20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954 film)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a 1954 American Technicolor science fiction-adventure film and one of the first features shot in CinemaScope. It was personally produced by Walt Disney through Walt Disney Productions, directed by Richard Fleischer, and stars Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre. It was also the first feature-length Disney film to be distributed by Buena Vista Distribution. The film is adapted from Jules Verne's 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
|20,000 Leagues Under the Sea|
|Directed by||Richard Fleischer|
|Produced by||Walt Disney (uncredited)|
|Screenplay by||Earl Felton|
|Based on||Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea|
by Jules Verne
|Music by||Paul Smith|
Joseph S. Dubin (orchestration)
|Edited by||Elmo Williams|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
|Box office||$28.2 million|
The film was a critical and commercial success, being especially remembered for the fight with a giant squid, and Mason's definitive performance as the charismatic anti-hero Captain Nemo. It won two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Special Effects. It is considered an early precursor of the steampunk genre.
In 1868, rumors spread of a sea monster which attacks ships in the Pacific Ocean and disrupt shipping lanes. Professor Aronnax and his assistant, Conseil, board a U.S. Navy ship dispatched on an expedition to investigate the problem. They board the frigate, and are joined by master-harpooner Ned Land.
After months of patrolling, a nearby steamship explodes; when the frigate arrives, the "monster" is spotted. As the frigate's crew open fire with cannons, the "monster" rams the warship. Ned, Conseil and Aronnax are thrown overboard. The crippled frigate drifts away, not responding to their cries for help. Clinging to flotsam, Aronnax and Conseil encounter a metal vessel, and realize the "monster" is a man-made "submerging boat" that appears deserted. Going aboard, Aronnax finds a viewport and witnesses an underwater funeral, while Ned Land arrives on an overturned longboat from their ship. Aronnax resists leaving just long enough for the submarine crew to spot him.
Ned, Aronnax, and Conseil attempt to leave in the longboat, but the crew stops them. The captain introduces himself as Nemo, master of the Nautilus. He returns Ned and Conseil to the deck while offering Aronnax, whom he recognizes, the chance to stay. After Aronnax proves willing to die with his companions, Nemo allows Ned and Conseil to remain aboard.
Nemo takes them to the penal colony island of Rura Penthe, where the prisoners are loading a munitions ship. Nemo was a prisoner there, as were many of his crew. Nautilus rams the steamer, destroying it and killing the crew. Nemo tells Aronnax that he saved thousands from death in war, and that this "hated nation" tortured his wife and son to death while attempting to force him to reveal his discoveries. In Nemo's cabin, Ned finds the coordinates of Nemo's secret island base, Vulcania, and releases messages in bottles.
Off the coast of New Guinea, Nautilus becomes stranded on a reef. Nemo allows Ned to go ashore with Conseil, ostensibly to collect specimens, while admonishing them to stay on the beach. Ned goes exploring for avenues of escape, and finds human skulls posted on stakes. Ned rejoins Conseil, and they row away, pursued by cannibals. Aboard Nautilus, the cannibals are repelled by electrical charges sent through its hull. Nemo confines Ned to the brig for disobeying orders.
A warship fires upon Nautilus, which descends into the depths, where it attracts a giant squid. After an electric charge fails to repel it, Nemo and his men surface during a storm to dislodge it. Nemo is caught in one of its tentacles, and Ned, having escaped from captivity, harpoons the squid in the eye, saving Nemo. Nemo has a change of heart and claims he wants to make peace with the world.
As Nautilus nears Vulcania, Nemo finds the island surrounded by warships, with marines converging on his base. On the deck Ned tries to identify himself to the warships. Aronnax is furious, recognizing that Nemo will destroy all evidence of his discoveries. Nemo, having submerged Nautilus to enter his base, goes ashore and activates a prearranged time bomb, but is mortally wounded from a bullet to his back. After navigating the submarine away from Vulcania, Nemo announces that he will be "taking the Nautilus down for the last time". The crew declares that they will accompany their captain.
Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned are confined to their cabins, while Nautilus's crew also retreat to their cabins at Nemo's instructions. Ned escapes and manages to surface the submarine, hitting a reef in the process, causing her to flood. Nemo dies viewing his beloved undersea domain.
