Live + Sound + Cinema Presents: Ron and Val Taylor’s Inner Space (1974)
Live score performed by Morricone Youth
Friday, April 12 & Saturday April 13 | Tickets
The first part of Nitehawk’s string of half-baked midnights, underwater doc Ron and Val Taylor’s Inner Space gets the Live + Sound + Cinema treatment from Morricone Youth. To celebrate, we, uh, got into the spirit of the season and took in Inner Space.
Produced in the early ‘70s by shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor, the Australian underwater documentary series Inner Space feels a bit like a Life Aquatic remix of Cosmos, turtleneck enthusiast Carl Sagan’s fascinating, sci-fi slick series of astrophysics documentaries. Like Sagan, Ron and Val Taylor share a similarly infectious zeal for their subject matter, but Inner Space is funkier and more vibrant than the heady Cosmos.
Set to mellow vibes and guitar-heavy bossa jazz, Inner Space follows Ron and Val as they tease Moray eels, hang from the side of a boat to photograph a thrashing great white shark, and dive head-first into unexplored sink-holes as pitch black as the depths of outer space. It pops with a vibrant teal palate that’s splashed with orange and pink from lively sea creatures and Val Taylor’s eye-popping dive suits.
Guiding us through these underwater adventures of endless black caverns and ravenous sea-monsters is the cigarette-smoke and hard alcohol touched voice of the film’s narrator: William. Shatner.
Basically, Inner Space is the best.
Ron and Val Taylor are both intrepid divers; they swim alongside poisonous snakes with elegant ease and handle creepy-crawly shit like sea-slugs and giant eels like they’re kittens. There’s a level of caution and confidence in everything Ron and Val do, but there are potent moments of danger when these agitated killers get a little camera shy. Punctuated with clearly staged reaction shots, this tension treads towards hokey, what with Shatner’s constant re-assurances that this isn’t Ron and Val’s first run-in with an angry fish; but there are still many moments where the two seem legitimately concerned about whether or not this animal they’ve been trailing around the ocean is going to turn around and kill them.
Val Taylor is particularly magnetic. While Ron seems to be the more seasoned of the two, Val is just as fearless, getting in close to see the fangs of a sea snake or splashing around in muck to look for fossils. She’s a knock-out too, rocking these fly bright dive suits of pink and red. It did not take her long to work her way up the unattainable-crush ladder where she hangs out with Sean Young and Sigourney Weaver.
Each episode of the show focuses on a different underwater phenomenon – all of them fascinating in different ways. The Great White Shark episode is pure kinetic carnage, loaded with talk about nature’s greatest killers and up-close shots of big, nasty teeth. The shark footage is amazing, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the two contributed all of the live shark footage for Jaws. The Sink Hole Diving, episode is different all-together. It’s quieter and more contemplative, with long shots of Ron and Val exploring underwater caves that few people, if any, have ever explored.
The show treats the oceans with the same alien reverence that’s often reserved for stoner-friendly space-talk – treating the mysteries of the seabed with unreserved wonder. Shatner channels The Good Captain when talking about inner space, using that same hammy, poetic reserve for the sea that he uses to soliloquize the far reaches of space in Star Trek. His narration is campy, sure, but Shatner keeps his wild streak in check here, delivering his lines without too much of his trademark flair.
The best part about Inner Space, though, more than its charismatic hosts and terrifying creatures, is just how damn cool it is. Ron and Valerie Taylor are the height of cool, hopping into danger as Shatner rails off their credentials: world-champion spear fishermen, award winning photographers and filmmakers, husband-and-wife adventure team. They’re like the Steve McQueen’s of the marine science, complete badasses with style to match.
The problem with Inner Space, though, is just how hard it is to come across. There’s no official DVD release state-side, and the Austrailian two-disc set is out-of-print and pricey. The internet isn’t of much help either, as the usual internet back-alleys and private clubs haven’t even produced a decent bootleg. As a consequence, even I have only seen a few of the 12 episodes.
For all I know, the rest of them could be terrible – but they’re probably not. Inner Space is an essential documentary series: it’s exciting, it’s bold and it is rad.
*The Australian DVD is actually only about $30-$40. So, I have only seen a handful of episodes because I am cheap.