20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Special Edition)


Kirk Douglas as Ned Land
James Mason as Capt. Nemo
Paul Lukas as Prof. Pierre Arronax
Peter Lorre as Conseil
Robert J. Wilke as First Mate of the Nautilus
Ted de Corsia as Capt. Farragut
Carleton Young as John Howard

Special Features:
– All-New Commentary With Director Richard Fleischer And Classic Film Historian/Author Rudy Behlmer
– Original Radio Spots
– Peter Lorre’s ADR Tracks
– Captain Nemo’s Organ Music
– The Making Of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Featurette
– Jules Verne & Walt Disney – Explorers Of The Imagination Behind The Scenes Featurette
– The Humbolt Squid – A Real Sea Monster
– The Musical Legacy Of Paul Smith
– Touring The Nautilus
– Lost Treasure: The Sunset Squid Sequence
– Disney Studio Album
– Production Gallery
– Monsters Of The Deep
– Trims
– Script Excerpt: Nemo’s Death
– Movie Merchandise
– Themed Cartoon – Grand Canyonscape
– Theatrical Trailer
– Storyboard to Scene Comparison
– Unused Animation

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.55:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
THX Certified
Running Time: 127 Minutes

“20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” is the film adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel. Disney has reissued this 1954 film on DVD in this special edition.

In the late 1800’s, ships are being attacked by what appears to be a sea monster. The U.S. government recruits Prof. Pierre Arronax and his assistant Consei to go on an expedition to hunt the monster. After months at sea, they finally spot the creature. However, it attacks and damages their ship. Arronax and Consei are thrown overboard along with harpoon master Ned Land.

It doesn’t take the three long to encounter the “monster” again. They discover that it’s really a highly advanced submarine run by a madman by the name of Captain Nemo. Nemo takes them prisoner and keeps them around for his own personal reasons as he continues to hunt down warships. As Arronax becomes more interested in Nemo and his scientific advances, Land and Consei plot their escape. However, they must first survive the perils of the deep if they plan to make it back alive.

“20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” is rated G.

The Movie:
I haven’t seen “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” in quite a while, so it was a real treat to pop it into the home theater system and watch it again. While some parts of it are now dated, the vast majority of the film still looks fantastic and it’s easy to see why it’s still regarded as a classic. It’s a classic science fiction tale of adventure that is exciting even today. As you watch the film and see the story unfold, it becomes even more apparent how Jules Verne was a man ahead of his time.

While I can’t recall ever seeing James Mason in any other films (and I know he’s done a lot of classics), he will always stick in my mind as Captain Nemo. Mason portrays him with just the right mixture of genius, sincerity, bravery, and insanity. I don’t know who else could have played the role. The other standout from the cast is Kirk Douglas. Looking amazingly young and fit in this film, Douglas does it all. He flirts with the women, fights a giant squid, battles Nemo’s goons, kisses a seal, and even sings. If you don’t find yourself humming “Whale Of A Tale” for days after watching this movie, you’re most likely deaf. He and Peter Lorre end up making a great team together as well. The two are a fun odd couple that adds much needed humor to the story.

The effects still look fantastic. Some of them even look better than modern effects. The matte paintings are absolutely stunning. The paintings of Nemo’s lair and the opening scenes in San Francisco look convincingly realistic. The squid scenes underwater look great for miniatures while the battle in the storm look really good as well. While it’s obvious that it’s a giant rubber monster, the editing and lighting really make it work even better than some modern CGI creatures. As CG effects become more the norm, it’s amazing to see how sometimes the old tricks are just as effective or better.

If you’re any kind of fan of sci-fi or adventure, this is a must-see movie. You can’t call yourself a fan of these genres without seeing it. Film history buffs will also note that this film was the second one to use Cinemascope and the first live action film for Walt Disney Studios. Kudos to Disney for reissuing it in this definitive edition.

The Extras:
This is one of the most thorough sets of DVD extras that I’ve ever seen. Considering how this movie came out almost 50 years ago, there’s an incredible amount of behind the scenes info to be shared. Disney seems to really have pulled out all the material they could find for this film, as well as some extra new stuff.

On the second DVD in this set, there’s some cool animation that transitions between the menus. You feel like you’re touring around the Disney vaults. If you peek around, you can even see other material from other Disney films that they may re-release. The only thing missing from the extras is footage from the Disney rides based on the movies.

