Film A Week Week 11: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

The world of the ocean. A marvelous wonder that covers the earth that is both peaceful as it is terrifying. Of all the marvels man can venture and discover, the aquatic life that surrounds us is something that we have been researching and taking time to uncover what lies beneath. Man’s obsession of the sea will never cease to exist by setting courses to explore, swimming with the fishes and sharks below, fighting in naval warfare or taking advantage of its sources for better or worse. The concept is intriguing enough to make some think of the famous Captain Nemo and his mad love of the ocean in Jules Verne’s classic tale 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Luckily for Film A Week, we are tackling the Disney take on the beloved classic adaptation of the tale of Captain Nemo.

Contrary to popular belief, Disney was not to first adapt 20,000 Leagues in 1954. It was previously adapted in 1916 in a silent format with Allan Houlbar as the role of Captain Nemo. Nonetheless, the Disney produced version is the most well-known and beloved version of the tale. In this adaptation, famed actor James Mason tackles the role of Captain Nemo alongside Kirk Douglas as Ned Land, Paul Lukas as Professor Pierre Aronnax and Peter Lorre as Consiel, Aronnax’s assistant.

The film starts with Professor Aronnax and Consiel are ready to head to Saigon when reports of a sea monster off the Pacific Coast comes in. The monster has been attacking shipping vessels and warships. Aronnax ventures with sailors out to find the beast and comes across the jerkass sailor Ned Land, who likes to sing the merry tune of ‘A Whale of a Tale’.

Months soon pass and the sea monster starts to approach the ship. The ship gets attacked as Aronnax, Consiel and Ned Land all end up adrift in the water after the attack. As they drift, Aronnax and Consiel come across the so-called monster and discover that it is a submarine, something like no one has ever seen before. The curious duo begin to search the vessel as Aronnax sees a crew in scuba gear having a funeral as soon as Ned Land hows up to help them escape before they get caught. Unfortnately, the leader of the mysterious crew capture the three men and introduces himself as Captain Nemo. Nemo shows the men the wonders of his submarine called the Nautilus and immediately recognizes Aronnax from his body of work. Unless Aronnax has a nice little sketch of himself in his works, I doubt this would be plausible, but it is a movie. Anyway, Aronnax is allowed to stay to help Nemo on his journey, but the other two must be thrown out. Aronnax demands he leave with them to suffer the same fate. Nemo instead keeps Ned and Consiel alongside him. We officially have Ugarte and Spartcus in one feature together and it is just as good as it sounds.

As they are wined and dined by Nemo’s hospitality with Ned Land complaining about the food (including the most priceless reaction to the term ‘sperm whale’ in film history), Nemo tells them to help gather more underwater supplies. Ned goes and finds buried treasure and fights a shark. I do not no why he needed to fight a shark, but I do not care because it is Kirk Douglas fighting a shark. Nemo gets upset with Ned’s obsession over the treasure and not the bountiful harvest below them, causing a rift between the both of them for the duration of the film. Nemo takes the men to a remote island where Nemo was taken prisoner alongside his men. Nemo has since left the world above and lives below the surface free from the new horrors of man. A warship later that evening is struck dead in the water, no pun intended. Aronnax is disgusted by his actions, but Nemo insisted he just saved lives from the perils that they would create revealing his complex story of being against the nature of man for torturing him and his family to get their hands on the work of Nemo.

Meanwhile, Ned figure out a way to save his bacon by sending messages out to sea with the help of Conseil. Ned writes the coordinates of Nemo’s base, Vulcania, and delivers them out into the ocean for the warships to find. The next day, Nemo allows Ned and Conseil to freely roam above the surface, leaving Ned to send some native cannibals to attack them. In other words, good old fashion underlying Disney racism. Nemo gets enraged by Ned’s  carelessness and locks him away as prisoner. A warship comes to attack the Nautilus, but Nemo escapes 20,000 leagues under the sea only to be attacked by a giant squid. Hopefully, The Darkness will come a free them from the reigns of this terrible beast.

The crew heads to battle on the surface against the squid after his electrical charge to stun the beast has malfunction. Nemo gets caught in a tentacle and Ned breaks free from his reigns to save Nemo from the terror of the squid. After the battle, Nemo wonders why Ned saved him, leading Ned to wonder as well. Wonder meaning get drunk like a skunk and singing sea shanties with the most adorable sea lion put on film named Esmerelda.


Nemo heads to Vulcania and see warships surrounding the island ready for the attack. The Nautilus arrives with Nemo quickly into the base to destroy all evidence as Aronnax finds out Ned sent out the location and gets furious as the discoveries that can influence change in the world are about to be destroyed before their eyes soon. Racing back to the Nautilus with sailors beginning to shoot the ship, Nemo is hit by one of the bullets and enter the Nautilus.  Back aboard, Nemo warns that he is dying and the Nautilus will go down with the entire crew, including Ned, Conseil and Arronax. Ned decides to rebel and leave, until Nemo’s men drags them to their room. Luckily, Ned Land is played by Kirk Douglas which means, for lack of a better word, shit will hit the fan. Ned gets into fisticuffs with Nemo’s men, helps Aronnax and Conseil escape the Nautilus to head to the surface. Captain Nemo takes one last look at his precious ocean saying “There is hope for the future. And when the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will someday come to pass, in God’s good time.” Aronnax, Conseil and Ned escape freely as the final words of Nemo echo from beyond, giving a bittersweet end to the feature.

20,000 Leagues is a classic in every sense of the word. The plot is fantastic, every performance is genuine and the entire film production is nothing short of amazing. Kirk Douglas pulls off his jerkass role well becoming lovable by the film ends. Paul Lukas and Peter Lorre are fantastic from the smart professor to the worrying assistant  respectively. Above all, James Mason as Captain Nemo is brilliant as hell. Mason plays off the complexities and the maddening personality of Nemo with the essence of a Bond villain combined with the overlooked genius bordering on depression. Mason gives his all in the role and I was swept up in it that when it came time for Nemo to die, I did feel very upset at his lost. I am a sucker for broken villains (i.e. Mister Freeze from Batman: The Animated Series).

The story is rich as an allegory for the corruption of man and power overwhelming us and, if taken in the wrong hands, can be used against us. Captain Nemo worries about the way man is headed in the future, but has a glimmer of hope that they way succeed for the better when the time come. Even now, this thought resonates strongly as technology has become more advance and can be manipulated to achieve more harm than good. I am very much with Nemo that it can be used for something greater and better, rather than use in the wrong. The film’s style is filled with steampunk throughout and the use of practical effects, such as the giant squid, are remarkable. Everything seemed out of its source material, working to its advantage and the squid still looks as good as it did back then. The underwater shots were great as well. For those who read my review of Thunderball last year, I praise that boring fest for its camera work underwater, but 20,000 surpasses that. 20,000 Leagues is a marvelous feat by Disney and I would not mind watching it a couple of more times.

Next week, April Fool’s is coming up and the worst in people always shows up. I guess it is time to talk about one of the worst films I have seen and explain why I hate it so. Also, I think I may be burned at the stake since it is also from a part of nostalgia and childhood. Only one phrase can say it all:

It’s Morphin’ time!

Film A Week Week 12: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie

Saturday, March 30th

Stinger of the Week


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