Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Transatlantic Tunnel

(The Tunnel, UK, 1935)

In 1972 Harry Harrison published a novel in Analog called A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! (alternate title: Tunnel Through the Deeps). I remember liking it. I think it was an early example of the SF genre known as steampunk. These stories take place in alternate futures where steam power is still king, inspired by the novels of Wells and Verne. I’ve never been a fan of it; just a novelty, I think.

I wonder if Harry ever saw this movie. I’d never heard of it, so I was startled to discover just how good it is … on a technical level, at least. I mean, it looks great. It takes place in an unnamed year, but mention is made that a tunnel under the English Channel was completed in 1940. Now they’re setting out on the much harder task of linking New York to London, underwater. The sets are very large, and the vehicles are very modernistic (but are actual production cars, early examples of streamlining, like the Czechoslovakian Tatra T77). The tunnel itself looks to me to be much, much wider than it needs to be, but I’m not complaining. It’s a terrific set. Everyone has two-way televisions. The tunnel is being bored out by something called a “radium drill.”

The whole thing has the dubious idea that this tunnel will somehow lead to world peace as its underpinning. There is talking of the “English-speaking” world, and that this tunnel will somehow unite them and humble the “peoples of the east.” Pretty damn chauvinistic, if you ask me. And how, pray tell, is this going to work any better than ships and airplanes? A tunnel like that would be easy to blow up. One bomb would close it. I dunno, it’s pretty stupid, but no more idiotic than a radium drill, I guess.

It’s all a lot of fun in many ways, and very advanced in its design and special effects, but unfortunately it’s mostly buried under a cave-in of the most standard, by-the-numbers “human interest” plot lines. You know, the obsessed engineer to neglects his wife, another woman whose heart burns for the hero. It’s all badly written and acted, and very ho-hum. If that wasn’t enough, a lot of screen time is taken up with financial shenanigans that are also uninteresting. I mean, I’m not saying I want a movie that is just about the physical building of the tunnel, I agree that getting to know the humans who are living in an SF story is a very good thing—because so many tech SF writers have no idea how to do it. But it should be interesting stories, not ones we’ve seen a thousand times. So I found myself saying, over and over, less kissy-kissy, less shareholder meetings, and more tunnel!