20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Reviews
Watched this on 22/10/16
James Mason's performance holds uncommon depth and this is one of the very few disney films that are not childish. Mason's role balances out the film and on the whole the film moves at a breezy pace with a plot that is shrouded at mystery for most of the length. Kirk Douglas is also good in his role. The visual effects of the film are mesmerizing and it hasn't aged with time. Much credit should be given to director Richard Fleischer for helming this film.
A made for TV adaptation has been done in the nineties, but it doesn't even come close to this one! Awesome in every way and form!
2.Hunt for Red October
3.20,000 League Under the Sea ? ?? 1/2
8.Ice Station Zebra
No, it's not a 100% faithful adaptation of the book (which I also love), ditching Nemo's Indian ethnicity and fury at the Brit Empire for a possible Brit ethnicity and a fury at an unnamed nation. The book's invention of electricity is switched in the film to atomic power (actually a decent idea considering the film was released in the era of the atom bomb, and dotted with sombre warnings about the danger of atomic power). The climactic maelstrom of the book is replaced with a possibly-more-dramatic bombed island in the book. And probably most noticeably, the book's main protagonist (Professor Aronnax) is sidelined in the film (somewhat) to give priority to a character who was less prominent in the book - the North American harpooner, Ned Land.
This latter change makes the most sense from a commercial viewpoint (especially with the casting of megastar Kirk Douglas), but it also pays off with some nicely balanced class-based tension/humour between "the common man" and the "aristocracy" - and leavening what would could have been a lot of dry scientific oohing and ahhing from the book with some more accessible and grounded moralising and much needed humour.
In fact the humour of this film is brilliant - especially the odd couple stuff between the boisterous, OTT Douglas and the stuffed shirt Peter Lorre (again wonderful in a far less creepy role than he became famed for). I especially love the hair-ruffling routines between the two.
Otherwise this film is a wonderful adventure - a little episodic and repetitive and perhaps a tad too long and slow-paced for audiences of today - but its hardly dated at all, in pretty much EVERY way (apart from the shocking clips of Nemo's men "farming" sea turtles by grabbing their limbs and pulling them into the craft).
The effects are still outstanding 60 years later, and the design of the Nautilus especially is steampunk nirvana - so beautifully wrought and detailed, inside and out. The action, when it comes, is unspectacular by today's spoilt standards, but its not hard to imagine '50s audiences going nuts over it, especially the attack by the giant squid, which exhibits true movie craft of multiple levels.
The most memorable contribution to this flick though is James Mason's performance as Captain Nemo. He leavens a dude who is basically a misanthropic murderer with tinges of sympathy...Mason sells not only the genius, or the madman, but also the humanity, and the hatred, and the pain of Nemo.
He's nicely balanced by the other key players - Lukas is an underwhelming "good" version of Nemo for the villain to bounce off, and Douglas and Lorre are more grounded audience substitutes for the insane narrative going on around them.
Yes, the story wasn't as groundbreaking in 1954 as it was 80 years earlier when Verne published his remarkably prophetic book...submarines and electric power were all the rage in the mid-20th century but mere twinkles in some inventor's eyes in the mid-19th. That doesn't make Verne's prophecies any less amazing. Or some of his/Nemo's theories about mankind's tendency for self-destruction, and his preference of eschewing nationality and inter-nation conflict. Not to mention his undersea farming and menu offerings. (How DOES one milk a sperm whale?)
This story was/is a fascinating one. In so many ways, Captain Nemo was a precursor of the classic (late Connery/mid Moore) Bond villain - mad geniuses determined to redefine the world in their own image. But Nemo - in this film at least - and in no small part thanks to James Mason - is something more. A wounded man, hiding from the horrible, "real" world. He gives a depth to this movie above that of the typical Disney blockbuster.
Sure, that depth is balanced with corny and obvious bits with a sea-lion, and a huge fight in a gale with a colossal animatronic giant squid...but those bits are great too, and help give this film a more universal appeal.
Well done, Mr. Disney.
(I especially appreciated this line: "Cheer up, Professor. You'll forget all about fishing when you see the gals in Saigon.")