20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)


So Disney shows up on the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list with this classic from 1954.

Based on the classic tale by Jules Verne, Disney pulled out all the stops and brought a lavish, extravagant production to the big screen, with an all-star cast including James Mason, Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre.

The film, set in the late 1800s, opens with reports of a strange sea monster sinking ships, and the U.S. government sends Professor Aronnax (Paul Lukas) with his apprentice Conseil (Lorre) out to sea to investigate.

Amongst the crew is a harpoon man, Ned Land (Douglas), who’s a bit of rogue, a thief (though apparently it’s ok if you’re stealing things that are already stolen), a bit of a drinker, and all around smart-ass.

After months of searching, they’re about to give up the hunt, when they see a warship sink after being attacked. They come under assault, and the trio are left behind, having been tossed overboard, while the sinking ship limps back to port.

Adrift they soon come across the sea monster, which is in fact a submarine, the Nautilus, captained by the brilliant, but troubled Nemo (Mason).

I quite like Mason’s portrayal of Nemo, he seems to be doing a lot of wrong things for the right reasons, though he constantly lets his need for revenge over the loss of loved ones cloud his judgment. He’s created some incredible technology, but is afraid if he shares it with the world, it won’t just be used for the good of mankind, to make the world a better place, he’s afraid (probably quite rightly) that it will be used as a weapon.

Aboard the Nautilus, Nemo shows his captives the wonders of the deep, showing how he farms, hunts, and sustains not only his life, but the lives of his crew, but through it all Ned is a caustic thorn in Nemo’s side, though Aronnax is coming around to the Captain’s way of thinking.

Ned is outfitted in a red and white striped shirt, and blue pant… subtle. He is constantly planning an escape, stealing the gold and treasure Nemo uses for balance, and drinking, despite the fact that more often than not, Nemo treats him with a measure of respect.

Nemo is far from perfect though, he is incapable of any grey, it’s either black or white, right or wrong to his way of thinking, and he’s not afraid of committing murder to stop the world from fighting and killing itself. Rather hypocritical of him, but he doesn’t see it that way.

If he had at least issued warnings before he sank the warships and cargo ships carrying weaponry and material, that would have been something, but instead, he simply plows the Nautilus into them, and sinks them, killing all aboard.

There are four things people doubtlessly remember about this film, the awesome look of the Nautilus herself, which today would be no doubt referred to as steampunk, Esmerelda, the seal who keeps Ned company, Douglas’ musical number, and the climactic battle with the giant squid, which even today, still looks fantastic.

Combine that with some lovely underwater photography, gorgeous sets, some great actors (it’s a lot of fun watching Douglas and Lorre play off of each other), and you have an enjoyable undersea adventure movie that is fun for the whole family.

What did you think of it?


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