Captain Nemo (1975)
Film review #496
Director: Vasili Levin
Just when you think you’ve reviewed every adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea…
SYNOPSIS: Following sightings of a mysterious giant creature in the oceans targeting various ships, Professor Pierre Arronax takes a voyage on the Blue Star liner to hopefully encounter and figure out the nature of this supposed beast. However, when the ship encounters it, an attack knocks the Professor, his servant Conseil, and harpooner Ned Land overboard. They awake and find that the sea monster is not a monster at all, but a submarine called the Nautilus, within which they are now captive under the supervision of Captain Nemo…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Captain Nemo is a 1975 three-part TV movie, and an adaptation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The plot of the film follows the original novel fairly closely, with Professor Arronax, his manservant Conseil, and harpooner Ned Land being swept overboard from the ship they are on to find themselves rescued by Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus. Thus starts a series of adventures as the captives explore with Nemo the oceans of the world and it’s inhabitants. With a runtime of nearly three and a half hours, the film takes its time in establishing the setting and characters, and bringing the novel to life. It does omit some of the more fantastical (exploring Atlantis etc.) parts of the story and instead keeps it grounded, which a lot of the adaptations do admittedly, so that’s nothing special. With such a long runtime, the film does feel a bit too grounded, and there’s a lack of variety as the captives are confined to the Nautilus apart from the odd excursion under the sea. As such, the adventure aspect falls a little flat. The film does go into a bit more detail regarding Nemo’s past and the suffering of his family and people by colonial forces. The original novel kept things fairly ambiguous regarding the nationality of the forces, but the film here identifies them as British; which would have been accurate, since Nemo is meant to have been a prince in India, and it was British forces which occupied it. The film also casts a similarly critical eye on the Spanish conquest of the Incans. I suppose since the film was made in the Soviet Union they were more inclined to explicitly show the cruelty of Western colonialism and name the specific nations involved.
The characters from the novel are all faithfully represented, and the movie doesn’t really change their personalities, and neither does it need to: Arronax is the astute, analytical scholar, his manservant Conseil serves as a bit of comic relief (although it is much more muted and slight compared to other versions which make it more explicit), and Ned Land is the brawly, short-tempered type who directly contrasts with the rational Arronax and the stoic Nemo. The characters are portrayed very well with regards to their strengths, but they do again feel a little too grounded and as such never evolve past their starting points. Like the novel, and many of Jules Verne’s stories, there’s a noticed lack of any female characters; the only one being Arronax’s wife, who we see sparingly as she receives news about the fate of her missing husband.
The settings of the film are nicely varied: the flashbacks set in India and France feel authentic and lively. The Nautilus sets are very detailed and full of activity, although you see so much of them you might think you’re being held captive on the Nautilus too. The diving suits used for the ocean walk scenes look suspiciously like space suits, which makes me think they’re leftover props from a sci-fi film (probably one I’ve reviewed at some point). The underwater footage is a combination of stock footage and an indoor pool dressed as the ocean, which still looks pretty decent.
Overall, Captain Nemo is a fairly decent adaptation of the popular novel, and although it offers an accurate representation of the characters and settings, it lacks a spirit of adventure and the more fantastical elements that are a crucial part of the stories success. There’s obviously plenty of effort and care that has been put in to making this version, and it’s fairly solid. If you want a more streamlined cinematic experience though, you might be better off with another version (there’s plenty of them).
Mysterious Island (1951)
Film review #462
Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet
SYNOPSIS: A group of soldiers fighting in the American civil war are captured by Confederate forces. They eventually escape on an observation balloon, but find themselves drifting for days, eventually landing on a desert island far from civilisation. However, the island is far from deserted, as a native tribe, pirates, aliens, a castaway, and a mysterious masked man are all up to various schemes on the island, and the new arrivals must find a way to survive against all these different factions and find a way home…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Mysterious Island is a 1951 science-fiction serial comprised of fifteen chapters. It is based on the novel of the same name by Jules Verne. The serial is set in the year 1865, during the American civil war, where during the siege of Richmond, Virginia, Captain Cyrus Harding is captured by Confederate forces and taken prisoner. he engineers an escape with some other prisoners by hijacking an observation balloon. Unfortunately, a storm sweeps the balloon way off course, leaving it to drift for many days. When it lands, the crew find themselves on a desert island far from any civilisation, with no way home. They quickly find that the island is far from deserted however, and the new arrivals must contend with multiple factions and their schemes. As mentioned, the serial is based on Jules Verne’s novel of the same name, and incorporates a fair amount of the novel’s structure and characters. This is in contrast to a lot of serial adaptations of comics and books, in which usually only one or two main characters are made to fit into the serial format, omitting a lot of the original’s world and set-ups (such as things that would be too expensive to implement). As such, the serial has a good flow and pacing that keeps things interesting across the fifteen chapters. There’s still plenty of tried serial tropes when characters set up elaborate deaths with plenty of opportunity to escape rather than just killing them, but on the whole there’s plenty going on between all of the different factions to keep things varied and interesting. Even through the fifteen chapters, which is at the longer runtime of these serials, it keeps things consistently entertaining.
Let’s talk about the characters in this serial: there is a very large cast, and multiple different factions that are working against each other. Apart from the main cast that wind up on the island, there’s the native population, a castaway that has gone mad, pirates, aliens from the planet Mercury, and a mysterious masked man. In keeping with the novel, all of these characters are from the source material apart from the aliens from Mercury, which were added for the serial. The serial could have easily got away with not adding them, as there’s plenty of characters and plot anyway, but I suppose they were added to keep up with trends, as sci-fi serials and films started to get more popular after World War II had ended and the subsequent years in which war heroes were the protagonists of choice. The alien characters and plot fit in fairly well and are incorporated into the story so that they don’t stick out as a forced inclusion, which is good. While none of the characters are really unique or memorable, they have a consistency in their acting, and you know who they are and who they’re aligned with when they’re on screen. The heroes are perhaps the least interesting bunch, as they’re all typical young male leads without any special talent or occupation. Nevertheless, you will be on their side as they try and make their way home.
Mysterious Island is a nice surprise in the period of the serial format’s declining popularity. Obviously helped by being based off a famous novel helps give the story an interesting set of characters and set-ups, the serial also incorporates its own elements which, while nothing unique, is integrated nicely with the rest of the source material, even if the sound of pirates, American Civil War, and aliens together sounds like an absurd mix. The acting is decent, the sets convey a consistent sense of location, and the story has a good sense of direction that maintains interest and excitement. Spencer Gordon bennet, the director, was a serial veteran by this point, and delivers his usual developed choreography in fight scenes and keeping the pace of the serial steady yet energetic. Overall, Mysterious Island is a surprisingly decent addition to the serial format, at a time when good examples of it were few and far between.