By the early 20th century, the vast majority of the Earth’s surface had been explored, though what was going on beneath the land and sea remained a mystery. For Australian adventurer Hubert Wilkins, the secrets below the polar ice could not be left unsolved, and his curiosity led him to undertake the expedition of a lifetime.
Riding the wave of fame resulting from his previous adventures – first flight in the Antarctic, first flight from Alaska to Europe across the North Pole – Wilkins received backing from William Randolph Hearst to pursue his Arctic dream trip in 1931. He leased a submarine from the U.S. navy for one dollar and proceeded to modify the vessel, christening it the Nautilus. Wilkins and crew set off from New York harbor, planning to cross the Atlantic to England, proceed from England to Norway, and from Norway to the North Pole, where the sub would dive under and emerge on the Canadian side. But, even the best laid plans…
Until recently, no one knew exactly what happened on the Nautilus once it reached the polar ice. However, when New York-based Gabriel Films and Norwegian prodco Videomaker teamed to make a documentary about Wilkins’ expedition, they went in search of the submarine wreck and found it. Among the many revealing details discovered were letters proving that the crew tried to sabotage the mission. They also learned that Wilkins pushed on anyway, at which point the Nautilus disappeared to the outside world for a week. Producer Simon Nasht wouldn’t give away the ending of his film, though he did note that everyone lives.
Budgeted at US$520,000, Voyage of the Nautilus includes archive footage shot by Wilkins himself (he was an early newsreel cameraman) and recreations in which actor Sam Neill poses as the Aussie adventurer. The doc has already pre-sold to the U.S. National Geographic Channel, ABC Australia, Mediaset in Italy and NRK in Norway, among others. Nasht says a 72-minute version will be made available in addition to the one-hour cut. The film is set to wrap by August.