Friday, March 21, 2014

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; silent fantasy adventure, USA, 1916; D: Stuart Paton, S: Louis Alexander, Curtis Benton, Wallace Clarke

People are puzzled by reports of a mysterious sea creature destroying ships in the open sea. Professor Aronnax and his crew go on a ship to investigate the reports, but they experience the same fate. The sea creature, however, is a submarine, Nautilus, led by Captain Nemo, whose men save them. Nemo shows Aronnax and the others the wonders of underwater life. In the meantime, some people crash with a balloon on an island and discover a wild, abandoned girl. She is actually Nemo's long lost daughter, and they separated after a scheme by Charles Denver. After Nemo discovers Denver's ship and sinks it, his crew saves his daughter and he tells them how a long time ago, somewhere in the Middle East, Denver blamed Nemo for a rebellion and destroyed his life. Happy to have found his daughter, Nemo dies.

The second movie adaptation of Jules Verne's eponymous novel, Stuart Paton's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" is not among the classics of the silent era due to its old-fashioned, sometimes even dated depiction of the story, yet it has that silent era charm that manages to make it pass. The first film with underwater footage, "Under the Sea" has a few good shots of the Nautilus submarine on the surface of the water, and a solid set design, yet the underwater sequences are curiously stiff and unexciting, and not even a brief, 60 second scene of an octopus sitting on the bottom of the sea, attacking a crew member, helps to lift the movie, because it is unconvincing (the octopus puppet doesn't move, it just stand still while a crew member is encircled by his tentacle and then released). A few lingering scenes also bring it down (as if the director got carried away with too many scenes of fishes swimming across the ocean), but a certain flair radiates from such an early vision of the story that was there first, regardless that it could have been better. Also, as Chris Edwards already neatly observed in his review of the film, the final flashback set in the Middle East, on land, is ironically far more opulent and engaging than the main setting under water.


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