Captain Nemo -
Pierre Arronax -
Ned Land -
Cabe Attucks -
Lydia Rawlings -
OTHER MINI SERIES
Mists of Avalon
Jason and the Argonauts
The Lost World
Pierre Arronax is a young man living in the shadow of a famous, and altogether condescending, father. He has some theories about creatures below the sea that his father and the American institute are unwilling to consider and so when he returns to America to expound on his theory that the creature destroying shipping all over the eastern seas is a giant narwhal, he is somewhat ridiculed. When he is offered the chance to accompany a vessel going in search of the creature, though, he jumps at it despite suffering endless nightmares about meeting the beastie. Instead he meets Ned Land, the world's best whaler (though he says so himself) and ex-slave Cabe Attucks.
When the ship finally meets the beast, it turns out not to be an animal, but a fabulous submarine run by the mysterious Captain Nemo, a man of incredible intellect but also barely leashed anger and violence (the latter which he claims to despise in others). Secrecy is key to Nemo's way of life and so he is torn between killing his new captors or holding them prisoner. He chooses the more merciful option, but they are determined to gain their freedom, even if it means trying to kill the Captain or sabotaging the vessel at a most inopportune time.
Any version of this story is going to be compared against the celebrated Disney version from 1954 and that is a very tough act to beat. This televison produced version hasn't got the budget to go up against that in terms of special effects (and some of the effects work here is pretty poor to say the least), so it tries to go up against the Disney film's weakest point - it's characterisations. Making Arronax a young man with father issues gives him a strong backstory, but it doesn't really create a clearly defined character and so his apparent attraction to Nemo's intellect and his distaste for the man's darker side is never really shown for the conflict that it ought to be. Ned Land, as played by Bryan Brown, is far more realistic than Kirk Douglas in the Disney version, but also far less likeable and much less fun. Cabe Attucks is an excuse to put some depth into Nemo's views on what freedom means, something that could have been acheived far more subtly than the sledgehammer racism of the times approach that is used here.
Any version of the tale, though, is going to live or die by its Nemo and its Nautilus. The more impressive here is the submarine. It looks fantastic and is clearly where all the effects budget went. It is far enough away from the wonderful Disney design to prevent lawsuits, but shares much of the period feel and just enough familiarity to get by on.
Michael Caine's Nemo, however, falls far short of the James Mason incarnation. Caine is at his best when he releases those flashes into the dark side of Nemo's nature, at least giving the man some depth in his mystery, but these are only flashes and there is too much of him left unexplored for us to really connect with him.
The action sequences are also weak. The ramming of the Abraham Lincoln by the Nautilus is pretty low as high points go and the shark hunt on the sea floor is very poor, lacking threat, suspense timing or decent special effects.
The second half of the story is going to have to come up with something special if it is to justify this having been made at all.Top
Having saved the Nautilus at the expense of his hand, Pierre gains the trust of Captain Nemo and the love of his daughter. The submarine must run the gauntlet of an underwater volcano and an ice field before finally coming to its destination and a dream that others are waiting to destroy.
There's time for both action and romance in the concluding part of the story. The run through the volcano is confused and smoky, just like the real thing might be, but as our interest in the characters is not great neither is the tension. This then segues straight into the threat of oxygen deprivation without a (pun intended) pause for breath. The big finale is also badly muffed. A safe rule of thumb is that if you can't afford to do a giant octopus battle well then don't try to do it at all. The one here is just plain embarrassing. The creature is never shown in its entirety and the battle between the divers and the thing never has any sort of flow or sense of danger.
Confused is also a term that can be applied to the plot. Having finally explained that Nemo has set explosives all around the world to ensure the geological stability of the city he has constructed on the ruins of Atlantis (yes, really), the captain then promptly abandons the idea. The city that he has constructed looks like no place to set up home and yet he speaks of it as a paradise. Ned Land turns all suicidal and the warship Abraham Lincoln just happens to be lying in wait in the exact spot where the Nautilus is forced to surface. Pierre's father chooses that moment to turn from haughty pompous ass to cold-blooded killer. Having a lot happening all at the same time is not the same as having a big ending.
It's also a far from satisfying ending. There is no real conclusion. Sure the submarine is destroyed, Nemo apparently dies, the crew is slaughtered and there are some surprise casualties, but none of the surviving characters gets an ending. The narrative just sort of stops.
As the credits roll, you can't help but think that the time would have been better spent watching a dvd copy of the Disney version.Top
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