Aronnax tries retrieving his journal, but the urgency of their escape obliges Ned to knock him unconscious and carry him out. Aboard Nautilus's skiff, the three companions along with Nemo's pet sea lion, Esmeralda witness Vulcania explode and a billowing mushroom cloud rise above the island's destruction. Ned apologizes to Aronnax for hitting him, but Aronnax concedes that the loss of his journal might have been for the best. As Nautilus sinks, Nemo's last words to Aronnax echo: "There is hope for the future. And when the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will someday come to pass...in God's good time".
- Kirk Douglas as Ned Land
- James Mason as Captain Nemo
- Paul Lukas as Professor Pierre Aronnax
- Peter Lorre as Conseil
- Robert J. Wilke as Nautilus's First Mate
- Ted de Corsia as Captain Farragut
- Carleton Young as John Howard
- J. M. Kerrigan as Billy
- Percy Helton as Coach driver
- Ted Cooper as Abraham Lincoln's First Mate
- Fred Graham as Casey (uncredited)
- Laurie Mitchell as Hooker (uncredited)
In November 1950, independent producer Sid Rogell announced he had acquired the film rights to the novel as well as a film adaptation prepared by Robert L. Lippert's production company. He had planned to start shooting within a year at the General Service Studios. However, in December 1951, it was reported that Walt Disney had purchased the film rights from Rogell.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was filmed at various locations in The Bahamas and Jamaica, with the cave scenes filmed beneath what is now the Xtabi Resort on the cliffs of Negril. Filming began in spring of 1954. According to the two-disc DVD release of the film, the San Francisco scenes at the beginning were shot at Universal Studios while most of the modeling shots were done at 20th Century Fox. Some of the location filming sequences were so complex that they required a technical crew of more than 400 people. The film presented many other challenges, as well. The famous giant squid attack sequence had to be entirely re-shot, as it was originally filmed as taking place at dusk and in a calm sea. The sequence was filmed again, this time taking place at night and during a huge gale, both to increase the drama and to better hide the cables and other mechanical workings of the animatronic squid.
Differences between novel and film
The film was praised as faithfully adapting the novel. James W. Maertens writes that while this is true, "Close comparison of the novel and film reveals many changes, omissions, even reversals, which affect the story's fundamental concern (besides scientific education), a representation of class and gender, specifically masculinity, in the industrial age." Nemo's submarine, battery-powered in the novel, is powered by atomic energy in the film. The novel's submarine is also a "streamlined, cigar shaped sub" while the film's is "a more ornate vessel". The film's director and screenwriter extracted "the most memorable" scenes from the novel and freely reordered them under the assumption that viewers would not remember the novel's order of events. The film's submarine is also depicted as being built from undersea salvage, where in the novel, Nemo orders parts from various industries to secretly ship to an island for assembly, which Maertens called a "logistical genius and manipulation of Industrial Age manufacturing".
Rather than an authentic soundtrack recording of the film's score or dialogue, two vinyl studio cast record albums were released to coincide with the film's first two releases (1954 and 1963). Both albums contained condensed and heavily altered versions of the film's script without the usage of any of the film's cast for character voices. In addition, both albums were narrated by Ned Land as opposed to Aronnax, who narrated the film and the original novel. Neither album mentioned Nemo as actually being "cracked" (i.e. insane), as the film does, and considerably sanitized the character by omitting any mention of him killing anyone. The albums also had Nemo surviving at the end and releasing Ned, Arronax, and Conseil out of gratitude for their saving his life. In this version, Ned, Aronnax and Conseil were not shipwrecked because the Nautilus rammed the ship they were on, but because a hurricane came up.
The first album was issued in 1954 in conjunction with the film's original release, and starred William Redfield as the voice of Ned. This album, a book-and-record set, was issued as part of RCA Victor's Little Nipper series on two 45-RPM records.[better source needed] The second album, released by Disneyland Records in 1963 in conjunction with the film's first re-release, was issued on one 331⁄3 RPM 12-inch LP with no accompanying booklet and no liner notes – the usual practice with most Disneyland label albums. It contained much more of the film's plot, but with many of the same alterations as the first album, so this recording was technically a remake of the earlier one. The cast for the 1963 album was uncredited. Neither album listed the film's credits or made any mention of the film's cast.
