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Disneys' Underwater Epic
on 21 April 2004
Even 50 years after it was released, Disneys' 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is still the best screenplay based on the Jules Verne novel.
The story is well known:- A sea monster attacking shipping in the 1860s is hunted by a U.S. warship and is revealed as being an advanced submarine boat. Three survivors from an attack on the warship, a French professor (Paul Lukas), his assistant (Peter Lorre) and a Canadian harpooner (Kirk Douglas) end up as unwilling "guests" on board the submarine Nautilus. The interraction between these three characters and the Master of the Nautilus, Captain Nemo (James Mason) forms the backbone of the films plot.
The performance of James Mason as Nemo, the genius builder of the Nautilus and its futuristic propulsion system, driven by hatred to commit horrific acts of revenge, is superb. Unfortunately, by comparison, he tends to make the other characters seem a little two-dimensional at times.
The general "feel" of the film is rather darker than you would expect from a Disney product from this period, although a trained seal and the obligatory song help to lighten things up.
The widescreen ratio of the DVD is ideal for the subject matter. Underwater shots pf the Nautilus miniature (a masterpiece of design by Harper Goff) fill the screen nicely, while the interior sets are given a genuinely claustrophobic feel.
Scenes that remain in the memory include the glowing porthole "eyes" of the Nautilus as it churns through the water to ram an unsuspecting steamship, and the epic hand-to-tentacle battle with a giant squid.
Although not mentioned on the packaging, there are several excellent bonus features, including a tour of the Nautilus and recently discovered footage of the first attempt to film the squid attack.
All in all a very pleasing, and long awaited,DVD. My only regret is that Disney did not take the opportunity to release a 50th anniversary special edition, with extras more in line with those on the Region 1 edition.