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, the final entry in the original "Apes" saga. Merging science fiction and disaster movie themes in an underwater setting, THE NEPTUNE FACTOR 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, and then released on DVD by Fox in 2007, Kino Lorber now debuts this Canuck “epic” on Blu-ray.
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, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY) and his pretty assistant Leah (Yvette Mimieux, THREE IN THE ATTIC) are trying to discover the causes of underwater earthquakes. Chief Diver Don MacKay (Ernest Borgnine, LAW AND DISORDER) and his assistant Bob Cousins (Donnely Rhodes, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID) return to the Triton successfully, but a violent underwater earthquake kills two other men and then 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, THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE) 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 exotic 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 affair, 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 actor Chris Wiggins (here playing Captain Williams) as the star of the “Friday the 13th” series of the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as bit player Leslie Carlson (as a radioman) from his stint as the narrator in DERANGED and other Bob Clark films (BLACK CHRISTMAS, A CHRISTMAS STORY).
When Fox debuted THE NEPTUNE FACTOR on DVD in 2007, the results were quite stellar, so as expected, Kino’s Blu-ray is a stunner. The film is presented in 1080p HD in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with colors really standing out, skin tones looking quite natural and detail is excellent all the way through. Grain is well-maintained, and there is no evidence of any debris or other print blemishes. The audio is presented in a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track with very good dynamic range, and optional English subtitles are also included.
An audio commentary is included with Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com and Film Historian Jason Pichonsky, who mention that it was an early Canadian “Tax Shelter” film, and assure us that a lot of effort was poured into it, despite the oft-criticized special effects. Taking things surprisingly serious (and that’s appreciated), they discuss the cast (including the mostly Canadian supporting players), the special effects, the locations, the shooting techniques and filming the scenes with the fish (and why it failed to convince...the lighting for one thing), the financing, its music rescoring and why the film is significant in the annals of Canadian sci-fi. Leslie Carlson is misidentified on-screen during the talk, but other than that, there’s a lot of worthwhile information here, especially for fans of Canadian exploitation, a subject which is covered throughout.
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 Canadian composer William McCauley (who is credited with “additional music” in the release version). Other extras include two TV spots, a regular trailer, a teaser trailer and a photo gallery consisting of color production stills and a few newspaper ads. Rounding out the supplements are the trailers for the Kino Blu-ray releases WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP and THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (also produced by Sandy Howard). (George R. Reis)
BACK TO REVIEWS