Jules Verne's classic novel released in 1870 details the story of Captain Nemo and the crew of the Nautilus, an atomic submarine built in the second half of the 19th Century.

It was written when submarines were just a dream and atomic energy a fantasy and shows how accurately well conceived science fiction can predict the future.

I will be noding the Project Gutenber etext of this fine novel in nodeberg style. I have just begun this endeavor, and am posting this writeup so that no work will be duplicated. (ie. I'm doing it, so you don't have to.) Translated another way, this means that you shouldn't really do anything to this wu until the actual content arrives.

Added TOC... chapters will appear gradually, have no fear.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas
An Underwater Tour of the World
by: Jules Verne
Translated from the Original French
by: F. P. Walter

Contents

First Part
  1. A Runaway Reef
  2. The Pros and Cons
  3. As Master Wishes
  4. Ned Land
  5. At Random!
  6. At Full Steam
  7. A Whale of Unknown Species
  8. "Mobilis in Mobili"
  9. The Tantrums of Ned Land
  10. The Man of the Waters
  11. The Nautilus
  12. Everything through Electricity
  13. Some Figures
  14. The Black Current
  15. An Invitation in Writing
  16. Strolling the Plains
  17. An Underwater Forest
  18. Four Thousand Leagues Under the Pacific
  19. Vanikoro
  20. The Torres Strait
  21. Some Days Ashore
  22. The Lightning Bolts of Captain Nemo
  23. "Aegri Somnia"
  24. The Coral Realm
Second Part
  1. The Indian Ocean
  2. A New Proposition from Captain Nemo
  3. A Pearl Worth Ten Million
  4. The Red Sea
  5. Arabian Tunnel
  6. The Greek Islands
  7. The Mediterranean in Forty-Eight Hours
  8. The Bay of Vigo
  9. A Lost Continent
  10. The Underwater Coalfields
  11. The Sargasso Sea
  12. Sperm Whales and Baleen Whales
  13. The Ice Bank
  14. The South Pole
  15. Accident or Incident?
  16. Shortage of Air
  17. From Cape Horn to the Amazon
  18. The Devilfish
  19. The Gulf Stream
  20. In Latitude 47° 24' and Longitude 17° 28'
  21. A Mass Execution
  22. The Last Words of Captain Nemo
  23. Conclusion

Director: Richard Fleischer
Writer: Earl Felton
Professor Arronax: Paul Lukas
Ned Land: Kirk Douglas
Conseil: Peter Lorre
Captain Nemo: James Mason
Based on the novel by Jules Verne.

Walt Disney studios had won Academy Awards for their animated work by the 1950s, but Walt felt they did not have the respect of Hollywood. So, while in the middle of building Disneyland, he commisioned their first full-length, live-action feature film. Their adaptation of the Jules Verne adventure-- long a favourite of Disney's-- would have famous actors, impressive special effects, and multiple locations. Indeed, it would be the most expensive Hollywood production ever at that point, nearly sinking the studio, and probably the most impressive live-action film that Disney would make until the 1980s.

The plot follows Verne fairly closely. A ship investigates claims that a monster is sinking ships in the south seas. Two French academics and a rowdy harpooner discover the truth when they are taken aboard a futuristic submarine captained by the enigmatic, tortured Captain Nemo.

Designer Harper Goff created the definitive pop-culture images for Jules Verne’s novel, capturing perfectly a Victorian furturistic sensibility. The Nautilus (interior and exterior) and the deep-sea suits (actually functional) remain as indelible as images as Boris Karloff/Jack Pierce’s Frankenstein Monster. The effects used to realize these designs look good, even a half-century later.

Obviously, special effects have improved since 1954, but Fleischer and his crew did a good job. Only the rear-projection effects now look really bad. The underwater scenes (filmed in a studio tank and off the Bahamas, in the same location as the 1916 adaptation), remain impressive.

The matte paintings generally blend very well. Of particular note is the opening scene, which shows a forest of masts in San Francisco Bay.

The most famous effects sequence involves the fight with the giant squid. The battle was filmed twice, and signficantly hiked the film's cost.