A single for the film's most memorable song "A Whale of a Tale", written by Norman Gimbel and Al Hoffman and sung by Kirk Douglas, was also released in 1954 under the Decca Children's Series label. The song "And the Moon Grew Brighter and Brighter", which Douglas had sung in the movie Man Without a Star (written by Lou Singer and Jimmy Kennedy), was the B-side. Both songs can be found on the 2008 digital release of the film's soundtrack. In the film, Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor is played by Nemo on the Nautilus's organ, but James Mason's playing is actually dubbed by an anonymous organist.
|20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Soundtrack)|
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||January 29, 2008|
On January 29, 2008, Walt Disney Records released a 26-track digital album containing the music of Paul Smith's original soundtrack score to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, plus both sides of the "A Whale of a Tale" single, as well as a digital booklet companion that explores the music of the film. This was the first official release of the film score and was initially available only through the iTunes Store. Intrada released the same soundtrack on CD in 2011.
|1.||"Main Title (Captain Nemo’s Theme)"||Paul Smith||2:26|
|2.||"Street Fight"||Paul Smith||1:04|
|3.||"Aboard the Abraham Lincoln / Hunting the Monster"||Paul Smith||2:28|
|4.||"A Whale of a Tale"||Kirk Douglas||2:09|
|5.||"The Monster Attacks"||Paul Smith||2:21|
|6.||"Deserted Sub / Burial / Captured"||Paul Smith||9:14|
|7.||"Fifty Fathoms / The Island of Crespo"||Paul Smith||8:45|
|8.||"Storm at Sea / Nemo Plays"||Paul Smith||2:25|
|9.||"Strange Man of the Seas"||Paul Smith||4:04|
|10.||"Nemo’s Torment"||Paul Smith||0:59|
|11.||"Justified Hate"||Paul Smith||1:29|
|12.||"Searching Nemo’s Cabin"||Paul Smith||4:02|
|13.||"Ned’s Bottles"||Paul Smith||0:43|
|14.||"Ashore at New Guinea"||Paul Smith||2:54|
|15.||"Native Drums / Back to the Nautilus"||Paul Smith||3:08|
|17.||"The Giant Squid"||Paul Smith||6:53|
|18.||"Ambush at Vulcania"||Paul Smith||4:47|
|19.||"Nemo Wounded"||Paul Smith||2:43|
|20.||"Escape from Vulcania"||Paul Smith||3:41|
|21.||"Finale / Deep Is the Mighty Ocean"||Paul Smith||0:56|
|22.||"A Whale of a Tale (Single)"||Kirk Douglas||2:11|
|23.||"And the Moon Grew Brighter and Brighter (Single B-Side)"||Kirk Douglas||2:35|
|24.||"A Whale of a Tale"||Bill Kanady||2:24|
|25.||"A Whale of a Tale"||The Wellingtons||2:07|
|26.||"A Whale of a Tale (Reprise)"||Kirk Douglas||0:11|
Over the years, the film has been released on VHS, LaserDisc, SelectaVision videodisc, DVD, and Blu-ray. A 1080p HD version from a 4K restoration was released on iTunes in 2014. In 2019, the film was released on Blu-ray via the Disney Movie Club.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times stated that, "As fabulous and fantastic as anything he has ever done in cartoons is Walt Disney's 'live action' movie made from Jules Verne's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.' Turned out in CinemaScope and color, it is as broad, fictitiously, as it is long (128 minutes), and should prove a sensation—at least with the kids". Gene Arneel of Variety praised the film as "a special kind of picture making, combining photographic ingenuity, imaginative story telling and fiscal daring." He further added that "Richard Fleischer's direction keeps the Disney epic moving at a smart clip, picking up interest right from the start and deftly developing each of the many tense moments...Earl Fenton's screenplay looks to be a combination of the best in the Verne original and new material to suit the screen form. It's a fine job of writing simulating pic fare. Technical credits — underline the water photography — are excellent." Philip K. Scheuer, reviewing for the Los Angeles Times, wrote "Technically the film is a marvel itself, with actual underwater shot made in the Bahamas alternating with surface scale models that defy detection as such." He also praised Mason's performance claiming "he lends depth and dimension to the stock figure of the 'mad genius.' The proof: he sometimes seems more pitied than scorned." Harrison's Reports wrote that "Expertly utilizing the CinemaScope medium and Technicolor photography, he [Walt Disney] and his staff have fashioned a picture that is not only a masterpiece from the production point of view but also a great entertainment, the kind that should go over in a big way with all types of audiences."
