[Last Film I Watched] 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea poster.jpg

Title: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Year: 1954
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Director: Richard Fleischer
Screenplay: Earl Felton
based on Jules Verne’s novel
Music: Paul J. Smith
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Kirk Douglas
James Mason
Paul Lukas
Peter Lorre
Robert J. Wilke
Ted de Corsia
Carleton Young
Percy Helton
Ted Cooper
J.M. Kerrigan
Rating: 7.0/10

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1954.jpg

Disney’s first-ever CinemaScope juggernaut, a handsome adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel, directed by journeyman Richard Fleischer and won 2 Oscars for its cutting edge special effects and jaw-dropping art direction.

The time is in the latter half of 19th century, a trio of outsiders, Prof. Pierre Aronnax (Lukas), his assistant Conseil (Lorre) and an adept harpooner Ned Land (Douglas), after an amidships attack from a “sea monster” destroying their ship, fetches up on the said monster, it turns out to be an iron vessel named the Nautilus, which can submerge under the water (a proto-submarine), commanded by Captain Nemo (Mason). They are held as hostages but Captain Nemo exhibits great willingness to introduce the feather-in-his-cup to Prof. Aronnax, who is utterly astonished and eager to persuade the former to contribute his discovery to benefit the whole world, but Captain has his own concerns.

Captain Nemo is a cynical character, a tormented soul, ailed by past terror, he has no faith in humans, after finding his peace in the claustrophobic hull, he adopts a whole self-sustaining mechanism to live completely under the sea with his loyal crew members, the ocean is his treasure trove (although the source of the vessel’s propulsion has never been clarified, nuclear energy is tangentially alluded to). Wafting around 20,000 leagues under is no solution to appease his conscience or quench his deep-dish sorrow, that is why he implements those attacks to demolish ships loaded with weaponry or its raw materials, he indeed is a righteously hero, trying to pre-empt war-wrought casualties at the expense of those who are on the assaulted ships, it is a relentless move based on contingency, radical, even somewhat unethical, but it serves as a potent reminder that there is no win-win solution in warfare, it is atrocity in any case, whose corner are you fighting for? Professor Aronnax or Captain Nemo?

The film is a sensation to watch not just for its visual innovation (one can find more pleasure in Czech artisan Karel Zeman’s THE DEADLY INVENTION if technicalities is your cuppa), the epic squid battle alone is worth your ticket; what one finds engaging, or even refreshing is the story’s pervading pessimistic outlook, which is definitely not something one expects from a Disney production, plus James Mason’s poignant impersonation of a man plagued by an existential crisis, everything evokes pathos and to some degree, nihilism in the film’s unfolding up to the finale, Ned Land is a trouble-maker, and Douglas is overtly concerned with his macho image which only leads to his own disservice (even that hooky ditty WHALE OF A TALE is of little avail at that point); Prof. Aronnax is pedantic, credulous and indecisive, whereas Conseil is a wavering coward who only redemption is his allegiance to Prof. Aronnax. None of the three is worth our sympathy, yet they are the sole survivors, what a disgrace in an otherwise stunning achievement.

referential points: Fleischer’s COMPULSION (1959, 7.3/10); Karel Zeman’s THE DEADLY INVENTION (1958, 6.5/10).



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