20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

This film really didn’t work for me, which is something I’m still trying to work out… especially since it seems to be generally acclaimed as one of Disney’s best productions. I won’t discount that it may just have been my useless mood (I’m sure that my mental state has been responsible for me initially disliking a number of films I’ve later watched again and liked better) or the very late time of night at which I started watching it last night, but I don’t think it was just that… Could it be the wilting length? 127 minutes is a lot of running time to throw into a film I presume was primarily aimed at younger viewers back in the day… Could it be the widescreen? This was an early Cinemascope film, Disney’s first in fact, and it looked cramped even on my widescreen TV, probably because it was shot at 2.55 which is slightly wider (therefore narrower on a TV screen) than usual. Bet it looked amazing on cinema screens, though. Could it be the casting? Even Brian Lindsey’s glowing review acknowledges Kirk Douglas is widely considered the weakest link (though he disagrees). It’s not just him, though; James Mason as Nemo was the only lead player who really convinced me. Neither Paul Lukas’ professor or the poorly used Peter Lorre’s apprentice made any particular impression, while Douglas’ harpooner Ned Land just kept setting my teeth on edge. Interestingly, I read that most of Verne’s novels were considerably altered in English translation, and that tradition seems to have been kept for this film; though I only know the book via its Wikipedia synopsis, it looks like Disney fiddled with it a fair bit so that it ends as a kind of “things man was not meant to know” story. Professor Aronnax is astonished by Nemo’s technology and wishes he would share it with the world, but Nemo himself seems to almost fear it, and the whole thing ends with him destroying the Nautilus and his island Vulcania cos he doesn’t think the world is ready for it yet. I’d be interested to read the book, but it looks like research might be needed to find a version close to what Verne actually wrote… as for the film, I should probably hunt up the 1916 version again and see if I like it better.


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