Modern-day film critic Steve Biodrowski said that the film is "far superior to the majority of genre efforts from the period (or any period, for that matter), with production design and technical effects that have dated hardly at all". Biodrowski also added that the film "may occasionally succumb to some of the problems inherent in the source material (the episodic nature does slow the pace), but the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses, making this one of the greatest science-fiction films ever made". On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 89% based on 27 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads: "One of Disney's finest live-action adventures, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea brings Jules Verne's classic sci-fi tale to vivid life, and features an awesome giant squid".
Awards and nominations
|Award||Category||Recipients and nominees||Result|
|27th Academy Awards||Best Art Direction – Color||John Meehan, Emile Kuri||Won|
|Best Special Effects||John Hench, Joshua Meador|
|Best Film Editing||Elmo Williams||Nominated|
|National Board of Review Awards 1954||Top Ten Films||20,000 Leagues Under the Sea||Won|
The film's primary art director Harper Goff, who designed the Nautilus, was not a member of the Art Directors Union in 1954 and therefore, under a bylaw within the Academy of Motion Pictures, was unable to receive his Academy Award for Art Direction.
In Disney resorts
Disneyland used the original sets as a walk-through attraction from 1955 to 1966. Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom also had a dark ride named 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage from 1971 to 1994 which consisted of a submarine ride, complete with the giant squid attack, and an arrangement of the main theme from the 1954 film playing on Captain Nemo's organ in the background. For this ride, voice artist Peter Renaday stood in for James Mason in the role of Captain Nemo. In 1994, a walkthrough attraction at Disneyland Paris, named Les Mystères du Nautilus, opened, and a dark ride at Tokyo DisneySea was created in 2001. The exterior to The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure contains a silhouette of the Nautilus in a rock wall and the tiki bar Trader Sam's Grog Grotto at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort serves a cocktail called the "Nautilus" which is itself served in a stylized drinking vessel resembling the submarine, and features a dive helmet and a mechanical squid tentacle that pours liquor behind the bar.
Comic book adaptation
On January 6, 2009, Variety reported that a live-action remake titled 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo was being planned with Joseph McGinty Nichol, known as "McG", attached to direct. The film serves as an origin story for the central character, Captain Nemo, as he builds his warship, the Nautilus. McG has remarked that it will be "much more in keeping with the spirit of the novel" than Richard Fleischer's film, in which it will reveal "what Aronnax is up to and the becoming of Captain Nemo, and how the man became at war with war itself." It was written by Bill Marsilli, with Justin Marks and Randall Wallace brought in to do rewrites. The film was to be produced by Sean Bailey with McG's Wonderland Sound and Vision.
McG once suggested that he wanted Will Smith as Captain Nemo, but he has reportedly turned down the part. As a second possible choice, McG had mentioned Sam Worthington, whom he worked with on Terminator Salvation, though they did not ever discuss it seriously. In November 2009, the project was shelved by then-Walt Disney Pictures chairman Rich Ross after having spending nearly $10 million on pre-production work. Prior to the announcement, McG and Bailey had been notified of the project's cancellation.
During the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, director David Fincher announced plans of directing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Walt Disney Pictures based on a script by Scott Z. Burns. While Fincher was wrapping up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), it was speculated that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would enter principal photography by late 2012. In the meantime, Fincher began courting Brad Pitt to play the role of Ned Land while the film was kept on hold. However, in February 2013, it was announced that Pitt had officially turned down the role.
In April 2013, it was announced that the Australian government will provide a one-off incentive of $20 million in order to secure the production. Despite this, the film was put on hold again the following month due to complications in casting a lead. On July 17, 2013, Fincher dropped out of the film to direct the adaptation of Gone Girl. Fincher revealed in an interview that he left the film because he wanted Channing Tatum for Ned Land, but Disney wanted Chris Hemsworth for the role. Additionally, the money originally allocated for the production of this film was redirected towards Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
In February 2016, Disney announced that it was planning a live-action film titled Captain Nemo, with James Mangold directing. In February 2020, it was reported that Mangold was no longer attached to the project.
- Mysterious Island, a 1961 film by Columbia Pictures, based on Verne's 1874 novel, The Mysterious Island, which was a sequel to two of Verne's earlier novels: In Search of the Castaways (also known as Captain Grant's Children) (1867) and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870)
- In Search of the Castaways, a 1962 Disney film, based on Verne's 1867 novel, In Search of the Castaways (a.k.a. Captain Grant's Children)
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire, a 2001 Disney animated film that would share much of the same design language as 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
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