Hello Down There(Paramount Home Entertainment, 2.22.2005)
Part of the 60s fascination with anything futuristic and high-tech, Hello Down There (aka Sub-A-Dub-Dub) is the story of Fred Miller (Tony Randall), an inventor who tries to make a case for underwater living by moving his reluctant family into an underwater house ("The Green Onion"), located 90 feet below the ocean surface, for a trial run of 30 days. Unfortunately, Miller encounters several obstacles. For one, his boss wants his project to fail and does everything in his power to jeopardize the Onion and its occupants. Second, Miller's teenage son and daughter are in a groovy new rock band (Harold and the Hang-Ups) and they just can't afford to abandon their songwriting efforts for a month-long science experiment. Solution: the band brings their instruments underwater and works up some new material in their aquatic abode.
Hello Down There should be seen for Harold and the Hang-Ups, alone. Best described as an underwater Partridge Family (with Richard Dreyfuss in the Danny Bonaduce role), the Hang-Ups' music was composed by veteran Brill Building songwriter (and "Be My Baby" co-author) Jeff Barry. While I can't prove it, I think this may be the nerdiest band in the history of the world. Still, I must acknowledge a soft spot for "Goldfish," obviously their finest track. In fact, the scene in which they compose this song -- in response to an inexplicable wave of deep-sea inspiration -- has a feeling bordering on kitsch transcendence (if that's even possible) that's totally unexpected.
Full of high concept conceits -- an underwater house, a "boy millionaire" record exec (played by 41 year old, Roddy McDowall) who uses computers to rate the hit potential of songs -- Hello Down There plays like a hybrid of National Geographic programming and a featherweight 60s sitcom. It's no coincidence, then, that the film features sitcom stalwarts Tony Randall and Jim Backus, among others.
In spite of its extremely modest aspirations, the film's credits include several notable names. In addition to its solid cast (which also includes Janet Leigh and even Merv Griffin), Hello Down There features the talents of noted director Jack Arnold, best known for Creature From the Black Lagoon and the classic 50s satire, The Mouse That Roared. Also of note, the film's underwater sequences were directed by aquatic filmmaking guru Ricou Browning, best known for his contributions to the Flipper movies and TV series.
Fans of Wes Anderson should also take note: while Hello Down There is not as accomplished or ambitious as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson's latest opus owes a great deal to this 60s oddity. Fred Miller is a much sunnier version of Zissou, but their visions of complete, technologically advanced lives-at-sea are remarkably similar. The presence of live musical accompaniment and marital strife in both films is also worth noting.
Paramount does a terrific job with the 1.85:1 transfer, but the DVD includes no features whatsoever (not even a trailer). In fairness, the movie pretty much speaks for itself. I can't imagine what extras could possibly add, other than some dry details about the process of faking underwater locations (no pun intended).
While Hello Down There has an iffy reputation (Leonard Maltin gave it only one and a half stars), anyone with nostalgia for goofy 60s rock bands and sitcoms should definitely check it out. -- Jonathan Doyle