Exclusive: Update on ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’ Movie
Producer Kevin Burns on the status of the Irwin Allen franchise
By Robert Falconer http://www.cinemaspy.com/article.php?id=3832
Three or four years ago, you may recall, there was some chatter online about a new Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea feature film, based upon the classic ’60s motion picture and television series created & produced by the late Irwin Allen. While there was apparently some movement towards fashioning a big screen epic, the whole thing seemed to fizzle shortly after it was announced. The runaway success of last summer’s rebooted Star Trek — and the recent news about director Matthew Gratzner’s forthcoming re-imagination of Gerry Anderson’s UFO, not to mention the whole Hollywood trend towards remakes — got us thinking once again about those other classic mid-to-late-’60s science fiction properties—which led us back to wondering what’s happening with Voyage, if anything. Might there be renewed interest in it?
As it turns out, a new Voyage feature film is still simmering. In an exclusive interview with writer/director/producer Kevin Burns, CinemaSpy has learned a little more about the status of the project, along with several key details about the plot. But first, a little background…
In partnership with producer Jon Jashni, Burns made a deal with Irwin Allen’s widow, Sheila Allen in 2000 to rep Irwin’s properties, and set about updating them for contemporary audiences. Two have already been re-adapted for television: an unaired 2002 pilot designed to relaunch the classic series The Time Tunnel, and director John Woo’s 2004 TV pilot, The Robinsons: Lost in Space. Burns also served as an executive producer on director Wolfgang Petersen’s 2006 movie Poseidon, a remake of Irwin Allen’s 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure.
It’s important to note that Burns is also one of the most prolific entertainment documentarians in Hollywood. He has produced countless hours of television for A&E’s Biography, along with such well-known behind-the-scenes documentaries as Empire of Dreams: The Story of the ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy; Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed; Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman; Behind the Planet of the Apes; Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days; Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood…and many, many others. We’ll have a full interview with Burns, exploring his legacy more closely, a bit later this month.
Turning back to the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea feature, Burns tells us that the project — which has been developed with three different writers over a span of five years — has met with resistance at 20th Century Fox, but is far from dead.
“We pitched it to Fox 2000, which is a production unit of 20th Century Fox,” Burns explains. “They loved it…they put up money to develop it…and we worked with them; had a wonderful relationship with them. We brought it one writer, Justin Haythe [Revolutionary Road], who was mostly brought in because it was thought he could enliven the characters. But we hit a dead end, because it wasn’t a big enough movie; it wasn’t a big spectacle. So then we brought in Matt Greenberg for a draft, and then later Andrew Niccol, who had written Gattaca. The script got better and better and more and more interesting.”
Burns reveals that the film delves into the relationship between the two main characters featured in the original film and television series, Lee Crane and Admiral Nelson, promising an interesting backstory between the two. It’s important to note that while the update utilizes familiar characters and themes, it’s a complete reboot of the franchise; essential given the 40+ years that have elapsed since the original series aired.
Meanwhile, the plot itself deals with cataclysmic themes, not unlike the first Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea feature film of 1960, in which the Van Allen radiation belt encircling the Earth ignites and begins to fry the planet. In the new story, however, events are set in motion with a more plausible, topical catalyst, though with jeopardy instantly recognizable to those familiar with Irwin Allen’s style of adventure. “It’s basically envisioned in the near-future, much as the original was,” Burns says. “There has been a Middle Eastern war that involved nuclear weapons, and the oil fields have been contaminated. The world is plunged into a situation where there is a critical shortage of energy. Amongst every nation it’s become a free-for-all in terms of plowing the Earth for energy resources.”
Burns continues: “[Lee] Crane is a government man who is involved in a phenomenon that happens when a drill site goes too deep and unleashes a creature that has probably been hibernating for millions of years. So you have this combination of an energy shortage, an unstable Earth, and now this creature. And one of the elements that enters all of this is the [submarine] Seaview, which is not a government vessel, but a sort of covert, extra-government vessel…more along the lines of the Captain Nemo idea.”
Burns explains that as in the original, in the new film Nelson has built the highly advanced Seaview, but in the updated story with the help of a multi-billionaire—a Bill Gates-meets-Richard Branson type of individual. “They think of Nelson as a sort of eco-terrorist,” Burns says, “but that’s not really what it is. Nelson is somebody who was involved in the war and who kind of turned his back on humanity…and is really trying to protect the sea by keeping people away from it. In other words, ‘you’ve done enough damage, now leave the sea alone.’
“And so Crane must reconnect with Nelson because they need to work together. It’s very much as in the original, this kind of pseudo father and son relationship.”
And for fans of the original series who are probably already wondering, Burns points out that, yes, there is also a flying sub in the new film. The Voyage hallmarks cleave close to the original, Burns emphasizes, even as the story strives to be a credible action-adventure premise for contemporary audiences.
So what’s the present status of Voyage? Burns tells us that Fox execs were reexamining the project a mere four months ago. “Again, everyone was very supportive, and the folks at Fox 2000 loved it…and then it went up to the head of the studio, who said, ‘Why are we doing this?’ And part of the problem was that two different studios at the time were contemplating doing ‘20,000 Leagues’, and of course Cameron had Avatar, which at last report was a $300M movie; people say it’s even more than that…and I think they felt it was just too big, too expensive and too risky, given that it was similar to other things that other studios were threatening to do.”
Still, Burns says it’s not over yet. The project is in turnaround, which means that they’re free to interest other studios in it. “One thing we didn’t have,” he says, “which is what Jon and I are going after now, is a director with passion for it, who wants to be attached to it. Studios are much more focused these days on packaging properties with strong directors; in other words, if a Peter Jackson or Bryan Singer or JJ Abrams wanted to embrace Voyage, I don’t think there would be 15 minutes go by before the studio picked it up.”
“The good news now,” Burns adds, “is that we have a really good script and a really strong premise, and that may be enough to bring a director in, even one who wants to continue developing it.”
…a drill site goes too deep and unleashes a creature that has probably been hibernating for millions of years. So you have this combination of an energy shortage, an unstable Earth, and now this creature.