Everyone knew this sequence would be a highlight. The first attempt, shot with a rather unconvincing robo-squid against a tropical sunset, looks idiotic. Disney himself compared the actions of Nemo's crew in this take to a scene from the Keystone Kops. Wires are painfully visible, while the background colours actually create a peaceful mood. The squid itself, with its blubbery pink flesh, looks like something one might hallucinate after one too many fruity tropical drinks at Club Hedonism. The "Special Edition" DVD of the film, released in 2003, includes this original version of the scene as one of the many "extras."

The final cut, with a new, fairly convincing squid and a raging storm still works. Yes, it’s a giant mechanical puppet, but some contemporary CGI effects don’t work as well.

Of course, the film's human actors receive more time onscreen than the sea monsters.

James Mason plays Nemo in an understated manner which remains powerful. Regrettably, the script does not permit us to see further into his dark soul. Douglas and Lorre were obviously enjoying themselves. The treatment of Ned Land as a sort of combination swashbuckler and buffoon, however, grows a little wearisome. Undoubtedly, certain aspects of his character will appeal more to younger children.

And we must remember that Disney, while trying to be taken seriously as a film-making studio, never lost sight of their family market. Despite the actual danger these characters face, and the genuine horror in Nemo’s past, we rarely get any real sense of such things. The script contains some horrific undertones, but the drama and conflict suffer somewhat because of the need to maintain a corporate reputation.

Other elements may annoy some viewers. They’ve given Nemo a cutesy pet seal, for phoque's sake, and Land (Douglas) gets a musical number. The brief appearance by a Hollywood-variety cannibal tribe may also give one pause, though the Jamaicans who played them reportedly found the experience supremely amusing.

To really enjoy this film, you have to accept it for what it is: a 1950s Disney adaptation of a swashbuckling Victorian SF adventure story. Viewed in this light, it’s an enjoyable film.

The DVD “Special Edition,” released in 2003, features:

Remastered version of the film
Audio commentary with director Richard Fleischer and film historian Rudy Behlmer
Animated short: "Grand Canyonscope"
Documentary: "The Making Of '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea'"
Jules Verne and Walt Disney: Explorers of the Imagination
The Humboldt Squid: A Real Sea Monster
The "Sunset Squid" Sequence
1954 Disney Studio Album
Production Gallery
The Musical Legacy of Paul Smith
Tour of the Nautilus
Storyboard-to-Scene Comparison
Monsters Of The Deep
Unused animated sequence
Biographies: Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, James Mason, Paul Lucas, Richard Fleischer
Advertising: Lobby Cards, Posters and Merchandise
Production Documents
Screenplay Excerpt: Nemo's Death
Movie Merchandise
Trims
Theatrical Trailer
Radio commercials
Audio: "Whale of a Tale."


Portions of this review first appeared at www.bureau42.com, in a review by this writer.


     "Do you really want to see this?" Carmen asked.
     "Heck, yes." I said. It's been in the nineties. Also, I wanted to visit my schoolgirl crush.

     I'd known about this movie since I was…about four or five, when my cousins dumped on me a huge selection of Little Nipper records, and a cheap record player. For those of you who are too young to remember, Little Nippers were a partnership between Disney and RCA, and featured cut-down versions of movies on four sides of 2 EP's on yellow vinyl. The idea was that you had a book, with colored illustrations from the movie, and sometimes dialogue and text, and every time a sound cue came up (typically a dog barking, though for this movie, Esmeè a seal) you turned the page. Pathetic, I know, but until VCR's came out (at $10,000) this was how you experienced movies at home, unless you were a rich kid and had a film projector. When RCA came up with a turntable with integrated slides, it felt like This Is The Future.
     Sigh. I know. Pathetic.

     The Nipper version was heavily bowdlerized: it begins with Ned Land telling how Arronax, Conseuil, and himself were out doing scientific stuff, and all of a sudden they get caught in a hurricane, and just when they've been washed off into the stormy Caribbean, a submarine pops up. It's Cap'n Nemo, and he's more than happy to have everyone aboard, giving them a tour of the ship, singing jolly sea chanteys with his crew and feasting them with his amazing all-seafood cuisine. Although he's decided to keep them permanent guests in order to keep his secrets, after a few adventures, he lets them off in a spot near a port, out of gratitude.  It ends with Ned Land throwing a fish to Esmèe and singing "A whale of a tale and it's all true/I swear by my tattoo."

