The U.S.O.S. Seaview approaches the United Nations

Disclaimer: Films listed here may be terrible, but they must have at least one scientifically interesting idea, however badly they may exploit that concept.


~The Time Machine (1960)
Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux, Sebastian Cabot, Tom Helmore, Whit Bissell, Doris Lloyd
C-103 mins.

“If that machine can do what you say it can do, destroy it, George! Destroy it before it destroys you!”
“What have you done? Thousands of years of building and rebuilding, creating and recreating so you can let it crumble to dust. A million years of sensitive men dying for their dreams … FOR WHAT? So you can swim and dance and play.”
“Which three books would you have taken?”
“Mister Filby, do you think he’ll ever return?”
“One cannot choose but wonder. You see, he has all the time in the world.”

Time travel: Is it really possible? Depends on whom you ask (Kip Thorne says yes, Perez Hilton is neither one way nor the other). Beautiful art design, superior photography, excellent musical score, competent acting, but the script seems more like a Reader’s Digest version of Wells’ short novel with a few minor but significant alterations. The special effects were impressive for this eleven-year-old, but they don’t withstand closer inspection these days. Nevertheless, I’ll always have a fondness for this one.

The movie’s charm lies in its Victorian setting and the awe and wonder that carries over from Wells’ classic story. The pioneering spirit of the movie is still enthralling, but it gets a bit silly when Taylor turns into a stock hero, rescuing a beautiful blonde Eloi (Yvette Mimieux) and battling with the chubby green Morlocks whose light-bulb eyes blink out when they die. Although it’s quaint when compared to the special-effects marvels of the digital age, the movie’s still highly entertaining and filled with a timeless sense of wonder. — Jeff Shannon

~Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961)
Anthony Hall (Sal Ponti), Joyce Taylor, John Dall, William Smith, Edward Platt, Frank DeKova, Berry Kroeger, Edgar Stehli, Wolfe Barzell, Jay Novello, Paul Frees (narrator)
C-90 mins.

“Empty! Just as all the others. The bees have deserted us.”
“Each morning of my life I have awakened to the singing of birds. Now only silence greets the day. Perhaps it is instinct, call it what you will, but they sense something, something evil. A strange breeze now rises with every outgoing tide, blowing dead leaves out toward the open sea. The humblest insects seem to know it carries them, not to destruction, but to survival. Even the seeds forsake their mother soil. All nature senses that the end is near. Man alone turns deaf ears to nature’s warnings.”
“When Columbus discovered America, a series of mysteries arose to confound the scholars of Europe. Here are two continents, completely isolated from each other, yet they simultaneously developed similar cultures. For example, the Mayans measured time on the same principle as the Gregorian calendar of Europe. They used the same signs of the zodiac, the same decimal and mathematical system. They valued silver and gold, using both for jewelry and barter. Another mystery was the banana plant, a native of Asia that cannot be grown from seed, yet Columbus found it thriving in the New World. Elephants at that time did not exist in the Americas, yet their likenesses were cleaved on the walls of prehistoric caves in Peru. The pyramids in Mexico and in Egypt were built on identical architectural principles. Then there was the striking resemblance of a witch of Spain, and the witch depicted in the New World. But the most significant of all, Mayan and Aztec legends shared with Greek and Hebrew and Assyrian literature an account of a terrible deluge, a deluge many believe had destroyed the link, the mother empire, that had spread her civilization to both sides of the Atlantic. The Greek scholar Plato recorded this theory first, over two thousand years ago. There was once another continent—Atlantis: The Lost Continent.”

Sword-and-sandal meets high tech in George Pal’s flubbed attempt, but if you’re not quite twelve and it’s a Saturday matinee you won’t care how bad it really is. The most arresting idea is the beam weapons the Atlanteans have developed to conquer neighboring kingdoms — and the cataclysmic finale ain’t bad, either. Even the religion of Atlantis receives some attention. Elements of Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau somehow work their way into the script, as well. There are worse ways to kill an hour and a half.

Director George Pal is noted as a special effects maestro, both in films for children that feature his ‘puppetoons’ and in sci-fi spectacles like the War of the Worlds. So it is no surprise that this sci-fi yarn about the fabled sunken continent of Atlantis should excel in the special effects department. Otherwise, the story is a cliched tale about Demetrios (Anthony Hall) a Greek fisherman who is tempted into going to Atlantis by Antillia (Joyce Taylor), a princess of that doomed land. Demetrios is soon trapped into slavery, a situation which leads him to hobnob with the oppressed masses and plan a strategy to get them out of there before the rumblings of imminent submersion send the whole kit and caboodle into the briny deep. — Product description

~Mysterious Island (1961)
Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Herbert Lom, Beth Rogan, Percy Herbert, Dan Jackson
C-101 mins.

