Roy Scheider and Crew, Heroically Tossed About Like a Ship on the Ocean


Back in the early ‘90s, with the tremendously popular Star Trek: The Next Generation winding down, a few big brains with deep pocketbooks attempted to float a replacement of sorts.  Key among this deep-pocketed cadre was Steven Spielberg, whose Amblin Entertainment dove into action.  Their futuristic exploratory ship-based ensemble adventure series would trade the final frontier for the very first frontier: Earth’s oceans.  The resulting series, the environmentally consciousness-driven SeaQuest DSV (the DSV short for “deep-submergence vehicle”; the title later modified to “SeaQuest 2032”) would bob along for three seasons (fifty-seven episodes and a feature-length pilot) on NBC between September of 1993 and June of 1996.  This is a series with its heart entirely in the right place, even when its own eco-consciousness cost it “cool points” with certain swaths of nerdom.

Heading up this valiant aquamarine effort on screen is none other than the compellingly crusty Roy Scheider.  (Leave it to Spielberg to lure his signature shark hunter back to the open water).  As the ham-fistedly monikered man-in-charge of the titular vessel, Captain Nathan Bridger, Scheider, above all, does a fine job of demonstrating that real men care about dolphins and the environment.  Word is that the actor was tremendously hesitant about jumping onboard an endeavor such as this but decided the potential eco-good it could do would outweigh whatever artistic misgivings he may harbor.  The double-length pilot episode, directed by the late great Irvin Kershner of The Empire Strikes Back fame (this would be his final directing gig), is entirely devoted to the powers that be convincing Bridger to suit up once more and return to the SeaQuest vessel, which he once designed.  One can easily imagine the negotiations with Scheider having gone similarly.

Despite impressive production values and a treasure trove of Emmys (several for the sweeping music by composers John Debney, Don Davis, and Russ Landau), SeaQuest never managed to anchor itself narratively.  With behemoth expenditures already committed to- from a state-of-the-art ship interior to a sprawling regular cast to an ambitious amount of early-‘90s (but now aching) CGI to accommodating a dolphin cast member, this “bigger boat” very quickly became too big to fail.  As the initial mission of eco-consciousness took a backseat to ramped-up sci-fi approaches (including aliens and time-jumps), cast members begin to filter out with alarming regularity.  Scheider himself bailed after the first two seasons, turning up only a few times in the third and final season.  With the series by then residing fully on the bubble, command of the vessel went to the always fascinating character actor Michael Ironside (Starship TroopersTop GunV: The Final Battle).  Only Jonathan Brandis (who starts off as a “Wesley Crusher, but cool” type), Don Franklin, and Ted Raimi, with perfect attendance in all fifty-seven episodes, would complete the journey from beginning to end.

Rather than working to organically distill and integrate the series’ more specific premise and the quite impressive raft of guest stars, it just makes sense at this point to copy/paste from the press release: “The amazing adventure begins in the mid-21st century, as humankind expands its undersea colonization efforts, and a tenuous world peace is enforced by the United Earth Oceans (UEO). In order to protect the fledgling underwater colonies from unknown dangers and hostile invaders lurking in the depths of Earth’s last frontier, the UEO recruits Captain Nathan Bridger (Roy Scheider) to command the high-tech battle submarine SeaQuest and its diverse and eclectic crew. Along for the ride are a roster of stellar guest stars, including Charlton Heston, William Shatner, Seth Green, Kellie Martin and Kent McCord.”  [End of copy/paste]. And let’s not overlook the appreciated presences of Udo Kier, Richard Herd, Michael York, Jonathan Banks, Roscoe Lee Browne, and Mark Hamill.  Despite its many shortcomings, SeaQuest DSV managed to reel in a shipload of distinguished temporary personnel.

Now available as a comprehensive Blu-ray collection from Mill Creek Entertainment, it must be said that while the live-action stuff looks and sounds excellent, any and all computer-generated visual effects do not fare so well.  One gets the impression that, like Star Trek: TNG and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the episodes were originally shot on film but finished on standard definition video.  Meaning, the CGI elements only ever existed in old school low resolution.  In order to most effectively make the jump to today’s high definition, all digital effect shots must be redone from the ground up, and then reintegrated into the original film-based elements.  This is obviously a major financial undertaking, and currently considered out of the question for anything but Star Trek.  In short, Mill Creek, or anyone else, ain’t ponying up for a newfangled state of the art HD SeaQuest.

That aside, this is a pretty impressive release.  The multi-disc, fat single case comes housed in a nicely illustrated slipcase.  There are even new interviews and featurettes with the series creator, as well as various directors and crew members.  Several deleted scenes have also been exhumed for this set.  Mill Creek, with its top-notch Ultraman releases and the like, has been working hard to recraft its reputation as a purveyor of low-quality, slap-dash product.  This SeaQuest set certainly furthers the company’s deserved redemption and reconsideration in the hearts and minds of longtime physical media collectors.

Say what one might about SeaQuest itself, it never went stagnant.  It was always either much too much adrift or cascading desperately on the turbulent waves of creative uncertainty and network “course corrections”.  A lot happens and a lot of people come and go over the course of the series’ 2529 minutes… which is kind of impressive in and of itself, considering that they’re deeply submerged most of that time.  Not all of the acting is always in the realm of top notch, but the always-welcome presence of Scheider, Ted Raimi, Michael Ironside, and the impeccable guest list more than make up for any other shortcomings.  The series was always tremendously ambitious, even in its flailing and ultimate failure to ever root itself narratively.  A three-season run is nothing to sneeze at, even back in the early 1990s when one had to sometimes drill deep for new, good, nerdy pop culture.  In today’s radically different “prestige TV” landscape, it’s most curious to find that the mission of SeaQuest DSV– very much a product of its time- remains entirely pertinent, even if its aesthetic has long since submerged.