The Film (3/5) *
An underwater sea lab is suddenly knocked off course and starts to sink during a freak earthquake. Contact with the scientists and crew has been cut offline, and the oxygen supply is quickly running out. Chief Diver Mack Mackay (Ernest Borgnine) and his crew are determined to save the scientists at any cost. They’re just in luck as a specialist sub captain (Ben Gazzara) is called in with his new submarine called the Neptune. With time running out, Mack and company must dive deep in the depths to save the lab, before they’re killed by mutant fish.
As entertaining as that plot may sound, sadly something big is lacking in THE NEPTUNE FACTOR (1973). The movie was famous for being, at the time, one of the more expensive Canadian films ever made. Boasting underwater cinematography by Paul Herbermann and a groovy score by Lalo Schifrin (Mission Impossible TV series), THE NEPTUNE FACTOR looks and sounds great, but the human element and plot just drag on. The film was shot on numerous locations and imported, and trained, many varieties of fish. All these elements do add production value, but this can’t save the movie from running out of steam at a snail’s pace.
Ernest Borgnine (THE WILD BUNCH) is by far the most emotionally invested of the actors. His character feels like a flesh and blood human with layers. He seems 100% involved in every scene and he nails the sometimes-wooden dialogue he is given. Ben Gazzara (KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE, Jackie Treehorn in the Coen Brother’s THE BIG LEBOWSKI) on the other hand, seems completely bored. Aside from a few moments of intense reactions while driving the sub, he looks completely disinterested in the events unfolding. Yvette Mimieux (THE BLACK HOLE) also looks a little tired or confused during the film. She does get a few moments of drama over her boyfriend being one of the scientists in need. Walter Pidgeon (Fritz Lang’s MAN HUNT, FORBIDDEN PLANET) shows up in a brief role as one of the doctors at the station, while he isn’t given much too do, his presence is always enjoyable.
While, the pace is slow and the actors seem bored, the actual effects and monsters are fun and silly. NEPTUNE FACTOR feels like a 70’s update of the dirt cheap but enjoyable time wasters, Terry Morse’s UNKNOWN WORLD (1951) and Jerry Warren’s INCREDIBLE PETRIFIED WORLD (1959), where teams get trapped under ground or under water and discover some cheap monsters. The fish footage, while gorgeous to look at, is laughable with no real threat for the cast. THE NEPTUNE FACTOR is a pretty by the numbers movie, but for a lazy Saturday afternoon it may be worth a laugh or two.
THE NEPTUNE FACTOR comes with an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The sound mix is near perfect with well-balanced sound levels between the score, sound effects, and dialogue. Nothing is too loud or peaking. There is some high in lows with the score, where it does soften during the middle section of the film, but overall no major complaints on that front. The rest of the track doesn’t have any noticeable issues like pops or hiss. Easy to read English subtitles are included.
The 1080p HD transfer is gorgeous to look. Everything in the submarine scenes is in sharp focus with a fantastic level of detail. Coffee mugs, fish tanks, and desks are full of detail and you can clearly see textures on them. The issues with the transfer do arise during the ending portion of the movie. The random cutting back and forth between the crew and the “giant” fish is muggy and slightly too soft. Also, some shots seem more brightly lit then others, so Ben Gazzara’s head gets a little too shiny, and the lab equipment looks to bright and plastic like.
The movie may be lacking, but this Kino Blu-ray isn’t. This release is packed with extra features. First up is a highly entertaining commentary with Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com and film historian Jason Pichonsky. The two men cover a wide range of topics from How the tax shelter period of movies came from Canada, the development of THE NEPTUNE FACTOR, and the evolution of Canadian horror and sci-fi movies, from slasher films, The Star Log tv series, and even David Croneberg’s influence. It’s a must listen. Next up is the theatrically released isolated score and sound effects track by Lalo Schifrin. The music is well mixed and pure 70’s groove. Also included is the Never-Before released score by William McCauley.
Also of interested is a mini TV making of featurette on the movie. Sadly, the image quality is shaky and seems to be sped up. Rounding out the release is an animated image gallery, two TV spots, the teaser, theatrical trailer, and trailers from ISLAND OF DR MOREAU and WAR GODS OF THE DEEP.
While the movie itself is laughable, this Kino Blu-ray is beautiful and the Commentary track is highly entertaining. So, it’s a tossup. Rental or caution recommended.
*The movie is more of a 2.5, but due to the cheese factor I bumped it up half a point.