     So it was with a good heart that I went to see this movie for the first time, expecting Verne's signature blend: a little adventure, some tall tale and speculation, and a lot of mid-19th century true science. Disney had re-released the film as part of the centennial of its publication…I was twelve, aspie, and imaginative, and game for anything even vaguely science fictional.

And found…SEX.

One of the delightful characteristics of classic Hollywood in general, and Disney in particular, is that the line between children's fare and adult-oriented films isn't always black and white: studios expected whole families to go to the movies together, and although you probably can't find a kid-friendly film noir or sexual innuendo in Sleeping Beauty, they do throw both sides a bone now and then. In this case, the adult bone in the kid's flick is Captain Nemo.

A less imaginative casting would have made Conseuil a more than slightly geeky teenage boy -- as a matter of fact, he comes across as kind of Aspie in the books, always referring to himself and others in the third person and suchlike and Arronax an absent-minded professor. (Between the two of them, you can always have someone ready to tell you what science you need to know.) Ned Land is mostly beefcake eye candy, 'cause sailors are cool, and Canadian/Americans are funny. This of course gives us Captain Nemo, a Mad Scientist par excellence, and since his big schtick is that no one knows what his deal is, he can be anything from pure evil to a scenery-chomping cartoon without too much trouble. Instead, we get Kirk Douglas, playing the brutish Ned Land in an outfit based on the American Flag, Peter Lorre, playing Conseuil the Nonentity, Paul Lukas as Arronax, the Suave European, and... James Mason.

When he's not in a diving suit, he slinks around in a series of unconstructed coats that give him an air somewhere between Hugh Hefner and Dr. Orpheus. (Hey, it's his boat…) He's not tall, but looks it, and speaks in a rapid, velvety purr similar to that of Tim Curry, with huge expressive dark eyes. He borderline-drowns the castaways, and picks up Arronax and the others at the last minute, observing that Arronax was trying to help the others. He dries them off and serves them an all-seafood meal that's intended to be gourmet queasine, but (to a contemporary viewer) merely sounds like classic fish-as-meat meeting classic Japanese. On the ship, he's got a cramped, though otherwise amazing proto-steampunk bachelor pad filled with books, scientific specimens, and a pipe organ on which he improvises now and then. He's got a Deep Dark Secret, and wears his world-weariness with great volupté...watching an incredible wargasm scene, you can see all that sublimated sex having its way with him as he stokes up playing Bach, and his eyes dance on the edge of madness as he rams the Nautilus into a steam schooner. (He does, however, kiss the seal, now and then.) As someone else said, he looks and acts as if he's in some other movie, one with more violence, an R rating and a much more clearly defined political message. (Considering his effect on a real-live 12-year old, I kind of wonder at Kubrick casting him as Humbert Humbert. All I can say is Lolita, you eediot! On the other hand, if you fear your preadolescent female will never appreciate any male fantasy more complex than Twilight or boy bands, I'd hand them this on DVD...and wait.)

Like the book, the movie is kind of episodic: Ned Land gets drunk/in a fistfight/sings every 20 minutes, and plots escape, there's a lot of nice underwater footage that resembles some of the photographs from Life Magazine at the time (though not as well documented as in the book, and, well, they just didn't have SCUBA), they encounter some cannibals, and fight them off, Arronax gets to see the power source (which is hinted as being atomic, instead of the hand waving "electricity" of the book), and, um, we get to see why Nemo's so angsty. (Colonialism.) Long story short, Ned and Nemo fight a giant squid and finally declare a truce, we see a glimpse of Nemo's super-seecret techno Utopia…and then, they get captured again, by the "good" guys.

Sigh.

Upon seeing it again, Peter Lorre looks shamefully underused. It could stand a lot less Ned Land, who gets annoying, after awhile, and a lot more science, whether mechanical or natural history. (Protip to would be adapters: There's a really good English writer of the period who you can plunder for details, if there isn't enough in Verne.) The crew all speak English (instead of either Uralic Polish or Bundeli/Kannada depending on what version of Captain Nemo you follow), and you never get to find out anything about them, other than they're True to the End. The sea lion looks really well trained. And, oh, yeah, the giant squid is fun to watch.

     I gotta get out of these clothes….Hm. Dakkar. Isn't that where that temple is, with all those carvings of people doing…all that? It's really hot around here...

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