Usually by now I'd be feeling the urge to watch some horror movies, but I'm not. I'm still stuck on undersea adventure, so I've been watching a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea marathon. I'm about halfway through, so this and the next couple of posts will be about the three I've seen so far (not counting the Richard Crenna one that I saw back in August).
I had to start with the classic. Not because it's classic, necessarily, but because it was the first one (not counting this one, which I've already reviewed), and that's the kind of geek I am. In addition to looking at story choices, I also groove on noting influences and the Disney version influenced the crap out of all the rest of them.
As well it should. I wasn't sure if I was going to like it as much as I remember doing as a kid, but if anything, I liked it more. It's not a faithful adaptation of the book, but as I've said before, that's a good thing. The book sucks.
Of the five versions I've seen so far, Disney captures the steampunk quality the best. The Nautilus looks and feels like a real place and it's a place you'd actually want to live in. It's got the coolest ship design probably ever, including every spaceship I've ever seen. I'd rather have Disney's Nautilus than the Millenium Falcon and that's saying a lot.
James Mason as Nemo is also cool. He's suave and - though creepy - very charismatic. He's exactly the kind of guy who would build a ship like the Nautilus and who could inspire men to leave their old lives behind and sail her with him. Mason does a fantastic acting job too. When the Nautilus rams a military ship, the conflict on Nemo's face as he beats the crap out of his pipe organ is powerful. I really believed that Nemo thought he was doing the right thing, but hated it at the same time.
When I talked about the Richard Crenna version, I praised it for introducing an interesting plot that wasn't in the novel. The novel needed something to pull the story along and the Crenna 20,000 Leagues added a love-triangle between Nemo and Professor Aronnax's daughter (who took the place of Aronnax's servant Conseil in that version). It was a good move, but Disney doesn't have to change the story that significantly to stay interesting.
They keep the manservant, let Peter Lorre play him, and focus on his alliance with Ned Land as the two scheme to escape the Nautilus. The conflict comes from Aronnax's thinking he can convince Nemo to share his technological advances with the world, if only he has the time. Land and Conseil's plans threaten Aronnax's, so the three are constantly challenging each other as Nemo takes them into situation after dangerous situation. I enjoyed that conflict infinitely more than the passionless romance in Crenna's version.
A huge part of the reason I liked the conflict was because Kirk Douglas is so damn charming. His Ned Land is rough and not that bright, but he knows what he wants and you can't help but love the guy and that stupid "Whale of a Tale" song he's always singing. He also has more chemistry with Nemo's pet seal than, well, anyone did in the Crenna version. (Honestly, I liked the Crenna version at the time, but after seeing this one again, I pretty much hate it in comparison.)
This one's got the giant squid fight over Crenna's giant eel too. There's no explosive harpoon is the Disney one, but they more than make up for it in tentacles and rain and just the sheer manliness of the battle. The special effects also hold up remarkably well. It's obviously not a real squid, but it moves pretty naturally and is actually scary as it silently races up towards the Nautilus from the depths. It's much more convincing than the crappy CGI beast in the Michael Caine version, which I'll talk about later.
The movie ends a lot better than the book. In the book, there's a whirlpool that sucks the Nautilus down and Verne totally cheats on how Aronnax and Company escape. One second they're going down with the ship; the next they're lying on a beach somewhere with no memory of how they got there. The movie finishes with a dramatic battle at Nemo's island hideout and when the Nautilus and the Aronnax Group go to their separate fates, it's all believable.
Five out of five giant squids.