20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA || 1954, USA || Adventure || Directed by – Richard Fleischer / Produced by – Walt Disney / Written by – Earl Felton (based on the novel by Jules Verne) / Music by – Paul Smith / Cinematography – Franz Planer / Editing by – Elmo Williams / Starring – Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre / Running time: 127 mins.
The famous Jules Verne adventure novels were perfect vehicle for film adaptations in the early age of CinemaScope’s influence in American cinema. Off all these adaptations, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Walt Disney’s first production to be distributed under the Buena Vista Company banner, is arguably the most beloved and entertaining.
For those not familiar with the plot line, it deals with three survivors from a shipwreck (Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas) who are rescued by the charismatic leader Captain Nemo (James Mason). Aboard his Nautilus, they are also introduced to Nemo’s anti-establishmentarian world, which at first charms them and then repels them, once they come into close contact with the negative sides of the anarchic lifestyle.
There seem to certainly be political implications in the storyline which would make it particularly suited to its year of production, 1954, in the first decade of the Cold War and the tension between capitalist America and communist Russia. The influences of the film, however, have also proved to be quite long-lasting on a visual sense: the special effects, including some stand-out sequences such as the attack of the animatronics giant squid to the pivotal underwater funeral procession one; the art direction, with its diving suits to the Nemo’s nautilus itself have given 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea the reputation of being a precursor of the steampunk genre.
Overall, while 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is more an adventurous spectacle and escapism than a film of dramatic depth, the acting itself is worthy of note. Kirk Douglas is sufficiently flamboyant, even featured in a nice musical number near the start of the film, as the hero Ned Land. Yet, it is James Mason who is perfectly cast as the dark, charming and enigmatic Captain Nemo. – 4/5