20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) Review

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954): 6 out of 10: High budget Disney adventure is an entertaining if an overlong adaptation of the Jules Verne classic. The movie entertains in places but struggles with seemingly endless underwater nature shots and serious lulls in the action.

When the action does, rear its head, it is quite well done. The giant squid attack looks better than advertised, and the Papua New Guinea natives (actually Jamaican) are wonderfully right out of Zulu.

James Mason is a magnificently brooding Captain Nemo, while Kirk Douglas is a likable as everyman Ned Land (who despite his name and disgust at eating seafood is supposed to be a first-rate sailor. Oh, and he has the annoying sea shanties and pet seal to back him up). In addition, Mason and Douglas, despite coming across as strangely French, certainly provide good performances. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast sinks to the bottom.

Paul Lukas is stiff and unbelievable as the professor and Peter Lorre is horribly miscast as Gilligan. (Okay, he plays Conseil the professor’s apprentice. Alas, he is about forty years too old to apprentice for anything. One of the cast calls him lad at one point for God’s sake) Nemo’s henchmen are even a bigger joke. They are dead ringers for the Batman villain henchmen from that late sixties series of the same name. (And certainly could have been the basis for those in the 1968 Batman movie) While the acting is a mixed bag it is the nature shots that kill the pacing of the film. Environmentalists will have a fit with all the coral reef stomping and turtle molesting while the rest of us who have avoided IMAX for years because of crap like this will squirm in our seats.

The movie also strangely misses opportunities. For example, much is made of Captain Nemo using gold for ballast cause money means nothing to him and Ned Land’s attempts to steal said treasure represents the greed of the “landlubber” that is ruining our oceans blah blah blah. Towards the end of the film, the captain releases the ballast and nothing is even mentioned. No, Ned Land bemoaning the waste, no money shot of all that treasure falling into the depths. Nope, it is back to the nature photography the sea shanties and the pet seal.

Yup by this time I am rooting for the giant squid.

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