THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF JULES VERNE offers a potentially rewarding premise which remains sadly unfulfilled. Introducing Verne as a young, aspiring writer and inventor in the 1860s (when in fact he was married and becoming a successful author), who meets the actual Phileas Fogg and Passepartout. He shares various adventures with them around the world, transported aboard the lighter-than-air giant balloon Aurora (of course Verne must again be saddled on the screen with a technology he decried), won by Fogg in a wager. They are accompanied by the added character of Fogg's cousin, Rebecca (Franceska Hunt), the first female secret service agent, for whom Phileas has more than platonic feelings. (Unfortunately, Rebecca is too derivative of Emma Peel in THE AVENGERS, and lacks the necessary looks or charisma to provide her own appeal; indeed she looks so masculine that she might be Peel on steroids.) Fogg remains much as the Verne imagined him, with an already mysterious past, intrepid but phlegmatic and reserved, without going to the point imagined by Philip José Farmer in his The Other Log of Phileas Fogg. Phileas is the hero and romantic lead, in a somewhat uneven but appropriate performance by Michael Praed. Fogg initiates Verne (Chris Dematral) into a strange world, where he is short, inexperienced, and frequently naive and in need of rescue. Passepartout continues as comic relief, but is also portrayed as an inventor, which seems an odd combination. The players also evidence a multinational production, with a mix of British accents (the Foggs), with French (Passepartout), and American (Verne). The series was independently produced in an unusually low-key style, and freely mixes fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Unfortunately, despite the myriad of possible links with characters and incidents from Verne's stories, none of these are used, except in an isolated episode on a space gun. The characters are first united in stopping an underground mole moving through the sewers of Paris, operated by a "League of Darkness" determined to preserve the aristocracy and stop the advance of democracy in Europe--goals Verne, and Fogg, naturally oppose. Otherwise, Verne goes to the wild west (where he meets Thomas Edison, Jesse James, and Samuel Clemens), meets a mummy, a castle full of vampires, and a golem. He travels through time in a device created by Leonardo da Vinci, found by Alexandre Dumas, to visit Francis at the time of Cardinal Richelieu. Actual contemporaries besides Dumas do appear, including Nadar and Napoleon III. Unfortunately, little is made of the potential of this historical characters. In no sense is THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF JULES VERNE an adaptation, or even an attempt to utilize the possibilities of Verne as an individual. Instead, like another series filmed simultaneously, SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE'S THE LOST WORLD, it is a new variation on the name and its mythic connotations to fit the exigencies of a modern series. Verne's purported exploits in THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF JULES VERNE are consonant more with the world of the science fiction genre today, rather than Verne's own imagination. Filmed in widescreen High Definition Television, the clarity of the image is noticeable even in ordinary broadcast, although the special effects themselves are more variable in quality.
The series secured a devoted following of fans, who regarded it not so much as a prequel to Around the World in 80 Days, but as an example of the growing "steampunk" subgenre of science fiction, placing modern science in the context of the past. The show was most often compared to the 1960s television series THE WILD, WILD WEST, with the period detail of THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF JULES VERNE was a key part of this appeal. The performers were admired, especially Hunt and Praed, who was especially appreciated by female fans. Fans also expressed the paradoxical perspective that the show's scripts and story lines were its weakest aspect, especially the trite villainy of Count Gregory and the League of Darkness. (Indeed, the whole series is profoundly unoriginal.) Lauding the portions actually derived from Verne's youth, and yearning to instead see more motifs taken from the Verne oeuvre, these sentiments reveal that the decision to take the show away from its ostensible source may have in fact hampered its appeal. Ironically, in disregarding what Verne regarded as essential to storytelling while positing as essential all those elements he eschewed, THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF JULES VERNE is a creation that operates as an anti-Verne.
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