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Edwin E. Reed
Captain Nemo has built a fantastic submarine for his mission of revenge. He has traveled over 20,000 leagues in search of Charles Denver - a man who caused the death of Princess Daaker. Seeing what he had done, Denver took the daughter to his yacht and sailed away. He abandoned her and a sailor on a mysterious island and has come back after all these years to see if she is still alive and if the nightmares he has will stop. The daughter has been found by five survivors of a Union Army Balloon that crashed near the island. At sea, Professor Aronnax was aboard the ship 'Abraham Lincoln' when Nemo rammed it and threw the Professor, his daughter and two others into the water. Prisoners at first, they are now treated as guests to view the underwater world and to hunt under the waves. Nemo will also tells them about the Nautilus and the revenge that has driven him for all these years.Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The actual undersea footage was shot in the Bahamas due to the unusually clear water. When this film was remade by Walt Disney 38 years later, they came to this same spot for their undersea footage. See more »
In one scene on the island the balloon survivors are at a table and a black servant appears. He never shows up again and is not rescued at the end of the film with the rest of the survivors. See more »
The opening titles announce "The First Submarine Photoplay Ever Filmed". See more »
When I read during the opening credits of the 1916 adaptation of Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," immediately I assumed the frame of mind that I always do when watching early films, so as not to criticize it's lack of special effects or advanced film techniques. Immediately I was immensely impressed at the transfer from book to film, as the film followed the story closely and faithfully.
Unfortunately, this only lasted for about the first ten minutes of the film, which ultimately proved to take Verne's work and butcher it in every way imaginable. Probably the most jarring change to the story is that they decided to not only adapt 20,00 Leagues, but also another Verne novel, Mysterious Island, into this film. So the result is that you have two totally different stories taking place that don't at all seem to fit together, until finally they come together in the bizarre conclusion, which makes absolutely no sense in respect to the novel.
My current theory is that because so much of the original novel of 20,000 Leagues was decades beyond the reach of the filmmakers to be able to put on screen, so they probably had to look to an entirely separate novel just to have enough material to fill a full length film. Sadly, it reminds me of those terrible songs that radio stations sometimes come up with when they combine two popular songs together that have a similar beat, resulting in something that is not quite equal to but definitely less than the originals. One such bizarre hybrid comes to mind involving Closer, by Nine Inch Nails, and Garbage's #1 Crush.
The basic, basic, basic plot structure remains, but literally 95% of the story is gone. There is rumor of a massive sea monster and the crew of the Abraham Lincoln set off to capture it. Strangely enough, at one point it passes a mere few meters from their ship in broad daylight, and the crew can clearly see the steel plated sides and the rivets holding it together, even the bridge and periscope, and yet they still think it's a sea monster.
I'll attribute that to the inability to emulate the Nautilus's movements as described in the novel, but in this way we also have to sacrifice the entirety of the ship's glorious design and function, which is not even described in dialogue. For the most part, we see a single room, which looks like an old Victorian bedroom with one wall that looks like it belongs in a boiler room.
Probably the worst crime that the film commits is in the character of Captain Nemo. Granted, Nemo in the novel is not exactly the most charming and charismatic man, but it is as if they set out in this film to create a man as far from the original description as humanly possible. As a result, we get a bizarre spectacle that looks like a disgruntled Santa Clause in blackface. And not only that, throughout the film he gives several displays of compassion that the original Nemo would have scoffed at. Indeed, at one point, he torpedoes a ship, and then afterwards and then almost faints as he worries about the safety of the victims. What the hell?? And incidentally, Verne's Nautilus didn't have torpedoes, although he did use it as a ramming weapon.
In the film's defense, the underwater photography is truly impressive given the time that it was filmed, and surely knocked 1916 audiences, most of whom had probably never seen the underwater world, out of their seats. This would certainly explain the seemingly endless lingering on these scenes. Their is also an interesting allusion to another Verne novel, as at one point in their underwater tour they come across a decayed shipwreck, which Nemo describes as "the wreck of an old blockade runner."
And the worst thing about the bizarre personification of Nemo in this film is the backstory that was invented for the film which, amazingly, is introduced with this intertitle -
"Captain Nemo reveals the tragic secret of his life, which Jules Verne never told."
What follows is the most bizarre story imaginable, which claims that Nemo was previously some kind of empirical royalty who lived in an empire "beyond the sea." One man wrongs him, which doesn't explain his subsequent disdain, and even hatred, for all of mankind of all nations, nor does anything explain why he took to the sea. And incidentally, Nemo is a man of art, science, biology, history, astronomy, etc. The transition from his old life to the one we see is totally senseless.
It may very well be that this was one of the first major films to set the trend of adapting novels to film, and while modern adaptations still make ridiculous changes to story and characters where they don't belong, at least those inexplicable liberties seem to have diminished since 1916!
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