Movie Review – ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ (1954)

Hello everyone! 🙂

Welcome to ‘Bradley’s Basement’ blog and I’m Tim Bradley!

My knowledge of Jules Vernes as a novelist is rather limited. I’ve only heard a few mentions and references to his books in films like ‘Back to the Future, Part III’ and I have seen a film adaptation of ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ with Brendan Fraser. But I haven’t read any of Verne’s books. 😐

So it was a chance to learn more about Jules Vernes as an author by watching the 1954 film adaptation of ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, which is currently available to watch on Disney+. The film itself is based on the 1870 novel by Jules Verne called ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’.

The film stars Kirk Douglas (whom my Dad has seen in the 1960 film called ‘Spartacus’), James Mason (who I’ve seen in the 1954 film ‘A Star is Born’ with Judy Garland and he was in the Alfred Hitchcock 1959 film ‘North by Northwest’), Paul Lukas (who I’ve seen in the 1938 film ‘The Lady Vanishes’) and Peter Lorre. These four actors were big names at the time this 1954 film was made. 🙂

‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ takes place in 1868 where rumours of a sea monster attacking ships in the Pacific Ocean occur. It disrupts shipping lanes and Paul Lukas as Professor Pierre M. Aronnax with his assistant Peter Lorre as Conseil board a U.S. Navy expedition to investigate the sea monster.

They’re joined by a cocky master harpooner, Kirk Douglas as Ned Land, aboard a frigate. The frigate soon gets attacked by the monster which happens to be a submarine. The submarine is called the Nautilus commanded by James Mason as Captain Nemo. James Mason does play Captain Nemo well.

Nemo is on a quest for revenge to destroy warships in the oceans of the world. Professor Aronnax, Conseil and Ned Land find Nemo’s actions questionable and they find themselves on many nautical adventures involving escaping from the natives of an island as well as fighting against a giant squid. 🙂

For its time, ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ must have been a pretty groundbreaking film, even by 1954 standards. It’s also a film where it’s more grown-up compared to other Disney films at the time. It’s more serious in approach and doesn’t have many child-friendly elements to identify with.

There’s Captain Nemo’s sea lion called Esmeralda, which Ned Land makes friends with that I found really funny. Apart from that, most of the film has our characters doing some serious talking and there’s not much in terms of action-packed sequences apart from the giant squid fight in the film. 😐

I wouldn’t say this film was my cup of tea as I would prefer a balance of comedic and dramatic proportions as well as good strong character development. But the film is impressive in terms of the special effects it can achieve, especially with filming the interiors and exteriors of the Nautilus submarine.

It’s also ironic that the story features a submarine in a time when submarines weren’t common things in 1868. Jules Verne must have been ahead of his time when writing the book about a submarine. It’s also very intriguing how the 1954 film interprets the submarine taking place in 1868.

I’m not sure how faithful the 1954 film adaptation by Disney is to Jules Vernes’ source material. I’m sure artistic licence was used, but I’d like to think the 1954 film is a faithful adaptation of the book compared to how recent adaptations would do things. I’d need to read the original novel to be sure.

Overall, ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ was a nice film to watch on Disney+. I wouldn’t say it was very exciting considering there are a lot of talking scenes featured in the film, but when there is action like the giant squid scene, it’s very compelling. James Mason is a highlight as Captain Nemo. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Bye for now!

Tim. 🙂


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