Clive Cussler is a famed adventure novelist whose "Dirk Pitt" series has gained a large fanbase since their start in the '70's. The Pitt series got off to a rocky start in 2005 when Cussler had serious concerns about how his 1992 novel, "Sahara", was being adapted. The author eventually sued the production company and they sued him back. The case was eventually settled, but it made future adaptations of Cussler novels look rather unlikely.
While we may not see one of Cussler's heroes make another jump from the page to the screen, fans of the author can see the author himself in a series of adventures in "The Sea Hunters", which was the title of two of Cussler's books. The series has Cussler (who plays host), maritime archaeologist James Delgado and a team of divers - as well as some guests - profiling different WWII-era shipwrecks. As the back of the box notes, the program isn't about finding treasure - it is about completing the historical record for the sunken vessels.
Cussler himself has a strong interest in trying to "preserve maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts", as that is the goal of the non-profit foundation he built - The National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), which is also the name of a government organization in some of the author's novels. After verifying underwater finds, NUMA turns the rights to the artifacts over to non-profits, universities, or government entities all over the world.
One of the most interesting - and unusual - of the stories comes right off the bat. The first episode has Cussler, Delgado and their team investigating a fascinating creation by the British that was a floating airbase made of ice. Created by scientist Geoffrey Pyke in Canada, the ship was to be made of a mixture of ice and frozen wood pulp (called pycrete), which surprised many with its strength. Another particularly interesting episode is "The Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff", where the Sea Hunters are the first to explore the site of the largest maritime disaster in history. As with the other episodes, the documentary does spend some time trying to dive in search of any remains of the ship, but a large portion of the episode is spent giving the viewer an overview of the history of the ship and its development.
The series is impressive in its detail and ability to go back-and-forth between present day and historical information. However, despite some fascinating tales, the series can be somewhat dry at times and even some of the most remarkable stories may start to seem a bit long for those who do not have a deep interest in maritime history. Overall though, I was impressed with the show and its desire to document these legendary artifacts.
1. Ship of Ice
- To protect Allied convoys during WWII, eccentric scientist Geoffrey Pyke proposed a manmade island of ice as a floating airbase. Now, in the atmosphere of the Canadian Rockies, the Sea Hunters dive into the mountain lake to find the ice island's prototype.
2. Diving the V-2 Rocket Caves
- Deep beneath a mountain in central Germany, the Sea Hunters probe the dark, murky depths of flooded underground tunnels carved from former gypsum mines by slave labor. There, safe from Allied bombing, the Nazis assembled Hitler's ultimate weapon of vengeance - the deadly V-2 rockets that were sent towards London.
3. Leopoldville/Clayoquot: Death on Christmas Eve
- In 1944, the Leopoldville set out from England with 2,200 troops to shore up Allied forces after the Battle of the Bulge. The Clayoquot sailed from Nova Scotia, protecting a convoy with a similar mission. An ocean apart, both ships fell victim to torpedoes on Christmas Eve. The Sea Hunters explore their remains.
4. Minesweeper Eddy, Heroes of the Night
- In an attempt to seal off strategically important Malta, Axis forces repeatedly seeded its harbor with mines. Every night, however, minesweepers defied darkness and submerged danger to clear the sea lanes. Paying homage to such bravery, the Sea Hunters dive the wreck of the minesweeper Eddy.
5. The Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff
- Long shrouded in Soviet secrecy, the remains of the German refugee ship Wilhelm Gustoff mark the largest martime disaster in the history of the world - one that claimed more than 9,000 lives. Diving cold Baltic waters, the Sea Hunters become the first to explore the wreck and reveal their findings to the world.
6. Force Z
- In late 1941, the HMS Prince of Wales and the HMS Repulse joined three destroyers in the South China Sea to form Force Z, aiming to deter a Japanese invasion of the Malay Peninsula. But when enemy planes swarmed the two big ships, their sinking changed modern naval warfare.
7. Juno Beach: D-Day Underwater
- The Sea Hunters undertake the first-ever survey of the depths off Juno Beach, the site of Candadian forces' assault on Hitler's "Fortress Europe" on June 6, 1944. Facing strong tidal surges off the French coast, they explore the sunken remnants of the largest invading armada ever assembled.
8. Still on Patrol: The Hunt for Hitler's U-Boat 215
- In one of the most challenging dives, the Sea Hunters brave seven-knot currents of the Georges Bank to look for the mysterious, missing U-215. Could it be the same sub that sank the Liberty ship Alexander Maccomb in the early months of WWII before succumbing to British depth charges?
VIDEO: "The Sea Hunters" is presented by Acorn Media in 1.33:1 full-frame, which appears to be the show's original aspect ratio. Image quality is satisfactory for this sort of program, and quality can vary throughout the program. Sharpness and detail are mostly okay, as the picture generally appeared slightly soft, but never hazy or blurry. Some minor grain and artifacting was occasionally seen, but no edge enhancement was noticed and the materials from the archives used on occasion throughout the series looked in surprisingly good shape. Colors looked natural and accurate, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: Crisp, clear stereo soundtrack.
EXTRAS: Each episode has a brief amount of deleted footage (most episodes have 1 additional scene, while a couple of episodes have 3-4) and we also get a Cussler bio. All the bonus footage is on the third DVD.
Final Thoughts: "The Sea Hunters" provides a fascinating, in-depth look at WWII-related sunken ships, offering both a look at the history behind the ship. While the series does do an excellent job providing an overview of each case, the narration and overall presentation can sometimes be a little dry for those with only a passing interest in maritime history. Recommended.