Saturday, 19 June 2010


Fantasy cinema will always trace its roots back to early special effects wizard Georges Méliès, whose works still have relevance in some circles today. His best known works often used Jules Verne’s adventure stories as a template, embellishing them with appropriately surreal visuals, and most if not all of these projects were shot in a customised warehouse. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is no exception, taking as its basis one of Verne’s most adapted works. The U.S. government sends a team of scientists to investigate a spate of sunken ships. The mission uncovers a world of underwater marvels, but as the men entertain themselves with their new environment, they fall prey to its unforeseen dangers.

Without the luxury of time, any retelling of a Verne tale is a bit abrupt and doesn’t have the draw that the books do. Accepting time as a limitation, Méliès uses his imagination to create a visually active backdrop evocative of a thriving submarine habitat. As in many of Méliès’ films, the fantastical aspects of the story are helped along by a bevy of dancing girls, and their constant movements against a psychedelic background make for a hypnotic effect. The film is bookended by scenes which explain the purpose and outcome of the characters as in the book, but one feels that Captain Nemo should have featured more. It might not measure up to later feature-length adaptations, but Méliès’ film is an entertaining, if slightly too brief jaunt. Look out for the menacing giant crab.

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