Tag Archives: Jules Verne

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

downloadAfter reading the book, I had to see Disney’s film adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under Sea. Strangely enough, I never saw it before last week. I have some dim memory of seeing Kirk Douglas playing with a seal when I was a child, but I must not have seen the whole thing. I knew of it more by reputation than anything else. My cousin had very strong opinions about the film: she loved the squid and she hated Kirk Douglas.

But I enjoyed it very much. It is a much tighter story than the book, which is very episodic. In the documentary to the DVD, director Richard Fleischer said that when he read the book, he realized that the best way to adapt the story was to treat it like a jail break on a submarine and try to make everything feel claustrophobic.

The essential story is the same in the movie as it is in the book. Professor Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his servant, Conseil (Peter Lorre), go on a sea voyage to locate a mysterious sea creature that is destroying ships. But what they encounter instead is a submarine and when they fall overboard, along with bombastic and hot-headed harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), they climb aboard the submarine, the Nautilus.

The captain of the Nautilus (James Mason) at first threatens to kill them, but relents when he sees how Aronnax is willing to die with his friends rather than be spared alone. He has a potential purpose in mind for Professor Aronnax. In the meantime, he shows Aronnax the submarine and how it works while Ned Land and Conseil scheme and plot to escape. One of Land’s schemes is to fill bottles with messages about the location of Captain Nemo’s island base (which they found on a chart in Nemo’s room) and send them out into the ocean. He also tries to escape when he is allowed to go ashore on an island, but is chased back by cannibals.

James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas

James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas

One big difference between the movie and book is that the Nautilus in the movie is not battery powered, but actually a nuclear submarine and Professor Aronnax is far more interested in Nemo’s discovery of nuclear energy and the potential good it could do civilization than he is in studying fish and other underwater wonders and it turns out that the purpose Nemo has in mind for Aronnax is that he might allow the professor to share his secret of nuclear energy with the world. But Nemo is not entirely convinced that the world is ready to handle something so potentially destructive and prevaricates. Meanwhile, Aronnax is appalled to discover that Nemo is actively engaged in sinking the ships of his unspecified enemies – a Colonial power of some sort.

The cast is excellent. James Mason is perfect as Captain Nemo –  I could even see James Mason in my mind while I was finishing the book. He’s still a Byronic hero, still a Count of Monte Cristo of the Seas like in the book, though with a more pronounced Utopian streak in him. Mason’s Nemo seems even more deeply pained by the state of humanity and their propensity to make war and discusses it more often, especially in relation to whether or not to share his knowledge of nuclear power.

Kirk Douglas’ take on Ned Land, however, is quite different. Land in the book is a tall, relatively silent man while Kirk Douglas is more of a blow-hard, a kind of irrepressible rogue. However, I have to admit that the change was probably for the best and makes a nice contrast with the rest of the characters, who are very earnest indeed. The movie might have gotten a touch lugubrious without him…and his interaction with Conseil. He and his unlikely friendship with Conseil provide the bulk of the comedy in the film.

download (1)Ironically, it is Conseil who somewhat provides the moral conscience of the film, along with Professor Aronnax. But Aronnax in the movie gets wrapped up in Nemo, at one point even making excuses for Nemo’s behavior, and extremely caught up in the potential of the nuclear energy. It is only at the end that he realizes that Nemo is quite willing to have him and his two friends die along with the Nautilus and crew in a death pact. Not quite as mad as in the book, Nemo is still willing to do anything to protect his secret. Only Conseil consistently sees the need for them to escape, partially for their own sake and partially for Ned, who gets himself in trouble with Nemo repeatedly.

Though Ned does save Captain Nemo’s life during the giant squid attack (which looks pretty awesome, even to this day). It kind of throws Nemo’s carefully nurtured misanthropy into disarray, but ultimately Ned’s earlier actions ensure that nothing positive ultimately comes of it (not that you can blame Ned for trying).

The whole film looks great. The ship is opulent as in the book (though I still wonder why Nemo gets all the cushy stuff – what’s up with his crew? They even have a suicide pact with him!). There is the organ and the library and the artwork, the walking on the bottom of the ocean, getting chased by natives, though there’s no trip to Antarctica. There is still a burial underseas. No Atlantis, but that’s okay (there’s actually an Atlantis in the 1959 film version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, also with James Mason, so at least it made its way into one Verne adaptation). It’s still not a fast-paced movie, but it has the same element that captures one’s imagination that the book has.

