Tuesday, May 31, 2011

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

I stopped by the Castro Theater earlier this month to see 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea starring James Mason & Kirk Douglas; with Peter Lukas & Peter Lorre; directed by Richard Fleischer; (1954)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was the first science fiction film made by Disney. I had not seen this film previously. I knew it is a classic film and children of all ages love it. I've seen the giant squid scenes a few times.

I'll dispense with the plot since it's such a well known story. I was struck by the intensity of James Mason's portrayal as Nemo. As portrayed by Mason, Nemo has more of a Messiah complex than out to avenge the death of his family. I went in thinking that Kirk Douglas would be Nemo's primary adversary. In fact, Douglas and Peter Lorre provide the comic relief. Douglas sings and dances and mugs it up with a seal named Esmerelda. The forces of good are concentrated on Peter Lukas' character Professor Aronnax. Aronnax is blinded by the treasure trove of charts and scientific experiments resulting from Nemo's underwater travels. Eventually, he sees Nemo for what he is.

A piece of trivia - the penal colony that the Nautilus visits in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is Rura Penthe. It's a completely fictitious place. Rura Penthe was reused in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as the Klingon penal colony where Kirk & Bones are sentenced and meet up with Iman. Rura Penthe is also the Siberian penal colony in Tolstoy's War and Peace.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea wasn't a bad film. 57 years later, the steampunk sets of the Nautilus are fun to look at. I thought the film would be better served if they toned down Douglas' performance. This was a Disney film so they needed something to keep the kids interested. The more universal theme of creating utopia is given the short shrift as the film focuses on the science fiction aspects of the story and Douglas' clowning.

It's also interesting that there were no female characters of note in this version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I guess Disney's target audience were boys too young to appreciate the fairer sex.

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