Friday, November 9, 2012

It's Film Strip Friday! 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

It’s Film Strip Friday!
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Release Date December 23rd, 1954


Climb aboard the Nautilus ... and into a strange undersea world of spellbinding adventure! Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre star as shipwrecked survivors taken captive by the mysterious Captain Nemo, brilliantly portrayed by James Mason. Wavering between genius and madness, Nemo has launched a deadly crusade across the seven seas. But can the captive crew expose his evil plan before he destroys the world?


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a 1954 adventure film starring Kirk Douglas as Ned Land, James Mason as Captain Nemo, Paul Lukas as Professor Pierre Aronnax, and Peter Lorre as Conseil. It was the first science fiction film produced by Walt Disney Productions, as well as the only science-fiction film produced by Walt Disney himself. It was also the first feature length Disney film to be distributed by Buena Vista Distribution. The film has become the best-known adaptation of the book of the same name by Jules Verne, and cited as an early example of the genre of steampunk.


In the year 1868, rumors of a sea monster attacking ships in the Pacific Ocean have created apprehension and fear among sailors, disrupting the shipping lanes. Prof. Pierre M. Aronnax and his assistant, Conseil, are on their way to Saigon but get stuck in San Francisco by the halting of ships. The U.S. government invites Aronnax onto an expedition to either prove or disprove the monster's existence. One of their fellow crew is the cocky master harpooneer Ned Land.
After months of fruitless searching, the monster is spotted one night. The ship fires at it with cannons, and it immediately charges. Ned and Aronnax are thrown overboard, and Conseil goes in after Aronnax. The warship, burning and helpless, drifts silently and no one on board answers when the overboard passengers cry for help. The three drift in the ocean, eventually finding a strange-looking metal vessel, and realize the "monster" is a man-made "submerging boat", that seems to have been deserted. Inside, Aronnax wanders down into the Salon, where he finds a massive viewing window and sees an underwater funeral taking place, presumably for a man on the submerging boat who was killed by the expeditionary ship's guns.
When the submarine crew returns to their ship, they capture the three castaways. The captain introduces himself as Nemo, master of the Nautilus. He returns Ned and Conseil to the deck, while Aronnax, whom he recognizes for his work and research, is allowed to stay. He tempts Aronnax to remain with him, but Aronnax prefers to share his companions' fate. Nemo prepares to submerge Nautilus with the three stowaways on the deck, but at the last moment changes his mind and allows them to stay. After dinner that night, Nemo takes them all on an underwater expedition to gather supplies, but Ned tries to salvage a treasure chest from a sunken wreck, almost getting attacked by a shark.
Later on, Nemo takes Aronnax to the penal colony island of Rura Penthe. Nemo reveals he was once a prisoner there himself, as were many of the crew of the Nautilus. The prisoners there are loading a munitions ship. It embarks at sunset, whereupon the Nautilus rams it, destroying its munitions cargo and killing the entire crew. When confronted by Aronnax, an anguished Nemo says that his actions have just saved thousands from death in war; he also discloses that this "hated nation" had tortured his wife and son to death in an attempt to force him to reveal the secrets of his work. Meanwhile, Ned discovers the coordinates of Nemo's secret island base, Vulcania, and releases messages in bottles, hoping somebody will find them and free him from captivity.
Off the coast of New Guinea, the Nautilus gets stranded on a reef. Ned is surprised when Nemo freely allows him to go ashore with Conseil, ostensibly to collect specimens. Ned goes off alone inland to explore avenues of escape. While kneeling at a pool to drink he sees a number of human skulls on stakes. Unbeknownst to him he has been spotted by a cannibal in a nearby tree. Realizing his danger, Ned runs for his life and rejoins Conseil as they are chased back to the Nautilus. Despite remaining aground, Nemo is unconcerned and the cannibals are repelled from the ship by electrical charges circulated on its hull. Captain Nemo is furious at Ned for not following his orders, and confines him to the submarine's brig as punishment.
A warship approaches, firing and striking the submarine just as it breaks free of the reef. It descends into the depths, where it attracts the attentions of a giant squid. The electric charge fails to repel the monster, so Nemo and his men are forced to surface in order to fight and dislodge the beast. During the battle, Nemo is caught in one of the squid's tentacles; Ned, having escaped from captivity in the struggle and in spite of his hatred for the captain (due to experiencing the destruction of the munitions ship from earlier), jumps to Nemo's rescue and saves his captor's life. As a result, Nemo has a change of heart; he claims now to want to make peace with the outer world, by sharing his secrets of the sea. However, this is to be short-lived.
As the Nautilus nears Vulcania, Nemo finds the island surrounded by warships, whose marines are converging on his hideout. As Nemo goes ashore, Ned attempts to identify himself as the author of the bottled messages to no avail. Aronnax realizes this and becomes furious, recognizing that Nemo will destroy all evidence of his discoveries. Sure enough, Nemo plants a bomb in his hideout, but is mortally wounded from a slug to the back while returning to the Nautilus. After haphazardly navigating the submarine away from Vulcania, Nemo announces he will be "taking the Nautilus down for the last time." Loyal to Nemo to the very end, his entire crew declare that they will accompany their captain in death.
Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned are taken forcibly to their cabins. The Nautilus's crew also retreats to their own cabins, at Nemo's instructions. Ned breaks loose, overcomes the first mate (who has tried to stop him), escapes to the now deserted bridge, and manages to surface the Nautilus, hitting a reef in the process and causing the ship to begin flooding rapidly. In his final moments, Nemo staggers to a viewing window, collapses, and looks at his beloved ocean one last time as he dies.
Aronnax tries to go back and retrieve his journal, which contains a detailed account of the voyage, but the urgency of their escape obliges Ned to knock him unconscious and carry him out. The companions witness Vulcania destroyed in an explosion. Aronnax's diary of the voyage is also lost forever, and when Ned apologizes for having hit him, the Professor replies "Perhaps you did mankind a service, Ned". The shock from the explosion causes the Nautilus to sink even more quickly, and as it disappears beneath the waves forever, 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 Arounax
  • 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


