Monday, December 19, 2016

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ~ For a kid, tales of Jules Verne, and especially Captain Nemo, just fire the imagination, and this film has always been a grail for me in this way. I of course had read the books, but I had seen the movie Mysterious Island, with its great Ray Harryhausen effects, first, with Nemo as a peripheral character and yet so large - I wanted more. When I finally saw the 1954 Disney version of the real Nemo saga, I was thrilled.

Originally imagined as an animated feature over a decade before, Walt Disney eventually decided to make the move to live-action with this story, investing much in special effects, and winning Academy Awards for the effort. Coupled with an all-star cast - James Mason, Peter Lorre, and Kirk Douglas - this was a sure-fire hit, although the truth is it took several re-issues to get its money back. Either way, it remains a pinnacle of the genre, inspiring generations, just as the source material of Jules Verne did.

I got the chance to see this on the big screen recently at the 2016 TCM Classic Cruise, and it was introduced by Craig Barron and Ben Burtt, two of the men behind the special effects on the Star Wars movies, who were also spurred by this film to become the SPFX wizards they are today. The boys gave a 30-minute presentation about the making of the film, the special effects, and the miniatures, which was fantastic, featuring footage from the Disney vaults never before seen.

The cast is simply stunning, with James Mason as the prototypical Bond villain a good decade before they really hit the screen, as Captain Nemo. The camaraderie between Douglas and Lorre, and Douglas and Esmeralda the seal too, as a matter of fact make this a buddy movie before its time as well. Kirk Douglas' Ned Land is flamboyant, loud, and lovable, and we do love him, and root for this hero throughout the movie. We love him so much that the wonderfully addictive and simultaneously obnoxious "Whale of a Tale" song is even excusable. You will be humming it for days after seeing it.

Highly recommended, a classic Disney adventure that we have rarely seen since.

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