Friday, May 7, 2021

#2,564. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) - The Films of Kirk Douglas


Produced by Walt Disney, 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is more than a great adventure movie; it’s arguably the finest live-action film that Disney ever released.

The year is 1868, and rumors of a terrible sea monster - a creature large enough to devour an entire ship - have brought trade and commerce in the Pacific region to a standstill. Hoping to get things back on track, the United States government enlists the help of Professor Arronax (Paul Lukas), who, accompanied by his assistant Consell (Peter Lorre) and master harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), boards a U.S. Navy vessel and sets sail, all in the hopes of tracking down the elusive monster.

They do, indeed, have a run-in with the creature, which sinks their ship and sends Arronax, Consell, and Ned scrambling for the nearest lifeboat. While drifting at sea, though, the trio discovers that the “monster” is, in fact, the Nautilus, a submarine commanded by the nefarious Captain Nemo (James Mason).

Having escaped a penal colony on the island of Rura Penthe, Nemo and his crew (also former prisoners) now roam the Pacific, attacking and sinking every military or trade vessel they encounter. With Arronax and the others as his “guests”, Nemo continues to lash out at the world, while Arronax tries to convince the mad Captain that violence isn’t the answer.

Across the board, the cast assembled for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is strong (Kirk Douglas even gets a chance to sing, belting out the incredibly catchy tune “A Whale of a Tale”). Yet the standout performance is delivered by James Mason as the charismatic Nemo, who, despite playing the villain, is at times a sympathetic character (we may not agree with Nemo’s methods, but we understand his motivations).

That said, the real stars of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are its set pieces and the wonderfully choreographed adventure scenes. The interior of the Nautilus is breathtaking, as is the design of the sub itself (which, from a distance, looks very much like a sea monster). As for the more exciting moments, the best are the various underwater sequences (in one, Ned and Consell stumble upon a treasure chest, only to be chased by a shark) as well as the movie’s most famous scene: the fight with the giant squid, which has attached itself to the Nautilus and refuses to let go (set during a raging storm, this battle will have you on the edge of your seat).

Over the years, a number of fine movies have been based on the writings of Jules Verne, from the Academy Award-winning Around the World in 80 Days to 1961’s Mysterious Island (which featured special effects by Ray Harryhausen). Towering above them all is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, one of the most timelessly entertaining movies that Disney ever released.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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