Previously, Ian Sales took us on five trips to the Moon - this week, he's returned to help us explore the squishy depths of our own world. Ian's latest book is Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, the third in the series that began with the BSFA-winning Adrift on the Sea of Rains. Ian's blog covers all things science and fiction, and you can suggest your own favourite films (underwater or not) with him on Twitter @ian_sales.
Outer space has always been science fiction’s first choice of setting, but there have been a few sf films set in inner space. In fact, there was a flood of them in 1989. Well, perhaps not a “flood” - there were in fact six. But you don’t often see that many films on the same subject released in a single year - well, not unless they’re about Robin Hood. Or set on Mars. Or something.
Four of the films below I first saw around their time of release. I can’t remember if I watched The Abyss in the cinema, but the others were almost certainly on video (an ancient technology which comprised a moving strip of magnetic tape sealed inside a plastic cassette). Except Sphere, which I must have seen on DVD. And The Neptune Factor, which I only saw for the first time earlier this year.
The Neptune Factor, Daniel Petrie (1973)
There was a small trickle of underwater films and television series during the late 1960s and early 1970s, probably inspired by Jacques Cousteau’s televised exploits. In 1969, Janet Leigh and Tony Randall set up home, with kids, in an underwater habitat in Hello Down There. On television, there was Primus, which ran for a single season in 1971. And in 1973, Ben Gazzara and the submersible Neptune saved the day in The Neptune Factor. The movie starts off well enough - a group of divers are working on a research programme 350 feet beneath the surface, based out of a tiny habitat. Then a seaquake shakes the habitat loose and it falls from the peak of the seamount on which its sited, down its side and into… the abyss! The only vessel capable of finding the missing habitat, and the two divers trapped inside it, is the submersible Neptune, captained by stone-faced grump Gazzara.
As the Neptune descends into the abyss, it apparently turns into a little model and is subsequently menaced by several giant tropical fish, which are all plainly wondering what is this little plastic thing in their tank. Happily, Gazzara and crew find the two divers, who seem to have survived the pressure without getting squished. They bring them inside the submersible, without decompressing them - fortunately, they don’t explode messily - and everyone is happy. This is a remarkably silly film, and about as scientifically accurate as, well, as a science fiction film.