20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), starring James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas
Editorial review of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea courtesy of Amazon.com
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – The swashbuckler genre bumped into science fiction in 1954 for one of Hollywood’s great entertainments. The Jules Verne story of adventure under the sea was Walt Disney’s magnificent debut into live-action films. A professor (Paul Lukas) seeks the truth about a legendary sea monster in the years just after the Civil War. When his ship is sunk, he, his aide (Peter Lorre), and a harpoon master (Kirk Douglas) survive to discover that the monster is actually a metal submarine run by Captain Nemo (James Mason). Along with the rollicking adventure, it’s fun to see the future technology that Verne dreamed up in his novel, including diving equipment and sea farming. The film’s physical prowess is anchored by the Nautilus, an impressive full-scale gothic submarine complete with red carpet and pipe organ. In the era of big sets, 20,000 Leagues set a precedent for films shot on the water and deservedly won Oscars for art direction and special effects. Lost in the inventiveness of the film and great set pieces including a giant squid attack are two great performances. Mason is the perfect Nemo, taut and private, clothed in dark fabric that counters the Technicolor dreamboat that is the beaming red-and-white-stripe-shirted Kirk Douglas as the heroic Ned Land. The film works as peerless family adventure nearly half a century later.
For the first time ever, you can enjoy this timeless classic in a Special Edition DVD. Fully restored to look and sound as it was originally intended, it also includes hours of exclusive bonus materials your family will enjoy again and again. Climb aboard the Nautilus…and into a strange undersea world of spellbinding adventure! Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre star as shipwrecked survivors taken captive by the mysterious Captain Nemo, brilliantly portrayed by James Mason. Wavering between genius and madness, Nemo has launched a deadly crusade across the seven seas. But can the captive crew expose his evil plan before he destroys the world? Featuring Norman Gimbel and Al Hoffman’s memorable song “A Whale of a Tale,” Disney’s Academy Award(R)-winning (Special Effects and Color Art Direction, 1954) adaptation of Jules Verne’s gripping tale makes 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA a truly mesmerizing masterpiece!|The submarine the Nautilus was built to scale: 200 feet long and shaped as Verne had described it — a monster with headlights as eyes.|Based on the classic Jules Verne novel, this was the first Disney feature filmed in CinemaScope.|The Disney special effects department built the giant squid out of rubber, steel spring, flexible tubing, glass cloth, Lucite, and plastic. When finished, the monster had tentacles that were 40 feet long and two feelers that measured 50 feet long. It took a crew of 28 to operate the beast’s intricate remote controls.|The first time the battle with the giant squid was staged, the monster got waterlogged and sank. Real creatures weren’t much more cooperative. When the filmmakers couldn’t get real fish to swim by the cameras, the studio substituted animated fish instead.|Shooting locations for the film included various locales in the Bahamas and Jamaica, as well as the Disney backlot.
Besides making a lavish, state-of-the-art live action film in the early 1950s, Walt Disney was perceptive enough to chronicle his film with a great deal of care and clarity. The new 90-minute documentary is stuffed with vintage behind-the-scenes color footage. As director Richard Fleisher, Kurt Douglas, and a bevy of technicians reminisce about their adventures on set, there is often footage chronicling the exact moment. This DVD edition is one of the most complete packages of a classic movie to date. Interesting tidbits include an audio re-recording Peter Lorre’sdialogue, unused animation (for undersea scenes), gobs of photos, and vintage marketing films. A short segment about the Nautilus ingeniously combines computer animation with movie sequences, production photos, and blueprints for a tour of the sub. The jewel, though, is the original squid attack that was reshot because it looked so fake. Even on the new commentary track (enjoyable, but low-key), Fleischer thinks–and hopes–the footage is lost, yet seeing the sequence illustrates how the movie was almost sunk by a less-than-breathtaking final act. –Doug Thomas