“I ran away from a battle. I’ve been running ever since. I got caught running away.”
“Son, your whole Union Army’s been running from mine for the last three years. Now we’re running away from you. You needn’t feel special about it.”
“You supply the ink. The soldiers supply the blood.”
“This was just the beginning. We escaped, but only into the clutches of the greatest storm in American history. Below us, when we could still see through the patches of angry clouds, were smashed cities and forests torn up by their roots. Then finally, the earth disappeared from our view. We were prisoners of the wind, helpless in the storm’s mighty grip. And we wondered how much longer we’d remain aloft. Would we ever set foot on the earth again?”
“That’s the best crab I ever cooked.”
“We’d be more impressed, Mr. Spilitt, if you’d put it in the pot by yourself.”

Lots of fun as Captain Nemo, the man who makes war on war, miraculously survives his death in a Walt Disney film and gets revived in this Columbia production — and I thought Mr. Spock was the only one who could do that trick. Engrossing, suspenseful, and at times ingenious; the FX and music put this one a cut above the usual fantasy fare—but let’s face it, the giant crab steals the movie.

According to Wikipedia:

The highlights of the film were Ray Harryhausen’s animation sequences. The different animated “monsters” that the castaways encountered were: a giant crab, a giant flightless bird (which most viewers thought was a chicken, but Harryhausen originally intended it to be a prehistoric bird called a Phorusrhacos), giant bees and a giant cephalopod resembling a prehistoric ammonite. The book on which the film is based is a sequel to two other books by Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways. The latter of these featured a character named Ayrton, who does not appear in this film. The only connection between them is the presence of Captain Nemo.

Also impressive is Bernard Herrmann’s musical score; it elevates every scene.

Jules Verne’s classic adventure is perfectly matched with Ray Harryhausen’s timeless movie magic in Mysterious Island. Based on Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this rousing Civil War-era fantasy begins when a band of Union war prisoners (and one Confederate straggler) escape in a hot-air balloon, which crash-lands on the titular island of mystery. Verne’s novel doesn’t include any gigantic creatures, but Harryhausen’s version — under the capable direction of genre specialist Cy Endfield — features giant oysters, bees, a prehistoric Phororhacos (a giant chickenlike bird!), an undersea cephalopod, a giant crab, and enough danger to keep its resourceful ensemble on constant alert. Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom, ably filling James Mason’s shoes) is a third-act hero, pursuing an ill-fated dream to save humanity from hunger and war. The action may be too intense for younger viewers, but Endfield’s pacing and Harryhausen’s stop-motion mastery make Mysterious Island a wondrous precursor to Harryhausen’s follow-up classic, Jason and the Argonauts. — Jeff Shannon

~Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre, Robert Sterling, Michael Ansara, Frankie Avalon, Regis Toomey, John Litel, Howard McNear, Henry Daniell, Skip Ward, Mark Slade, Charles Tannen, Del Monroe, Jonathan Gilmore
C-105 mins.

“Alvarez … are you saying that man must accept destruction even though it’s in his power to prevent it?”
“It’s not for us to judge, Admiral.”
“Not to judge, maybe; but we can reason. If God ordains that man should die without a fight, then why does He give us the will to live?”
“Twenty-five hours of static in my ear. Man, I’m getting shell-shocked.”

The sky is on fire, one man thinks he knows how to quench it, he has the coolest submarine at his disposal, but the United Nations thinks he’s wrong and sends out attack subs to hunt him down — and we haven’t even mentioned the saboteur with a grenade, the giant octopus, the mine field, Floyd the Barber, and an overly friendly shark. This is one busy movie, produced — some would say perpetrated — by the Master of Disaster, Irwin Allen. No matter, just sit back, put your brain on hold, and enjoy.

So, could the Van Allen belts catch fire?

At the time that Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was made, the Van Allen radiation belts had only recently been discovered, and much of what this movie says about them is made up for the film. Discoveries since then clearly invalidate what the film says: The Van Allen belts (actually somewhat more radiation-dense portions of the magnetosphere) are made up of sub-atomic particles trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field in the vacuum of space and cannot catch fire, as fire requires oxygen, fuel and an ignition source, all of which are insufficient in the Van Allen Belts. Unburned hydrocarbon emissions have never reached concentrations that could support a “skyfire.” — Wikipedia

That submarine, of course, steals every scene it’s in.

Mike Gray