Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Captain Nemo: The natives over there are cannibals. They eat liars with the same enthusiasm as they eat honest men.

Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a very successful (and Academy Award winning) Disney film in the 1950s, and today it’s still exciting, thought provoking and beautiful to look at. Even though there is a giant attacking squid, cannibals, sharks and – gasp! – fisticuffs, it’s pretty safe to say most kids, toughened up by today’s much more realistic and intense filmmaking styles, won’t be bothered by much in this futuristic, sci-fi adventure ... most will probably love it! Starring James Mason (as the tragic, despotic Captain Nemo), Kirk Douglas, and Peter Lorre, 20,000 Leagues won Oscars for Special Effects and Art Direction and stands as a truly classic film.

Set in the late 1800’s (which is when Verne wrote it, of course), the story is full of fantastic, far-reaching possibility (including the idea of atomic energy), and it examines how how those among us might deal with the kind of “progress” that leads more to our own self-destruction than to building a better world. (Verne seemed a bit of a Victorian activist, come to think of it!) Verne’s anti-hero, the cultured and erudite Captain Nemo, sees a world heading toward doom, war and more war, and – not terribly far from today’s eco-terrorists – he begins a crusade of his own to stop the madness. Unfortunately, the latter gets a hold of him first.

One major star of the film is the beautifully imaginative submarine-vessel that Nemo creates and uses in his crusade, the Nautilus. (The U.S. Navy named its first atomic sub, launched in 1954, the Nautilus. Several previous Navy vessels had bore the name as well, but it’s thought there is a tacit nod to the novel in naming the first atomic powered sub the Nautilus, on the heels of the film’s release.) The vessel is a technological wonder, filled with art and music and high culture ... even though it’s a killing machine. The other star is the giant squid that attacks the vessel and crew in one memorable scene, an extraordinary accomplishment in special effects at the time. It’s really a great scene, and many people who haven’t seen the film in years recall that moment more than any other.

You might need two bowls of popcorn for this one.

Next: Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth

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