Captain Nemo's cabin, without color

Captain Nemo’s cabin, without color

It’s also another fine example of how to adapt a book to a movie; keeping the essential flavor, the essential nature of the characters (except Land) and taking the most important plot elements in the story and constructing a cohesive and exciting cinematic experience.


Posted by on September 2, 2015 in Movies


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne


original illustrations by George Roux

If the Count of Monte Cristo went on a scientific tour of the sea, the resulting story might be something like Jules Verne’s 1870 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Except there’s much more science then revenge, though the revenge is what you really remember.

The book is narrated by Pierre Aronnax, a professor from Paris. He and his servant, the impassive and unflappable Conseil, accompany an American military ship to hunt down a mysterious sea creature that has been wreaking havoc on the seas, sinking several ships. Aronnax thinks the mysterious creature must be a narwhal. On board, they meet Ned Land, a Canadian harpooner of the highest ability.

The mysterious creature is not a narwhal, as it turns out, but a submarine, which they discover when Ned Land tries to harpoon it and the submarine bumps into the ship and Aronnax, Conseil and Land end up in the water and scramble for safety on top of the submarine (Conseil jumped into the ocean out of loyalty to Aronnax).

They are taken in and meet the mysterious crew and their captain, Nemo. He is a man who claims to have turned his back on all civilization and oppressive nations and lives only in the sea and is sustained only by the sea, doing scientific research in his submarine, the Nautilus, which he engineered himself (it is shaped like a cigar, attacks like a battering ram and powered by a battery).

But because Nemo fears discovery by the world, he tells them that they can never leave the Nautilus. This is hard news for Ned Land, but the professor is enchanted, despite his fears. He initially finds Nemo’s idea of being able to live truly free of the world a romantic one and is thrilled to be able to engage in marine biology such as he’s never done before and even Conseil is excited to have so many new fish to classify. Captain Nemo, although moody and taciturn, seems to welcome the opportunity to have a knowledgeable man to talk to and explain all the wonderful things he has discovered (after all, what is the fun of discovering things if there is no one to appreciate it?).

'Twenty_Thousand_Leagues_Under_the_Sea'_by_Neuville_and_Riou_03420,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an episodic story as the Nautilus explores the many oceans, stops at a few islands, visits Antarctica, finds Atlantis, characters walk on the bottom of the ocean, view wrecks of ships, classify dozens of animals and sea life, fight giant squid, encounter natives on an island who attempt to board the Nautilus from their canoes. The only two threads that run throughout the story are Ned Land’s desire and search for a way to escape the Nautilus and Professor Aronnax’s dawning realization of the dark side of Captain Nemo, though he likes the man.

Captain Nemo claims that he is done with civilization and is a law unto himself, but that is not quite true and Aronnax begins to suspect that he is using the Nautilus for another purpose besides science, like perhaps revenge. It also becomes clear that Nemo is still helping people, such as the Greeks, who are rebelling against the Ottoman Empire, by sending them gold (which he found in a sunken ship – he’s fabulously wealthy) or giving pearls to a Ceylonese man (a nation ruled, “oppressed,” in Nemo’s words, by the British).

Originally, Jules Verne was going to make Captain Nemo Polish and have the enemy whose ships he’s determined to sink at every opportunity be Russian. However, in 1870, France was allied with Russia and Verne’s publisher urged him to change it. As a result, in the novel, we never do learn what nationality Nemo is. When he reappears in Verne’s The Mysterious Island, Verne has made him a prince from India who was educated in Europe and the enemy who destroyed his family and home are the British, who were not French allies at the time.

400px-'Twenty_Thousand_Leagues_Under_the_Sea'_by_Neuville_and_Riou_108But he makes me think so much of Eduard Dante from The Count of Monte Cristo. The brooding, mysterious man who is magnetic, sensitive, filled with hate, convinced of his own righteousness in seeking revenge, forceful, impossibly good at everything. Nemo plays the organ (it’s an opulent sub: library, museum, organ, paintings, comfy divans – though oddly it seems reserved for the captain’s use. What the crew do with themselves to occupy their time is anyone’s guess. The crew remain a complete enigma of personality throughout.). He’s even fabulously rich, like Dante, so he can afford to do anything (even build his presumably expensive submarine). And he’s an engineer, great explorer, and brilliant scientist. He’s practically a demigod.

