Plot: There’s a monster on the loose! In an effort to track down the beast, Professor Aronnax (Paul Lukas), and his assistant (Peter Lore) embark on a voyage across the sea. After they are shipwrecked with a fellow crew member (Kirk Douglas) they encounter the mysterious Captain Nemo (James Mason).
Oh I’m sorry, you got me here. I have in fact seen this film before. I apologise for any undue trauma this fact may have caused. I am a filthy liar. In my defence, your honour, I was only five years old and all I remember was the giant squid.
If I’m totally honest here, I expected to be thoroughly bored by this film. A film made in 1954 can hardly have eye-popping special effects on the scale I’m used to, and the 50s was when ham acting was at its finest. So I must admit to being incredibly surprised by the fact that I began to love this film from the minute it started. I was transfixed and actually genuinely interested. While many of you may know that **spoiler alert** it’s about a submarine, I (moronic as this may sound) had no idea. It’s a pleasant plot development, let’s put it that way.
And as for the special effects, as they were called back in the day, I was brilliantly impressed by just how good they were. The giant squid is fantastic! And having watched it, I know exactly where the monster that scarred my childhood, the Saarlac from Return Of The Jedi, was conceived – Lucas, I’m onto you! It is thoroughly gobsmacking what tricks they could do with animation back in th’day.
However, this is not to say that my jaw remained dropped for the length of the film. What began as a good, old fashioned, ripping yarn turned into something else. It was more “look what can happen in a world under water” than “look at this brilliant narrative that has good plot structure”. I’m also unsure as to why Kirk Douglas looked so gay all the time. Seriously, it was like having a constant gay cosplay of Where’s Wally with a nautical twist wandering about the set. And why where his trousers so goddamn high? These questions keep me awake at night.
This is not to mention the huge scene of gleeful racism that appears for no good reason. A tribe from a desert island (who are obviously cannibals) speak only in “ooo-oo” sounds and are like children when confronted with technology. We are supposed to laugh as they are scared away. Though I guess it wouldn’t be the 1950s without at least one racial group being mercilessly oppressed in the media.
Yet for all its failings and the most laboured death scene you will ever see, the film does have some thought provoking lines of dialogue. “Imagine what would happened if [mankind] controlled machines such as this submarine boat” points out that now we have nuclear submarines patrolling the ocean that we are basically fucked as a species.
Bottom Line: While its length becomes trying in places, there is no denying that this is a classic that still retains some of its magic as only classics can. It would be a shame to see this film disappear beneath the waves of time.
Prof. Aronnax: “If we could go deep enough, we’d all be surprised at the creatures down there”
No shit Aronnax!
Captain Nemo: Think of it. On the surface there is hunger and fear. Men still exercise unjust laws. They fight, tear one another to pieces. A mere few feet beneath the waves their reign ceases, their evil drowns. Here on the ocean floor is the only independence. Here I am free! Imagine what would happen if they controlled machines such as this submarine boat. Far better that they think there’s a monster and hunt me with harpoons.
A Fresh Look At: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
23 December 1954