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20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Video available from amazon.com
A Review by Carole Gordon
Jules Verne's tale of adventure on the high seas, of the mysterious Captain Nemo and his journey to Atlantis in the submarine Nautilus, was years ahead of its time when first published in 1869. It should have been relatively straightforward for a director of Michael Anderson's talent and experience (The Dam Busters, Around the World in Eighty Days) to transfer this ripping yarn successfully to the screen and produce a thrilling piece of storytelling.
Unfortunately, the result can only be described as "inept". Somewhere along the way, all dramatic tension is stripped from the story, leaving a soggy mess which is funny for all the wrong reasons. Only too obviously made on a limited budget, effects such as model ships bobbing in a tank and attacks by plastic sharks simply won't do for today's sophisticated audiences who have been raised on a diet of Star Wars and Titanic.
Surprisingly too, Michael Anderson manages to coax wooden performances from such fine actors as Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire) and Richard Crenna (whose film credits extend over four decades) with the result that Nemo (Ben Cross) exudes all the menace of a slightly annoyed hamster, while the dotty professor, played by Richard Crenna, fails to engage the audience's sympathy or interest. Worst of all is Julie Cox (previously seen as Diana, Princess of Wales, in the execrable TV movie Princess in Love about Diana's affair with James Hewitt) as Sophie, the Professor's daughter, who portrays every emotion from A to, well, A, without ever smudging her lipstick, even when in a diving suit. But she does contribute a wonderfully Pythonesque moment when, wearing a long frock and high-heeled ankle boots, she teeters across the heaving hull of the Nautilus.
And what of Paul Gross? It is undeniable that Paul attacks the part of Ned Land, the rugged harpoonist, with energy and commitment; unfortunately the leaden script and inept direction fight back, and fight dirty. Could any actor be convincing with dialogue that rarely rises above the quality of "I knew you weren't a boy"? What is also unmistakable is that Paul is miscast in the role, as was Kirk Douglas before him in the 1954 version of the story; though it is doubtful whether anyone else would have fared better in this dire production. That Paul also has to struggle through the film wearing a belt the width of the Atlantic just adds to his and the audience's discomfiture.
Paul Gross has himself described this production as "twenty thousand scenes down the drain". Sadly, an all too valid assessment.