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20,000 Leagues under the Sea

Entry updated 3 January 2022. Tagged: Film.

Film (1954). Walt Disney (see The Walt Disney Company). Directed by Richard Fleischer. Written by Earl Felton, based on Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1870; trans as Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas 1872) by Jules Verne. Cast includes Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas and James Mason. 127 minutes. Colour.

This early Walt Disney live-action film set Under the Sea was one of his best and most lavish. Fleischer later returned to sf themes with Fantastic Voyage (1966) and Soylent Green (1973), but not so successfully. Captain Nemo is an anarchist Scientist who hates War; he uses his submarine the Nautilus, here nuclear-powered, to sink warships. The script is rather lame, though James Mason gives a stirring performance as the obsessed Nemo, who fights a lone battle against the world before being betrayed by three shipwreck survivors (including a displeasing harpoonist played hammily by Kirk Douglas) whom he has taken on board. He expires in style, at the centre of a self-made holocaust that envelops both his private island and the Nautilus before, significantly, forming a mushroom-shaped cloud. The special effects are good (and won an Oscar), especially notable being Bob Mattey's mechanically operated giant squid; the Nautilus itself with its ornate Victoriana is beautifully designed by Harper Goff.

There had been three previous film versions of Verne's novel: a mysterious 1905 Biograph production (18 minutes) that does not appear in Biograph records, a French one made by George Méliès in 1907 (18 minutes) and a US one, with fine underwater photography, written and directed by Stuart Paton in 1916 (113 minutes). Michael Anderson directed a made-for-Television version that appeared in 1997. [JB]


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