Blu Notes: The Neptune Factor (An Undersea Odyssey) ⋅ 2016 ⋅ Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Ben Gazzara and a rag-tag crew of scientists and engineers (Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Donnelly Rhodes) fend off the inexplicably gargantuan denizens of a deep-sea trench on their way to rescuing their earthquake-stranded comrades in this oddball Canadian-produced maritime disaster yarn. The ambitious $2 million production assembles a game cast of recognizable American and reputable Canadian talent and boasts gorgeous underwater photography from Lamar Boren (Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me), but its grounded disaster dramatics buckle under a special effects production (in full ‘Scope and color!) that ranks among cinema’s most bizarre and unbelievable.
The effects here, credited to Lee Howard (Squirm) and Warren Keillor (Starship Invasions), are as strange and colorful as they are absurd, reducing Gazzara’s advanced submarine Neptune to a tinier than tiny aquarium-suspended miniature and besetting it with a host of salt water pet shop regulars (clown fish, trigger fish, sea horses and various crustaceans). There’s a certain documentary fascination but little dramatic tension to scenes of the toy-sized sub dueling with the magnified tank-bound curiosities, even as the cast do their best to sell the life-or-death import of it all. Had The Neptune Factor been produced in the latter ’80s, where it could enjoy the full benefits of a revived creature effects industry and Hollywood’s fleeting interest in undersea spectacles (courtesy James Cameron’s big-deal effects epic The Abyss), it might have proven a minor classic, or at least ridden the coattails of a well-publicized monster effects production to a certain degree of fandom. As it is Factor remains certifiably niche, one for the stoners and the genre obsessives.
The Neptune Factor (subtitled An Undersea Odyssey) received a classy DVD issue from 20th Century Fox in 2007, complete with a fresh widescreen film scan, isolated score (and alternate score) tracks, and a host of other supplemental tidbits. The 2016 Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics adeptly upgrades it to HD, porting over what appears to be the same video master as well as the earlier disc’s supplements while adding a commentary track of its own.
Visually this is fine, if not especially outstanding. The master for the 2007 DVD holds up well in native HD, even if it shows its age. There are traces of edge enhancement, though little noticeable manipulation otherwise, and it plays smoothly enough in motion. Color could have benefited from fine tuning here and there, to eliminate the magenta push that afflicts the abundant blue hues, but are otherwise well saturated and satisfying. Damage is quite limited, evidenced by infrequent speckling and the odd vertical scratch, and film grain, though a bit clunky, goes blessedly unmanipulated. Detail is at healthy levels where the photography allows (with underwater footage appearing hazier), and the fantastic silliness of the special effects production is easier to appreciate than ever. Kino’s Mpeg-4 AVC encode is acceptable in-motion, though not stellar, with plenty of minor blocking to be seen among the grain textures. It’s not perfect, but it’s pleasantly watchable, and one doubts The Neptune Factor will ever rate much better.
The original monophonic audio mix is competently relayed in DTS-HD MA 2.0, and is clear and intelligible without being particularly robust, owing to the limitations of the original recording. The score by Lalo Schifrin comes through nicely, and I have no complaints. Optional subtitles, in English, are included. Supplements start off with a new audio commentary from Paul Corupe (of Canuxploitation.com) and Jason Pichonsky, who have plenty to say on the film’s ambitious production and weird appeal. Most of the rest of the content is carried over from the earlier DVD – an isolated music and effects track featuring the theatrically-released Schifrin score and a second isolated track featuring the unused score by William McCauley, as well as a mix of theatrical trailers and television spots for the film. The DVD’s image galleries have been replaced by a substantial new animated HD gallery (including plenty of peaks into the effects production), with trailers for fellow Kino releases The Island of Dr. Moreau and War-Gods of the Deep rounding out the blu-ray content.
Love is a strong word where The Neptune Factor is concerned, but I certainly like the film, for all its inherent silliness. The Kino blu-ray isn’t phenomenal, but does a good job of updating the old (and now out of print) DVD to HD. It looks and sounds just fine, and the new commentary adds plenty of much-needed replay value. I have precious few complaints, and fans (do you exist?) will certainly want to check it out.
A note on this review, and Blu Notes articles to come: While in the past I have been enthusiastic about including screenshots for any video reviews, and still find them as useful and instructive as I ever have, at present I can neither take nor provide them. My wife and I moved aboard a boat in the Spring of 2016, and the dedicated review tech I had at the time (a behemoth of a PC which I still miss dearly) was disposed of out of considerations for space. There should be plenty of reputable sources for screenshots for most of the discs to be reviewed on these pages, but for the rest, and in advance, my apologies.