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).