largely functional storytelling and a plot operating more as an undersea travelogue than ripsnorting escapade.

That said, should you adjust to the pace then you might find something oddly soothing to the experience of watching this, much like a visit to one of those aquarium centres that offer a tourist attraction in various places, which was just as well as the last half hour does indeed turn into a trip around an aquarium. Precisely as older science fiction movies relied on extreme closeups of selected creatures to make the impression that the characters were dealing with huge animals, so it was here, with a dinky minisub model puttering around a bunch of fish and crustaceans who obviously couldn't be less interested in appearing in a movie, and even resorted to eating the smaller fish when things got too dull. Still, as I say, in its way it could be quite relaxing to watch.

That lack of excitement translated to the actors as well, sure they sprang to life occasionally, but the overriding sense was one of unspectacular professionalism, with only one minor freakout when Dr Jansen flips a switch in the minisub to ensure they get to the ocean floor and her boyfriend who has been stranded in the Sealab, which has been knocked into a gorge by the aforementioned quake. In that way it was possible to discern something of 2001: A Space Odyssey, not because of the quality but because of making the potentially striking mundane and everyday, though in the case of the Stanley Kubrick film it was that tension that rendered his imagery striking anyway, and here it was all strictly low key, even the parts where we were meant to be awed by the visuals.

You would be more interested in those should there have been David Attenborough narration, but you had to make do with Ben Gazzara as Commander Adrian Blake, saddled with a Deep South accent for reasons best known to himself, and flown in to the Triton to take command of the minisub, he being quite the expert in these matters. There is slight friction between him and Jansen because every so often he'll point out they have to give up the search and she'll refuse to listen, but not enough to generate much in the matter of suspense since we know fine well that it's not the sort of movie to allow a bunch of people to expire for its grand finale. The problem here, well, one of the problems, was that if you had caught a glimpse of a hand moving the sub through the water much like someone playing with bath toys then you wouldn't have been in the least bit surprised, it really did look as if what budget there was had been blown on the watery footage at the beginning, and there may be heavy Borgnine involvement, but his stunt double was obvious. Music by Lalo Schifrin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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