Adapted from the Jules Verne novel of the same name, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is a 1954 film from Walt Disney Productions. It was directed by Richard Fleischer from a screenplay by Earl Felton. Walt Disney himself served as an uncredited producer of the feature.
Professor Pierre M. Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his assistant, Conseil (Peter Lorre), set sail on a naval expedition with the arrogant harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas) to the Pacific Ocean upon hearing rumors of a sea monster. A few months later, the crew spot a disabled vessel and later the “monster.” They open fire but are rammed by the beast, forcing Aronnax, Ned, and Conseil overboard. After drifting away, they encounter a metal vessel that is the mysterious monster. After sneaking aboard the ship known as the Nautilus, they are soon captured by the enigmatic Captain Nemo (James Mason) and forced to live on board. As Ned plots an escape, Aronnax gets to know Nemo and finds that he sees himself and his crew as protectors of the sea and will stop at nothing to prevent what he sees as “war.”
As a kid, I was an avid reader of Jules Verne. When my parents came home with this adaption, I was incredibly excited. I never noticed the age of the film because the story came to life.
At the time of its release, its special effects were praised, winning two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Special Effects. This is particularly the case for the epic battle between the crew of Nautilus and the giant squid. This battle stuck in my head for a long time as it definitely grabs your attention. As a funny aside, when I was a kid watching it, I wanted to see a second battle, even commenting to my parents that I hoped it would return.
The movie’s setting on the Nautilus is a perfect match for the tone. In fact, the movie is considered to be a frontrunner in steampunk fiction. This is a credit to Felton, who did a good job adapting the novel for the big screen.
I also want to praise the actors for their roles. Mason as Captain Nemo plays him a sort of anti-hero who truly believes that he is doing the right thing for the sea. He is cunning, mesmerizing, and spellbinding as he waxes philosophy. He is physically intimidating, but also agreeable as he disguises his beliefs.
Lukas as Aronnax is also well made. While he did not look like I had pictured the character as I read, the actor did not hold back his talent. His character’s conversations with Nemo are interesting. I also appreciate his facial expressions. When Nemo reveals the cigars they are smoking are made from seaweed, Lukas’ expression is perfect as both intrigue and slight disgust. That is peak excellent acting.
Last, but certainly not least, Kirk Douglas as Ned Lands is superb. This was the first film I had watched with him in a starring role and he certainly steals the screen as the arrogant sailor who sees the madman in Nemo and desires to escape the submarine. He is excellent in the role and I could not imagine someone else playing Ned.
Bottom line, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is an excellently made film that has incredible performances and an enthralling story. The movie is definitely a classic for both its superb adaption of the Jules Verne novel and the talent that brought it together.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violence, Minor Language
FAVORITE QUOTE: I am not what is called a civilized man, Professor. I have done with society for reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws.
Check out the trailer below:
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