Here are a few highlights from the extras:

The Making Of “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” Featurette – This is an amazing 1 ½ hour documentary on the making of the film. It features all the surviving cast and crew as well as the children of some of those who were in key roles. Director Richard Fleischer talks about how he was hired by Walt Disney himself. The tale is rather amusing since Disney and his father, Max Fleischer, were bitter rivals in the animation business. The crew discusses the challenges of filming underwater, the experimental equipment, the problems filming the squid sequence, the matte paintings, and more. The casting is also extensively discussed. You find out how Paul Lukas would throw temper tantrums on the set. They discuss what it was like working with the seal. Kirk Douglas, the only surviving member of the main cast, also appears to tell tales about filming. He’s very interesting to listen to, especially since this is his only appearance on the DVD. Overall, this is an incredibly thorough documentary and one well worth checking out if you’ve ever seen the film.

All-New Commentary With Director Richard Fleischer And Classic Film Historian/Author Rudy Behlmer – This is a fairly interest commentary by the original director. They do not really talk much about what’s happening on the screen, but his stories are interesting enough to make it worth listening to. Some of it is a rehash of what he says in the Making Of documentary, but it’s still required viewing for fans of the film and especially film history buffs. He discusses a lot about how this was the second film to use the Cinemascope format and the challenges of doing so.

Audio Presentations – Just to show how thorough this DVD set is, they include some really obscure audio extras. They include the Original Radio Spots for the movie, Peter Lorre’s ADR Tracks (lines which were dubbed later), and Captain Nemo’s Organ Music. While this stuff might not be interesting for the casual fan, it’s cool stuff for the completist.

Jules Verne & Walt Disney – Explorers Of The Imagination Behind The Scenes Featurette – This short documentary talks about the writing career of Jules Verne and how Walt Disney chose his book to become a movie. It also discusses an earlier film version of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea that was made in the early 1900’s. Before seeing this extra, I had no idea it even existed.

The Humbolt Squid – A Real Sea Monster – Throwing a little education into the mix, this featurette discusses the Humbolt squid, a large real life squid that’s actually quite terrifying. It is shown attacking divers, outsmarting them, and biting them. After this you’ll think twice about swimming in waters off Mexico. While it has limited application to the film, it’s still very cool and worth viewing. I just wish there was more footage of the squid.

The Musical Legacy Of Paul Smith – While the music is glossed over in the main Making Of documentary, this feature pretty well covers the career of the composer, Paul Smith. It’s quite interesting to hear how he developed the themes of the music. You find out that the tunes came from poetry, and the main theme rhymes with the line “Deep is the mighty ocean”.

Touring The Nautilus – This featurette shows stills and behind the scenes footage of the Nautilus. It’s good for appreciating the fine details in the sets.

Lost Treasure: The Sunset Squid Sequence – Originally, the battle with the squid was supposed to have taken place at sunset on calm water. The entire sequence was filmed this way before they realized it wasn’t going to work. This is that original footage. It really is quite terrible and if they had used it, 20,000 Leagues would have been a bad 50’s B-movie. The squid is horribly slow, you can see the wires moving the arms, and you can tell the actors are grabbing the arms and pulling them around themselves during the attack. In short, it’s awful. It’s amazing how, in the final version, the storm, wind, rain, and waves cover up the redesigned rubber squid. It’s a dramatically different sequence in the end. I think the success of the film rode on this sequence.

Disney Studio Album – This shows all of the Disney productions from 1954. It’s just a series of clips from all the films, cartoons, and documentaries.

Movie Merchandise – Two uber-collectors of 20,000 Leagues merchandise come on and talk about a few key items of merchandise from the movie. If you like Antiques Roadshow, you’ll like this. They show off games, posters, toys, coloring books, and more. They even show modern merchandise from Disneyland Tokyo.

Themed Cartoon – Grand Canyonscape – Have you ever seen a Donald Duck cartoon in widescreen? Now you can. This Donald Duck cartoon takes place in the Grand Canyon and was attached to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea when it was first released. It’s a classic cartoon that you’ve probably seen before, but not likely in its original format. There’s even a joke about the Cinemascope format in the cartoon.

Unused Animation – Originally an animated sequence was to be included in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. During the sequence when the Nautilus reached 5000 feet, a bunch of deepwater fish were to be shown swimming across the screen. All of the fish were animated. The sequence was scrapped, but the footage survived in the archives. It’s an interesting bit of animation, but it was wise to drop it from the film.

The Bottom Line:
If you’re any fan of Disney, sci-fi, adventure, or film history, then this is a required addition to your collection.