Friday, April 30, 2010

The Neptune Factor (1973)

The Neptune Factor is most assuredly not "the most fantastic undersea odyssey ever filmed." That wasn't even true in 1973 (not with movies like Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea predating it by 20 years). What it is is a fairly mundane, '70s disaster flick only without the all-star cast (Ernest Borgnine was the biggest name they could muster) or special effects. That's not to say that it's worthless; just very disappointing.

The plot's pretty simple. An undersea earthquake sends a submerged ocean lab into the giant crevice that it was located next to and a rescue is mounted. Tension is created not through action, but through the lack of it. The search for the missing lab is long and tedious for the workers, but the movie does a nice job of making that interesting for the audience. Since it never cuts to the lab to let us know if they're okay or not, we're invested in the hunt too. And that makes us equally frustrated by frequent setbacks like unusually strong underwater currents, aftershocks from the quake, and waiting for proper equipment.

One example of proper equipment is a mini-sub called Neptune. Before it's arrival (it's just been overhauled and hasn't been tested since it was), the primary search was conducted by a military sub that was too large to go into the crevice to look. Once Neptune arrives, things start to look up, except that her by-the-book captain isn't as emotionally invested in the search as the rest of the team - people who've worked with the missing men for a long time. So there's some interpersonal drama too as the rest of the sub crew tries to make the captain take risks against his better judgment.

How to make giant fish lame after the break.

Eventually, the Neptune goes deep enough into the trench to hear a distress ping from the lab, but the search is complicated by the discovery of giant plant and animal life. It's nothing like what's on the poster though. The special effects suck - even by 1970s' standards - and the "illusion" is created by filming a miniature model of the sub tooling around an aquarium.

Most of the giant fish that are supposed to be so menacing are clownfish, anemones, and other tropical sea life, not piranhas, but there are a couple of cool sequences. At one point Ernest Borgnine gets out of the sub and is menaced by a giant lionfish. And there's a crab that tries to push the sub over a cliff. There's also a fairly nice shot of some divers being threatened by a school of eels, though when the eels eventually attack the result is pretty silly.

It's too bad, because they spent a lot of time building tension and couldn't pay it off. They tried, but didn't have the budget to make creatures that were actually menacing.

Two out of five giant lionfish.

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