Friday, November 07, 2008

30,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2007)

I was kind of excited to see 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea until I realized it was made by The Asylum, purveyors of such fine motion-pictures as Transmorphers and Snakes on a Train. I mean, I was stoked to see a modern update of 20,000 Leagues that substitutes giant-robot squid for regular, ol', run-of-the-mill giant squid, but I was also stoked to see a giant cobra fight a giant komodo dragon until I actually saw that movie. (In all fairness, Komodo vs. Cobra wasn't an Asylum film, but it sure felt like one.)

So my heart sank a little when I realized that 30,000 Leagues was just another attempt by The Asylum to cash in on someone else's popularity. (Though the last time 20,000 Leagues was anything close to popular was ten years earlier than this movie was made, so I'm scratching my head a bit over that one.) And there are problems with 30,000 Leagues. Big ones.

Let's start off with how misleading that cover is. First of all, no one travels anywhere close to 30,000 leagues in this movie whether over or under the sea. The action sticks pretty close to a single area of the Pacific Ocean where an American sub has gone down in the Marianas Trench. Because the US doesn't want the sub's nuclear missiles falling into the wrong hands, they bring in Navy scientist Michael Aronnaux (Lorenzo Lamas) and his mini-sub crew to retrieve the weapons and, if possible, rescue the sailors aboard.

Because Aronnaux is our hero, he naturally bristles at the implied prioritization of US butt-covering over the salvation of human life, but he becomes especially cranky about it when the mission commander turns out to be his ex-wife Conseil (Natalie Stone, who seriously needs to play Elsa Lanchester in a biopic). There's no updated Ned Land, which is a shame, but I guess they figured Lorenzo was man enough to serve as both him and the professor.

Instead of a reputation for knowing a lot about underwater life, 30,0000's Aronnaux has developed a machine that converts water into air, forming self-sustaining bubbles underwater. It's that invention that makes Aronnaux attractive to Captain Nemo (Sean Lawlor, aka William Wallace's dad in Braveheart), and we quickly learn that it was Nemo who sank the Navy sub in order to draw Aronnaux and his invention there.

One thing I like about this version is its Nemo. He comes across as charming at first, but we soon learn that he's clearly insane. The other inaccurate thing about the movie poster is that it implies the Nautilus looks like a giant robo-squid, but that's not true. The Nautilus is no swift-striking attack sub in this film, but a massive, mobile, undersea city with civilians and nightclubs and whatnot aboard. It has giant robo-squid on it though and it sends them out to attack other subs. They're nowhere near as big as that poster makes them out to be, but that doesn't make them any less awesome.

And there's lots of awesome in this film. Nemo's plan is to use Aronnaux's invention to create a giant bubble around the ruins of Atlantis, but not before Nemo first blows up the surface world with his new nuclear missiles. New Atlantis, giant robo-squid, Nemo as a madman out to destroy the world, Renegade and the Bride of Frankenstein trying to stop him... what's not to like?

Unfortunately, this is an Asylum film and that means it was made on the cheap. Except for some stock footage of a Navy destroyer and the ocean floor, I don't think there's a single location shot in the whole film. Exteriors don't match up with interiors, there's no flow to the action, CGI shots are reused, and Nemo's brainwashing device (no subtle storyline about Nemo's winning over Aronnaux by mere persuasion in this movie!) looks like a reused set piece from Ghostbusters.

Yet, for all its faults, I can't hate the movie. It's just too much campy, awesome fun. And some of the CGI (reused though it is) is really quite good. The Nautilus looks good, Aronnaux's mini-sub looks great, and Atlantis and the robo-squid are very, very cool.

Three out of five giant robo-squid.

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