Fortunately, for sympathy’s sake, Captain Nemo is more vulnerable than Eduard Dante, because he seems to be slowly going mad. He claims to have perfect freedom in the ocean, but he’s really just taken his inner demons with him (like Satan’s line from Paradise Lost: “Hell; myself is hell!”). He plays gloomy music on his organ, grows more remote from Aronnax and seems to have a bit of a death wish while Aronnax is horrified to discover that Nemo is destroying ships and killing men and finally agrees with Ned Land that they should escape as soon as possible, since Nemo is likely to take them down with him. Nemo’s justification?

I am the law, and I am the judge! I am the oppressed and there is the oppressor!”

It is his justification for everything he does, a frightening line of reasoning, however much one may sympathize with all he has suffered.

413px-'Twenty_Thousand_Leagues_Under_the_Sea'_by_Neuville_and_Riou_032One weakness of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are the interminable lists. Professor Aronnax is always detailing exactly what kind of sea life he sees and when you do not know much about the ocean, it tends to read like a laundry list and there are a lot of them and I find that my eyes glaze over every so often. I now know what a zoophyte is (any kind of sea creature that looks like a plant, such as an anemone).  A dugong is like a manatee. I learned about how pearls form in oysters. I think the book would have benefited from a glossary with pictures, as well as a map that details all the places that the Nautilus goes.

It’s never a fast-paced book – extremely leisurely – but these periods of boredom are relieved by Verne’s striking images. There is the moment when the Nautilus comes in sight of a recently sunken ship and they can still see the newly dead bodies lashed to the ship and floating in the water while sharks are coming towards it, which is an eerie and melancholy moment. The giant squid attack is exciting and unforgettable. Nemo shows Aronnax the sunken city of Atlantis. Aronnax, Conseil and Ned Land hunting on an island (Land is determined to have fresh meat; he’s tired of all the fish).

There is something about Verne that captures one’s imagination, despite the slow moments. It’s not as much fun as Around the World in 80 Days, but there’s something eerie, mysterious and exciting about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, about secrets only half plumbed. Professor Aronnax may be learning an incredible amount about the sea, but Nemo remains a mystery and ultimately, so does the sea.


Posted by on August 31, 2015 in Books


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) – Jules Verne


Around the World in Eighty Days is one of those unique books where there is nothing else like it, at least that I have found. Jack Sullivan, in his afterwards to my Reader’s Digest edition of the book, described it as “part travelogue, part suspense story, part social satire, and part rumination on geography and probability, it is also, at various points, an American Western, a jungle adventure, and a tongue-in-cheek detective yarn.”

The main character, Phileas Fogg is a man of such precision that he is described as a machine, but he is a machine with a social conscience and a large degree of fatalistic gallantry…which makes for an interesting blend of personality. Even his bet with his whist partners at the Reform Club is oddly quixotic, or at least, would seem quixotic if he were any less assured that since it is mathematically possible to traverse the world in eighty days it is also mathematically assured. He has been living by the same schedule for years (and has no known past) until he spontaneously decides to bet that he can travel around the world in eighty days. For such a spontaneous trip, however, he seems to know a lot about the route he would take, which makes one wonder if it is so spontaneous as it seems.

Phileas Fogg, illustrated by Neuville and Bennet

Phileas Fogg, illustrated by Neuville and Bennet

It’s a compact book for such an incredible journey, mirroring what a whirlwind trip Fogg takes. He may be going around the world, but at breakneck speed, without pausing even to see the sights. In fact. Fogg never sees the sights. Only his valet, Passepartout, sees anything new while they travel.

Passepartout was a wanderer in his youth, who seems to have done many things throughout his wandering life, especially gymnastics, and he is seeking quiet when he comes to work for Fogg, only to find himself rushing around the world and encountering more adventure than he’d ever encountered before. And he takes it all in remarkably good stride. One suspects that most valets would simply resign in a huff, but not Passepartout. Although not as majestically unmoved by circumstances as Fogg, he is fairly adaptable and willing to take what comes and deal with it, always optimistic, good natured, and open to life. He comments that at least his tour is one way to see something of new experiences and people.

The other great character is Detective Fix. I love how Fix, all in the name of duty (though it borders on obsession – an obsession to catch Phileas Fogg, who, he believes, is a bank robber) gets caught up in the journey. He is waiting for Fogg in Suez, but he has no warrant to arrest Fogg and so, he keeps following him to different locations of the British Empire where the warrant is supposed to be waiting for him, only to end up making a totally impromptu tour of the world in company with Fogg and Passepartout. I always wondered who paid for the trip. Presumably the government. I always thought it will make some story for him to tell his grandchildren, though.