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was filmed at various locations in 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. Some of the location filming sequences were so complex that they required a technical crew of over 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. It 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. Cost-overruns during production made it the most expensive film produced at the time (exceeding the 1939 film Gone With the Wind).


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea received positive reviews from critics, was the second highest grossing film of the year (behind White Christmas), and has become a notable classic film of the Disney corporation. Audiences fondly remember it primarily for its giant-squid battle sequence as well as the Nautilus itself and James Mason's portrayal of Nemo. The film currently holds a 91% approval rating at the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being: "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."
The film was also highly praised for the performances of the leading actors. This was the first time that major international stars such as Kirk Douglas, James Mason, and Peter Lorre had appeared in a Disney film, although Robert Newton, a well-known actor in British films, had played Long John Silver in Disney's Treasure Island (1950), and Richard Todd, another well-known star of British films, had appeared in a Disney Technicolor live-action version of The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952). Mason especially was singled out for his performance of Captain Nemo. Many people who had first seen him on-screen in the film identify him most strongly with this role.
Upon the film's original release, New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a generally positive review by stating 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."
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."
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. 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.

Awards and nominations

The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for one more. In addition, the film's DVD was nominated for a Saturn Award
  • Academy Awards (1954)
Won: Best Art Direction – Color (John Meehan, Emile Kuri)
Won: Best Special Effects (John Hench, Joshua Meador)
Nominated: Best Film Editing (Elmo Williams)
  • Saturn Awards (2004)
Nominated: Best Classic Film DVD Release
The film's primary art designer, 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, he was unable to receive his Academy Award for Art Direction.

Soundtrack releases

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. 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 Nemo 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.
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. The second album, released by Disneyland Records in 1963 in conjunction with the film's first re-release, was issued on one 33 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 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, BWV 565" is played by Nemo on the Nautilus's organ, but James Mason's playing is actually dubbed by an anonymous organist.

Official soundtrack

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
January 29, 2008
Walt Disney
Randy Thorton
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.
Track listing
"Main Title (Captain Nemo’s Theme)"
Paul Smith
"Street Fight"
Paul Smith
"Aboard the Abraham Lincoln / Hunting the Monster"
Paul Smith
"A Whale of a Tale"
Kirk Douglas
"The Monster Attacks"
Paul Smith
"Deserted Sub / Burial / Captured"
Paul Smith
"Fifty Fathoms / The Island of Crespo"
Paul Smith
"Storm at Sea / Nemo Plays"
Paul Smith
"Strange Man of the Seas"
Paul Smith
"Nemo’s Torment"
Paul Smith
"Justified Hate"
Paul Smith
"Searching Nemo’s Cabin"
Paul Smith
"Ned’s Bottles"
Paul Smith
"Ashore at New Guinea"
Paul Smith
"Native Drums / Back to the Nautilus"
Paul Smith
Paul Smith
"The Giant Squid"
Paul Smith
"Ambush at Vulcania"
Paul Smith
"Nemo Wounded"
Paul Smith
"Escape from Vulcania"
Paul Smith
"Finale / Deep Is the Mighty Ocean"
Paul Smith
"A Whale of a Tale (Single)"
Kirk Douglas
"And the Moon Grew Brighter and Brighter (Single B-Side)"
Kirk Douglas
"A Whale of a Tale"
Bill Kanady
"A Whale of a Tale"
The Wellingtons
"A Whale of a Tale (Reprise)"
Kirk Douglas
Total length:


On January 6, 2009, Variety reported that a remake entitled 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo was being planned with Joseph McGinty Nichol, a.k.a. "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. It was to be produced by Sean Bailey with McG's Wonderland Sound and Vision.
McG once suggested that he wanted Will Smith for the Captain Nemo role, 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. However, the project was later shelved in November 2009 with McG backing out of directing.
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.

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