August 8, 2022
Stars Roy Scheider, Jonathan Brandis, Stephanie Beacham, Stacy Haiduk, Don Franklin, John D’Aquino, Royce D. Applegate, Ted Raimi, Marco Sanchez, Rosalind Allen, Edward Kerr, Kathy Evison, Michael DeLuise, Peter DeLuise, Michael Ironside, Elise Neal.
The success of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in the late 1980s gave rise to all sorts of knockoffs and attempts to cash in on the subsequent sci-fi adventure craze that flourished in the early 1990s. NBC’s entry into this zeitgeist, premiering in 1993, was “SeaQuest DSV,” which was essentially just “Star Trek” underwater.
Set in the “far off” year of 2018, the show starred Roy Scheider as Nathan Bridger, captain of the SeaQuest, a massive submarine (deep-submergence vehicle — the DSV of the title) that patrolled Earth’s oceans conducting military defense and scientific studies. In the SeaQuest future, mankind had taken to colonizing Earth’s oceans, leading to the formation of a global government called the United Earth Oceans Organization, which was tasked with keeping the peace against rogue nations and pirates.
Scheider was an inspired bit of casting to lead the series, given his association to aquatic adventures from the “Jaws” movies. Steven Spielberg was one of the executive producers of the series and no doubt lent it more credibility in that regard.
The series certainly didn’t skimp when it came to guest stars, boasting a line-up that included William Shatner, Mark Hamill, Michael York, Kent McCord, Dom DeLuise, Shelley Hack and Charlton Heston. The pilot movie was directed by none other than Empire Strikes Back helmer Irvin Kershner; this would be the final directing credit of his career (he died in 2010).
The cast also included Jonathan Brandis as Lucas, a teenage prodigy who served as the ship’s computer expert. Tossing a kid into the mix to appear to younger viewers, despite how much it strained credibility, was practically a requisite for these kinds of shows following the prominence of Wesley Crusher on TNG. The move paid off for the show, as Brandis became a popular teen idol in the 1990s, but he would ultimately succumb to the pressures of being a child actor, killing himself in 2003 at the age of 27 after a stalled career led him to start drinking heavily.
The show’s most notorious element was the character of Darwin, a highly trained dolphin that could speak to the crew thanks to a translation program in the ship’s computer. He was most commonly referred to as the show’s “talking dolphin,” which was a bit of a misnomer as the technology as presented in the show could theoretically be used to communicate with any number of dolphins.
The first season of 24 episodes dealt more with the scientific themes such as conservation and climate science that originally inspired the series. Noted oceanographer Dr. Bob Ballard, aka the guy who found the wreckage of the Titanic, served as the technical advisor and would appear at the end of episodes to present factoids about marine science. The show was also one of the first to make heavy use of CGI for its visual effects.
While it was an expensive series to produce, “SeaQuest” wasn’t a ratings juggernaut, prompting extensive meddling from the network. The show’s tone and creative direction ended up being re-tooled every year it was on.
The second season of 22 episodes veered the show more into the realm of science-fantasy, with storylines involving genetic engineering, ESP and aliens. In the season finale, the sub is literally plucked from Earth by an alien ship and dumped into the middle of a civil war in the ocean of a far-away planet.
This prompted the final overhaul of the series — renamed “SeaQuest 2032” in season three, which only lasted 13 episodes. While the storylines were more grounded, the show’s tone was more militaristic, as SeaQuest was tasked with leading efforts to contain a growing dictatorship encroaching on the UEO. Bridger was replaced by Capt. Oliver Hudson, played by Michael Ironside, as Scheider appeared in only a handful of episodes due to contractual obligations.
The bigger sin of the third season, however, is that it ditches John Debney’s Emmy-winning theme tune. It’s a sweeping melody that instantly captures the spirit of seafaring adventure, even it sounds a lot like the “Star Wars” theme with a few notes altered.
This great-looking Blu-ray set marks the first North American disc release of the third season. The first two seasons were released on DVD by Universal more than a decade ago.
Those DVDs included some deleted scenes that are also presented on the new Blu-ray, which also includes several new interviews with the creative forces behind the series, including Debney, series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon, and directors Bryan Spicer, John T. Kretchmer and Anson Williams (the latter best remembered for playing Potsie on “Happy Days”).
Each interview is presented as a separate featurette that runs about 10 minutes and provides some fun insights into the creative direction of the series and the state of sci-fi television at the time.
The 57 total episodes are presented mostly in airdate order, with a few adjustments to fix some major continuity problems with episodes that were originally shown out of order by the network.