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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

My Kirk Douglas film this week is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a Disney film, personally produced by Walt Disney, that was big hit back in 1954, mostly for its then cutting-edge special effects and sense of adventure. It hasn't dated well, though, as at times the boats look like they belong in bathtubs, and the giant squid attack, for which the film became famous (and inspired a ride at Disneyworld) looks fairly ludicrous.

The year is 1868 and there are reports that a giant sea monster is sinking ships. A research vessel heads out to look for it, including a renowned professor (Paul Lukas), his apprentice (Peter Lorre), and a devil-may-care harpooner (Douglas). Finally they spot the monster and attack, but it turns on them and they sink, leaving the three main characters in the drink. They find the monster, discovering it's actually a submarine.

They are taken aboard, and meet Captain Nemo (James Mason). At first he wants to just toss them overboard, but keeps them alive, mostly because there would be no film without them. Mason is like the world's first Bond villain--he's created a submarine with advanced technology in order to get revenge on the nations of the world for creating war--he sinks ships that are carrying equipment to make ammunition.

There are some back and forth philosophical discussion with Lukas, who for a while takes Mason's side, if only because he wants the secrets of Mason's technology. Douglas, however, just wants to escape.

Based on the classic early science-fiction novel by Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea can be fun if viewed in the proper context, but I was frequently bored. The acting, especially by the normally great Douglas, is strained and unconvincing. I have no doubt this was great stuff in 1954 (it won two Oscars, for set design and special effects) but over sixty years later it's only interesting historically.

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