Fix, like Passepartout, does not initially believe that Fogg is really going to go all the way around the world, but as Fogg keeps progressing, he gradually comes to believe him, surmising that Fogg is merely trying to shake the police off his tail. Passepartout does not reason why; he simply accepts it and throws himself wholeheartedly into its success.

illustration by Neuville and Bennet

illustration by Neuville and Bennet

And the final person to join Fogg’s journey is Aouda, a beautiful Indian woman who is rescued by Phileas Fogg and Passepartout from being thrown onto the fire that is burning her dead husband. She has very little to do in the story other than be profoundly grateful, brave and an added irony to Fogg’s journey. He set out to travel light, but now he is escorting a woman, complete with all the luggage he bought her.

In fact, there is surprisingly heavy irony throughout the book, something I had not noticed on previous readings. I owe my first hint of it from Jack Sullivan’s afterwards to the book, where he talks about how the book is really a race against time and how ironic it is that Phileas Fogg sets out to prove that “the unforeseen does not exist” and nothing but unforeseen events occur. Unforeseen storms, delays, rescues, people.

And a further irony is in the nature of Phileas Fogg himself. Jules Verne admires him, but he is poking some fun at him, too. He is an enigma. We know nothing of what he is thinking or feeling. Sullivan compared his serenity to that of a Buddha. Everything that occurs, he always says, is part of his program. He even tells Aouda that her rescue and the purchase of her clothes were part of his program (when he is not assuring her that everything will be “mathematically” arranged for her). When he gives Fix a ride on his boat, that too, is part of his program. But, of course, none of it is. In that respect, he is almost a philosophical stoic; everything that occurs is what happens and therefore his plan.

And for all his calm assurance that everything is part of his program, it seems doubtful to me that he could have made it without the assistance of such people as Passepartout and Fix, who both impede his journey at certain points, but also aid him in moments of crisis. He is like the extreme example of the classic British gentleman in literature: phlegmatic, calm, upright, uninterested in the various cultures around him, stoical about doing his duty, whilst risking his life to save Aouda and Passepartout at various points in their journey.

illustration by Deuville and Bennet

illustration by Deuville and Bennet

And despite his willingness to save Aouda himself, and to save the train in America that is being attacked by Native Americans, it is Passepartout who actually gets to save the day, through bold strokes and audacity…and dexterous gymnastics. If there is action to be done, it is almost always Passepartout who does the actual deed; Fogg is usually sitting in his room playing whist.

Despite being French and poking fun at the British, Verne is still pretty supportive of the whole British Empire and makes several rather racist comments about certain groups of people as a whole, characterizing people as a group instead of as individuals. He is also very approving of how much the British have put their own stamp of civilization on the various countries they occupy, commenting that in some cities, with the trains and other modern conveniences, you could hardly tell that you weren’t in London. And Fogg symbolizes this since he, just like the British Empire, is not interested in being changed by his surroundings, but imposing his own order upon it.

This book does show, however, the ubiquitous presence of the British around the whole world. The fact that Detective Fix could get halfway around the world and still expect to be able to arrest Fogg on British ground is telling.

illustration by Deuville and Bennet

illustration by Deuville and Bennet

In the end, Fogg gains nothing. He spent as much as he earned in the bet. He made his point, but what point was that? He doesn’t write a book, doesn’t learn anything about the world, doesn’t become a celebrity and will probably be forgotten soon by everyone who had been betting on him; and he doesn’t learn anything about himself (Sullivan also points out how he travels around the world and comes back exactly the same), and doesn’t enrich anyone else by knowledge or money. He simply was “describing a circumference,” in the words of Verne.

But he has gained something. As he tells Passepartout, if he had not gone around the world, he never would have rescued Aouda, and they never would have been married and he never would have been so happy. It’s the final irony.

A side note: Verne takes a little time to describe the Suez Canal, which Fogg travels through, and it was interesting to note that the canal was opened in 1869, only four years before the publication of Around the World in Eighty Days. In many ways, it was a very current book, with Fogg taking advantage of the latest modes of travel along the very latest routes. He travels by rail, steamer, wind-powered snow sledge, elephant, and carriage (but no balloon). The rail was really his most significant means of travel, however; an invention that truly unified the world in a way nothing else had done before.


Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Fiction


Tags: , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: