Produced rather expensively (for the time) by an independent Canadian film company, THE NEPTUNE FACTOR was picked up by 20th Century Fox and for the most part played on the bottom of a double bill with BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Merging science fiction and disaster movie themes in an underwater setting, the film played on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) with “An Undersea Odyssey” superimposed over the main titles, but it managed to make no great impact and has remained largely ignored for all these years. Briefly available on VHS in the 1980s as part of Fox’s “Playhouse Video” line, this release marks the film’s DVD debut.
In the North Atlantic off the coast of Canada, scuba divers manning an underwater capsule called Oceanlab II gather samples from the ocean floor and report back to a ship called The Triton. It is there that Dr. Samuel Andrews (Walter Pidgeon) and his pretty assistant Leah (Yvette Mimieux) are trying to discover the causes of underwater earthquakes. Chief Diver Don MacKay (Ernest Borgnine) and his assistant Bob Cousins (Donnely Rhodes) return to the Triton successfully, but a violent underwater earthquake kills two other men and the tosses OceanLab II (with three other divers trapped aboard) deep within the ocean’s floor and away from the radar scanners. When all attempts to rescue the trio are deemed fruitless, arrogant American Commander Blake (Ben Gazzara), designer of an innovative mini-sub called the Neptune, is brought in. Blake along with MacKay, Cousins and Leah power the Neptune to the depths of the ocean, discovering a dwelling inhabited by deadly giganto mutant fish of every variety.
Filmed on location in Nova Scotia and the Bahamas (not at the bottom of the producer’s fish tank, as some viewers often theorized), THE NEPTUNE FACTOR has a somewhat interesting rescue mission plot, aided by the name cast and pleasing cinematography. The film is notorious for its subpar special effects, which utilizes aquarium fish made to look enormous through the oval windows of the Neptune craft – the craft itself is often displayed as a model being treaded on by supposedly giant creatures, namely a bothersome crustacean. This often causes unintentional laughs, and brings the film to a level of camp ala THE GIANT GILA MONSTER and other cheapo 1950s monster movies. Rated G, it was obviously constructed as a family film, and despite several light gratuitous shots of bigger fish wholly swallowing little guppies, it stays true to its MPAA rating. The quasi psychedelic exploration ends with our heroes in showdown against some pesty eels.
As the head of the research unit, an elderly Walter Pidgeon is here to remind us of the past glory of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, and the always lovely Yvette Mimieux (THE TIME MACHINE) is the heroine concerned about her beau, lost somewhere down below. Ernest Borgnine (later to appear in producer Sandy Frank’s horror epic THE DEVIL’S RAIN), who played an obnoxious veteran cop in another underwater disaster movie the year before, stands out as the level headed leader of the diving unit, while a grinning New York-born Ben Gazzara strives awkwardly for a Georgian accent. On a side note, it’s amusing to see Borgnine’s svelte stand-in doubling for the burly actor during underwater scenes. Viewers will recognize Chris Wiggins (Captain Williams) as the star of the “Friday the 13th” series of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Making its home video debut on DVD, Fox has done a spectacular job with the transfer. The film is presented anamorphic widescreen in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors really stand out, and detail is excellent all the way through, with no visible grain or print blemishes. The English language audio is presented in either mono or stereo options (both solid), and additional French and Spanish language tracks are also included. There are optional subtitles on hand in both English and Spanish.
Extras include an 8-minute vintage featurette produced for TV entitled, “The Impossible Takes a Little Longer…Behind the Scenes of The Neptune Factor.” It includes behind-the-scenes footage of producer Sandy Howard, director Daniel Petrie and most of the cast. Borgnine (who is seen getting into his diving gear) is interviewed briefly, mentioning how he believed the film would be appealing to adults and children as well. Lalo Schifrin’s roaring score can be isolated on a separate track (along with the sound effects) and a second isolated track features an unused score by William McCauley. Other extras include two TV spots, a regular trailer, a teaser trailer and three still galleries: an interactive version of the original pressbook, and advertising gallery and a production gallery of rare color stills./>