When your name is a little unusual or uncommon, as Jules is, people automatically use it as a reference point when meeting you for the first time. Or rather, the only other connection they can come up with:
“Oh, your name is Jules? Like Jules Verne?”
And then I sigh, say something witty like, “Yes... funny, no one’s ever made that link before. Well done! Etc.,” and punch them in the neck.
That very few people ever remember Samuel L. Jackson’s killer portrayal of Jules Winfield in Pulp Fiction is disheartening to say the least.
So, Jules Verne and I have shared a relationship for the better part of my life. The fact that I enjoy reading science fiction also helped span the years to make us acquainted. Apparently Walt Disney was a big fan when he was alive, but his frozen head still enjoys Verne’s books on tape even as we speak.
By now everyone probably knows the story of a scurrilous monster hiding in the trading lanes of the high seas and sinking ships. When sent to investigate, a famous professor and his assistant, plus an old salty whaler, are all that survives a run-in with what turns out to be a high-tech submarine piloted by an insane public official...
|"You may call me Captain Nemo…"|
They spend a bit of time onboard, mostly as captives, and learn of how Nemo and his crew managed to escape slavers, build their future-retro sea craft and protect the world’s oceans. That Nemo’s vigilantism turns him into a cold-blooded murderer seems to awaken the new captives and before long there’s a fully-fledged revolt a-happenin’ on board.
I once thought that 20,000 leagues was too deep to be a part of the ocean, but it turns out that’s the length of the trip the captives make whilst on board. It’s a fairly rousing sea adventure filled with giant squid and undersea experiments and makes for a fairly interesting tale, but for the moments between action scenes in which we must endure the interminable ranting of Nemo and Kirk Douglas singing. He’s actually not that bad, and is certainly one of the most interesting characters aboard the ship. The other is in Peter Lorre playing the snivvling sycophant to the Professor (Paul Lukas). Ever so used to him playing the Igor-like roles of hunchbacks and rat-faced assistants, he has fun here as the good guy and is a great counterweight to Kirk Douglas’ crusty sailor.
This film was Disney’s biggest budgeted live action film when made in 1954 and was a powerful drawcard at theatres. It actually made Disney realise there was even more money to be made in films other than animation and paved the way for the hundreds that have followed. Another film that ensued, using the formula of a well-loved classic novel, was The Swiss Family Robinson (1960) and this has been released concurrently with 20,000 on DVD.
It’s a good old story with some fairly cutting edge technologies of the day, including a fight with a giant squid in mid-ocean (which fluctuates between a special tank in the Disney studio and a bigger tank on the Fox Studios lot). Today’s kids might see the strings, as it were, being so spoiled with computer animation and whatnot, but that doesn’t mean to say this isn’t of a fine calibre. The sets are fantastic, the special effects are still pretty good by today’s standard and the story is indeed a worthy classic.
I’m sure my friend Jules would agree.
Spliced up from the original soundtrack, we are granted a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix here that does do some fairly good work. There are some nice undersea moments immersing us in the deep and the subwoofer gets involved in the action scenes. Mostly the surrounds bring us the very nice soundtrack and this is a juicy affair with plenty of classically romantic/dramatic orchestral work.
Dialogue is fairly well spoken, even with the use of a few accents here and there, while the sound effects get a bit tinny at times. Thankfully there aren’t many times where they sound slightly off, so we get a generally average soundscape effects wise.
While audiences of the time may well have been in raptures of the deep, some of today’s audience may find this drags out just the littlest bit too long. For those folks who enjoy Jules’ work, this is a pretty close telling of the original story with some minor poetic licences thrown in, creating an overall well-told film. Special effects are pretty good, even for today, and performances are appropriately funny or dramatic as required.
Like I said, I think Jules would have approved. Particularly at the excellent treatment in the transfer to DVD.