steampunk media jules vernes movies

Monday, January 28, 2008

Steampunk Media: Jules Verne’s Movies, Part 1

Last year, one of my earliest polls considered the most popular “modern” Steampunk movie made in the last decade and a half ( ).

However, Mr. OToole did comment on the lack of “classic” Steampunk movies in the poll, and this was by design. Some of the best Steampunk cinema (before it was known as such) took place in the 1950’s, with the Disney corporation making a number of movies capturing the essence of the genre. Later remakes, especially of Julius Verne movies, have proven prolific, if of varying quality.

I had originally intended to consolidate all of the variations of his cinamatographic reproductions into one giant poll, but the length was astounding, with over 14 distinct choices a bit much to read for a relaxing sitting.

As such, I am reducing the options by movie, starting with perhaps the most defining Steampunk movie, “20,000 Leagues under the sea”. For descriptive narrative, I have blatantly plagiarized Amazons descriptions, so my apologies in advance. I will keep the voting open until mid-February, in an effort to garner a larger pool of responses. Without further ado, here are the selections:

(1916 version)

“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” was the first great special effects spectacular of early cinema. Based on the Jules Verne novel, the story concerns a team of scientists investigating a series of naval disturbances who find the culprit is the Nautilus, a submarine piloted by Captain Nemo, a hate-driven renegade seaman. Over a year-and-a-half in production, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is a colorful recreation of Verne’s science fiction classic.

(1954 Version)
Climb aboard the Nautilus … and into a strange undersea world of spellbinding adventure! Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre star as shipwrecked survivors taken captive by the mysterious Captain Nemo, brilliantly portrayed by James Mason. Wavering between genius and madness, Nemo has launched a deadly crusade across the seven seas. But can the captive crew expose his evil plan before he destroys the world? Disney’s brilliant Academy Award(R)-winning (1955, Best Art Direction and Best Special Effects) adaptation of Jules Verne’s gripping tale makes 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA a truly mesmerizing masterpiece!

(1996 Version)
Any interpretation of Jules Verne’s novel will have limitations. Mostly, this is due to the fact that our images of his fantastic technologies are colored by our own experience with what would be his future. Thus, the inside of the Nautilus becomes cheesy (the 1950s Disney version), or too close to reality (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). This film, however, does a good job of tempering Verne’s own time with ours. The ships in the film look very period – including the Nautilus.

Moreover, the story line itself, while modified, does a good job of portraying the complexity of Nemo’s character, leaving the viewer (like Professor Aronnax) torn between admiration and disdain. Yet, this is a television version – thus we see romance and jealousy introduced into the story. Instead of a faithful servent, the Professor is accompanied by his beautiful daughter (Julie Cox), leading to contention between Nemo and the whaler Ned Land. If you are a purist, the story changes may be aggravating.

(1997 Version)

The year is 1886 and New England’s fishing harbor is the scene for a “creature of unknown origin” destroying all ships at sea. It is the job of a curious marine expert, Professor Pierre Aronnax (Patrick Dempsey from the hit TV show “Grey’s Anatomy”) and the iron-willed sailor, Ned Land (Bryan Brown) to learn the truth of the “monster” roaming the depths of the ocean. Their discovery begins when they encounter the reclusive Captain Nemo (Academy Award Winner Michael Caine) and learn of his surprising relationship with the terrorizing “creature” and all the other secrets lurking in the waters.


Brangus Weir

My God! the Kirk Douglas thing was done in 1954? That was always one of my favorites, but I thought it was more mid sixty’s.

Dr. Rafael Fabre

LOL! Perhaps is is *50* years old, but still the best one (though a bit hammy at times!)

Skusting Dagger

20,000 Leagues, in any inception, has always been such a favorite of mine. I have super fond memories of having ridden in the Nautilus at Disneyland in Aneheim back around 1968. Was so disappointed to have seen that it had disappeared when I was at Walt Disney World around twelve years ago.
I picked up this particular volume a couple years ago and found it to be an utter joy!

Eduard Korhonen

Having just seen the 1954 version on Channel 5 in the UK, I have changed my vote to that one 🙂