Few knew when Jules Verne was writing his futuristic novels in the 19th century that such entertaining page-turners would foretell so much reality. In this 1997 adaptation of Verne's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' the screenwriter (Brian Nelson) and director Rod Hardy have elected to pay homage to the scientific aspects of the thriller rather than make the story into a cartoon. And though it is a long song (3 hours), it plays well and introduces some fine special effects and philosophical statements about environmental issues, slavery, feminism, familial relationships, and commitment to dreams. Not bad for a Sci-Fi novel!
The cast is solid: Patrick Dempsey makes a wholesome, handsome Pierre Arronax, Bryan Brown as the driven sailor Ned Land, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is excellent as Cabe Attucks (nice to see this fine actor in a role far different than the one he played on the TV series 'Oz'), John Bach is the arrogant father Thierry Arronax, and Mia Sara serves up the beefed up role of Mara nicely. But the submarine mysterious ship Nautilus surfaces or sinks at the hands of Captain Nemo and while Michael Caine isn't the embodiment of evil we so often see, he finds the soul of the driven scientist whose goal is to protect the 'surface' he has forsaken to scuttle the seas in search of ways to stop future earthquakes topside.
Originally made as a mini-series for television in 1997, the movie for sails along, holding our attention and fascination for the full three hours, not only because we care about the characters, but also because we are treated to some spectacular underwater sequences and a Nautilus that is as elegant a vessel as Verne described. And yes, Captain Nemo still plays the pipe organ as part of the musical score. The script gets a bit on the corny side, especially in the areas of father son relationships, and the unnecessary spin on romances that seem to be de rigueur in keeping an audiences attention. But in the end this is an entertaining interpretation of the Jules Verne classic that still stimulates our thinking and challenges our concepts of environmental concerns. Grady Harp, May 06