Reviews of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and related work

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870Text)

Jules Verne (writer).

Read in Swedish, in childhood.

SF. The ambiguous, brooding Nemo is a nice hybrid of Byron, Frankenstein and Ahab, but there is plenty of space in the novel to explore his origins, wasted on other matters that haven’t aged well. As a child, I still got a sense of wonder from the electrical nature of the Nautilus.

References here: “Memo on Music for Joe Hisaishi” (2007).

text fiction

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954Moving picture, 127 minutes)

Seen in 2018.

In this version, Nemo used to be a prisoner in a penal colony and has an explosive secret base in “Vulcania”.

SF action adventure. A late studio-system production, obviously shot on a lot but after the 1948 Paramount ruling was coming into effect—breaking vertical integration—and precisely at the juncture where television was starting to offer real competition.

James Mason is delightful as Nemo, but impossible to take seriously. He and his crew are all white, everybody speaks English, and black people are vicious cannibals. Verne, too, was a racist, and in fairness he had originally intended for Nemo to be Polish, but towards the end of his life he was more cosmopolitan than this production.

The design of the Nautilus is an uneasy combination of real period designs with round rivets everywhere and something a lot more fanciful, like medieval paintings of kraken. It doesn’t look hydrodynamic or fit for ramming at all. It appears to be nuclear-powered, since Aronnax has to wear a peculiar front-facing metal plate to gaze into its power source.

The film is paced like TV. It wastes time on a circus seal and a subplot where Ned Land (Kirk Douglas in stereotypical striped t-shirt) tries to steal some treasure. There are few attempts to emulate Verne’s sense of wonder at natural beauty under the sea. Incidental scenes focus instead on marine agriculture, animal husbandry and hunting. A parade of crewmen carrying captured giant turtles to kill and eat them is particularly sad in retrospect.

The special effects are unconvincing. The marine miniatures, in particular, all look pretty awful, except one warship that burns as its sinks.

moving picture adaptation Disney fiction

Nadia of the Mysterious Seas (1990Moving picture, 17 hours)

Anno Hideaki (director).

A young French inventor and an exotic circus girl escape mecha marauders and board a submarine, in 1889. The truth about the world is slowly uncovered.

A TV series: The bastard child of Verne’s novel and Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky (1986). Some sources say Nadia is independently based on a pre-Castle script by Miyazaki. It also brings to mind Flying Phantom Ship (1969).

Beware of episodes 22 to 34, ending with a musical clip show. These episodes were creatively controlled by post-Daicon III Gainax co-founderHiguchi Shinji, not Anno, and broke the original planning to take advantage of the show’s popularity. Remember Anno’s a vegetarian. Fair characters and some pleasant biblical exoticism, but not nearly consistent enough to shine. Those filler episodes can’t be ignored, and they are not the only major problem.

References here: Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995).

moving picture adaptation Gainax animation Japanese production fiction series

‣‣ Nadia: The Motion Picture (1991Moving picture, 85 minutes)

Not a Gainax product. Not as disastrously incompetent or unfaithful as I feared, actually. A second series also followed the original, but I won’t go that far.

moving picture sequel animation Japanese production fiction