Has it really been *five months* since the last time I did one of these? Well, I suppose I’ve been busy, and besides…I warned you about this particular blog feature. I believe the words “irregularly recurring” were used.
So, there you go.
For those wondering what this is all about, “Tied Up With Tie-ins” is where I take a (usually) fond look back at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. This often means something older, such as the many different tie-ins which were all over the place during my childhood and early adulthood. Examples include novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, and Space: 1999 among others. That said, I’m not snobby about newer stuff, as I’ve previously written about novels based on one of my favorite TV series of the 21st century, 24 and I’m curretnly eyeballing for future installments shows like Castle and (maybe) the JAG/NCIS franchise. We shall see.
Meanwhile, this latest installment, I’m returning to those thrilling days of yesteryear as we dive beneath the waves and down into the ocean’s murky depths, on a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea….
Irwin Allen, legendary film and television producer, brought Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea to audiences in 1961 as a feature film. The movie, set in an undated but “near future,” stars Walter Pidgeon (a prolific actor known to genre audiences for his role as Dr. Morbious in 1956’s Forbidden Planet) as Admiral Harriman Nelson, an influential U.S. Navy flag officer as well as the designer of the Seaview, an advanced nuclear-powered submarine far more powerful and versatile than anything in the US fleet (to say nothing of those belonging to our adversaries). Though possessing formidable offensive and defensive capabilities, Nelson always envisioned Seaview primarily as an instrument of science and exploration.
(This premise would later be echoed for the Starship Enterprise in the original Star Trek series and even more so with Captain Nathan Bridger and the submarine he designed in the 21st century for the titularly named 1990s TV series seaQuest DSV.)
Hitting theater screens on July 12, 1961, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea throws Admiral Nelson and the Seaview into a race against time to save Earth when a meteor shower ignites the Van Allen radiation belt surrounding the planet. If the resulting fire can’t be extinguished, the entire world will die within weeks. That is some serious Irwin Allen disaster action, right there.
When nobody wants to hear Nelson’s radical plan to launch a nuclear missile into the belt to counteract the fire, he takes the Seaview (and its crew, including Captain Lee Crane as portrayed by actor Robert Sterling, who’s something of a supporting player here) and heads for the Mariana Islands, the location which can provide the correct trajectory for the missile to do its thing. Naturally, everybody thinks Nelson’s off his nut and wants to stop him from what they think will hasten the world’s destruction. And hey! There’s even a saboteur on board, because of course there is.
So far as tie-ins go, a novelization of the film’s screenplay was penned by none other than noted science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon and published just ahead of the film’s release. Based on an early version of the movie’s script, the novel contains many differences from the final film, such as variations on scenes or scenes not included in the movie, and also lacks scenes added during later script revisions. This is the sort of thing that was (and still can be) common with film and TV novelizations, though the adaptation process has become a bit more efficient in recent years.
As for the book’s cover, it is a classic piece of 1960s pulp fiction art bearing exactly no resemblance to any scene from the film. The submarine on the cover looks nothing like the very distinctive USOS Seaview, which might well be attributed to the difference in Sturgeon’s writing schedule relative to the film’s production. It’s entirely possible the Seaview‘s design had not yet been finalized before Sturgeon was required to deliver his manuscript for review and publication. Still, as I am a collector of old pulp novels, this sort of thing is like chocolate-covered meth for me.
The film was successful enough that Irwin Allen eventually (inevitably?) opted to adapt the premise for weekly television. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the TV series, premiered on September 14, 1964, on the ABC network. While the first season was filmed and broadcast in black and white, the remaining seasons were filmed in color. It was the first of what ultimately would be four television shows–along with Lost In Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants–Allen would have on network television at various points throughout the decade’s latter half. With the basic premise from the film largely transported to the smaller screen, film and television actor Richard Basehart took on the Admiral Nelson role. One significant change was the elevation of the Captain Lee Crane character to starring role status. For the series, he was portayed by David Hedison, who a few years earlier passed on the same role for the film. Go figure.
An addition to the Seaview‘s mission for TV was a top-secret mandate to protect Earth from all manner of threats…worldly and otherwise. This of course opened the door to a variety of storylines featuring everything from Cold War intrigue, previously unknown underwater mysteries and dangers, to extraterrestrial invasion, the latter two of which happened with alarming (one might even say…”Weekly”) regularity over the course of the show’s four seasons. Sharp-eyed viewers might even have noticed the same rubbery creature terrorizing the Seaview crew one week only to turn up to hassle the Robinson family on Lost In Space the next. We see what you did there, Irwin.
Despite being the longest-running of the four TV series Allen created and the fairly common practice of generating tie-in novels and novelizations for all manner of shows throughout the 1960s, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea like the other Allen productions suffers from a dearth of such books. While there are no adaptations of any of the episodes, there was a single original novel, City Under the Sea, written by author Paul W. Fairman and published by Pyramid Books in April 1965. While the story and characters are evocative of the TV series, it’s definitely one of those things written perhaps before Mr. Fairman had an opportunity to watch much if any of the show before completing his novel. The cover is all kind of rockin’ 1960s pulp/sci-fi goodness, and indeed is even a bit similar to the style artist Lou Feck would utilize to such great effect with the covers he painted for several of the Star Trek original series episode adaptations in the 1970s.
Whitman Books published their own Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea novel in 1965. Written by author Raymond F. Jones, this hardbound volume was another entry in Whitman’s series of youth-focused titles based on popular television series of the era. The story is pretty much in line with something you might’ve seen on an episode, though the characterizations on the page are predictably a tad “off” when compared to their on-screen counterparts.
I don’t normally include comics in these pieces, because depending on the property that might send us careening off a cliff of nostalgia and plummeting to our fannish deaths. That said and given the absolute lack of material tying into the film and show, I figure I needed to spice things up a little. Gold Key, the publisher who also gave us Star Trek comics and other titles based on various television and film properties of the day, began releasing a series of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea comics in 1964. The comics were published on a very sporadic schedule, with sixteen issues ultimately hitting stands before the title was discontinued in 1970.
In 2009, Hermes Press released a gorgeously restored hardcover collection of the first eight issues, with a second volume completing the set the following year. These editions are out of print and hard to find, so those of you birthday or holiday shopping for me may feel free to seek out this pair of books if you’re so inclined. 😉
There have been occasional rumblings about a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea remake, either of the film or the TV series, though I confess I’ve not heard or read anything on that front in quite some time. I suppose some might consider seaQuest DSV to have scratched that itch, but if we’re being serious then chances are good that show is a remake candidate all on its own. It’s likely a question of “when” rather than “if” and if it does indeed come to pass, maybe this new iteration might lend itself to this sort of “expanded universe” treatment better than its predecessor.
Until then? “Prepare to dive!”
Previous entries in this series:
The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman
Planet of the Apes
The “No-Frills” Books
Alan Dean Foster!