20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on DVD
One of, if not the, best Walt Disney live action films, 20,000 Leagues Under
the Sea is also one of the best science fiction movies of all time.
And some fifty years after it was first released it still works as if it were
brand new, thanks to Disneys new, and long awaited, Special Edition release
of this classic in the genre of cinefantastique.
James Mason is outstanding as Captain Nemo, the mad genius from whose mind
came the submarine Nautilus and the technology behind it. That technology, specifically
its power supply, is never named, though its broadly hinted that its
nuclear some fifty plus years before the atom was split.
Nemo is the villain of the piece, though he isnt really a villain, at
least in his own mind. To himself, hes a hero, an avenging angel bringing
his own brand of justice to those deserving of it.
But we dont get to meet Nemo right off the bat. Instead, were introduced
to Professor Pierre Arronax (Paul Lukas), his aide Conseil (Peter Lorre), and
master harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), three members of a US-led expedition
to find a so-called sea monster thats been wreaking havoc on the shipping
lanes of the Pacific ocean.
The monster, of course, is the Nautilus, and after it sinks the ship on which
our trio of protagonists are sailing they are tossed into the sea and come across
the submarine while its crew is performing an undersea burial for one of its
Thanks to Nemo's familiary with the professor's reputation, Arronax, Conseil,
and Land are allowed to stay aboard, though under probation, and we get to see
Captain Nemos masterpiece in action through a variety of adventures that
include underwater farming, attacks on other ships, assault by cannibals, and
the famous attack by a giant squid.
Its not only great family entertainment, its great entertainment
and good science fiction as well. The cast is outstanding, especially Mason
and Douglas (the latter of whom also sings a Disney-esque song early in the
film probably its weakest scene), but its the imagination behind
the movie itself that, at least to this reviewer, is the star.
The envisioning of the Nautilus and its technology is superb and contributed
to the films two Oscars (special effects and color art direction). This
is the most beautiful, graceful and yet fearsome submarine in motion picture
history, part fish, part shark. And Disney wisely chose to leave the story set
in the late 1800s, from the novel, which not only makes the fictional
technology all the more amazing for its time, but which, since its
set before the atomic age began in the first place yet was made after it began,
lets the movie itself get older and older without events catching up with it
and making it look quaint.
And of course it doesnt hurt to have Jules Verne as the creator of the
concept in the first place, a man who was one of the early giants in science
The THX-certified DVD brings to home video, finally, an anamorphic version
of this film, presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.55:1 that
really cries out for a big, 16x9 TV screen to do it justice. Fortunately, we
had just the beast handy on which to watch Leagues and we were impressed
overall with its picture quality. The color is terrific and for the most part
the picture is sharp and rich, though THX-certification or not there are scenes
and shots that just arent up to todays standards and this is a shame.
Since this disc has received the THX treatment, we suspect theyve done
as good a job as is possible given todays technology and, overall, were
happy with the result.
Audio has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 and though there isnt a
lot of surround there is some quite effective use of it. Mostly, however, we
get the three front channels and the subwoofer and the results are quite satisfying
for 1954-vintage audio tracks.
Then there are the extras which, in Disney tradition, are positively piled
on in this two disc set.
Disc one features the remastered version of the film, accompanied by a feature
length audio commentary with legendary director Richard Fleischer. You also
get a widescreen (though not anamorphic, alas) animated short "Grand Canyonscope."
As usual, most of the other bonus material lives on Disc Two, and this includes
some really meaty stuff like The Making Of '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea'"
and a featurette on Verne & Disney (Explorers of the Imagination). You also
get the Humboldt Squid: A Real Sea Monster, Lost Treasures: The Sunset Squid,
and continuing the tradition with Disney DVDs, the 1954 Disney Studio
And that isnt all. Theres also a production gallery, the Musical
Legacy of Paul Smith, a tour of the Nautilus, storyboard-to-scene comparison,
and Monsters Of The Deep.
Add to that some unused animation (you might be surprised to find out where
animation was used on this film), biographies of Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre,
James Mason, Paul Lucas, and Richard Fleischer, examples of advertising for
the film, production documents, an excerpt from the screenplay (Nemo's Death),
movie merchandise, the theatrical trailer, radio spots, Peter Lorre audio tracks,
Captain Nemo's organ music and more.
Its a terrific package of a movie masterpiece that deserves to live in
the library of every movie lover and/or sci-fi film lover.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, from Walt Disney Home Video
127 min., anamorphic widescreen (2.55:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital
Starring Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre, Kirk Douglas, James Mason
Written by Earl Felton, Directed by Richard Fleischer
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think