AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Around the World in Eighty Days has become one of Jules Vernes most famous novels. It has been adapted to the cinema screen several times. The first was a lost German version in the silent era Around the World in 80 Days (1919) that starred Conrad Veidt as Phileas Fogg. The most famous version was Around the World in 80 Days (1956) with David Niven as Phileas Fogg, Cantinflas as Passepartout and an all-star guest cast. This was a version that played Vernes serious adventure up for colour and light-hearted spectacle. For reasons inexplicable, this won the Academy Award as Best Film of 1956. It was the 1956 Around the World in 80 Days, along with Disneys 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), that was one of the largest promulgators of the fad for colourfully silly Jules Verne adaptations in the late 1950s/early 1960s. There have been one or two other adaptations of the story since then most notably, Around the World in 80 Days (1989), a tv mini-series that featured Pierce Brosnan as Phileas Fogg and Eric Idle as Passepartout. The same year also saw Around the World in 80 Days (1989), a reality tv series where Idles fellow Monty Python member Michael Palin tried to replicate Foggs journey around the world using every method except flying. The popularity of the novel has led to other oddities such as Philip Jose Farmers The Other Log of Phileas Fogg (1973) wherein he tells the story of an alien invasion set in and around the margins and inconsistencies in Vernes novel.
This version of Around the World in 80 Days was created as a vehicle for Jackie Chan. Previously attaining fame for his martial arts/comedy films in Hong Kong, Jackie Chan became a name in the West following Rumble in the Bronx (1995). He had hits with the Hollywood-made likes of Rush Hour (1998) and Shanghai Noon (2000), and sequels to either. The success of these quickly began to pale with a string of miserable flops that Chan began to sign onto in the 00s with the likes of The Tuxedo (2002), The Medallion (2003) and The Spy Next Door (2010). Among these, Around the World in 80 Days proved to be the biggest flop of them all. Despite a strong promotional push from Disney and a $110 million budget, the film earned only $7.5 million in its opening weekend and a total of $24 million total gross at the US box-office.
In considering Around the World in 80 Days 2004, one should make a clear point of not having read Jules Vernes novel. There are only passing resemblances between the two. For one, the two Foggs dont even take the same route around the world Vernes Fogg goes via the Suez Canal, India, Hong Kong and across the continental USA before returning to England; the films Fogg goes via France, Turkey, China and then finally develops some similarities to the book in the cross-USA journey and sea voyage back to England. The adventures that transpire bear little resemblance to Verne although there is sort of a similarity between the last leg of the journey where in the book Fogg persuades the ships captain to burn all the available wood on the ship whereas here Fogg persuades them to dismantle the ship so that he can build a flying machine. The film does retain the books ending where Fogg thinks he has lost the bet until he realises he has miscalculated due to losing a whole day in circumnavigating the world, while there is also the subplot about the pursuing police inspector who mistakes Fogg for an international thief. Steve Coogans Phileas Fogg does bear some resemblances to Vernes Fogg he is an English gentleman who could be considered anal retentive in his obsession with order, although the film also makes him into an inventor so that it can get in a host of madcap gadgets. The most noticeable difference is that in the book the valet Passepartout is a Frenchman, whereas the film has him a Chinese man pretending to be French in order to squeeze in Jackie Chans casting. Moreover, the film pumps Chans role up so as to make Passepartout, who is merely a sidekick in the book, into the hero of the story with Steve Coogans Phileas Fogg supporting Chan. Verne does include a woman along for the journey, although she is not a French artist who joins the party as in the film but the Princess Aouda whom they rescue in India from a sati sacrifice where she was forced to join her husband on the funeral bonfire.
As with the 1956 film, this version of Around the World in 80 Days has been turned into a vehicle for star cameos. Virgin Records/Airlines celebrity CEO Richard Branson turns up as the person taking tickets for the balloon ride in Paris; brothers Owen and Luke Wilson turn up in an unfunny piece as the Wright Brothers during the journey across the American Midwest; Rob Scheider has a cameo as a homeless man in San Francisco; Mark Addy turns up as the captain of the ship; John Cleese as a British bobby; Ewen Bremner gives an incredibly inane performance as the police inspector; and Kathy Bates is a miscast as Queen Victoria. The absolute worst of these is Arnold Schwarzeneggers performance as a Turkish prince who becomes fixated on adding Cecile De France to his harem. Schwarzenegger is made up in brown skin and outfitted in an amazingly ugly wig, which combines to make him look all of his 56 years in a highly unbecoming way. It is surely the worst in a career of bad performances on Schwarzeneggers part. Jackie Chan doesnt come out of it too well either he is looking his fifty years and the sequences where he gets to display his martial arts prowess with the help of his longtime friend Sammo Hung are a pale shadow of the screen exploits that made Chans name in his heyday.
The worst part of the film though is the turning of the Jules Verne novel into a comedic vehicle. The comedy sequences scour the truly inane. The entire film is pitched at the level of pompous caricatures and slapstick period frolics that many of the worst of the 1960s Verne inspired films operated on see Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962), In Search of the Castaways (1962), Jules Vernes Rocket to the Moon (1967). Indeed, it is only a few minutes into the film and we have Jackie Chan careening around in slapstick chaos on a rocket-propelled jetpack. There are some ridiculous and mind-numbingly inane sequences with Jackie Chan running around a Parisian art studio in a fight where all the parties get paint over their faces.
Around the World in 80 Days was made by director Frank Coraci, Adam Sandlers former college roommate. Coracis only other films had been Sandler vehicles such as The Wedding Singer (1998), The Waterboy (1998), Click (2006), Zookeeper (2011), Blended (2014) and The Ridiculous 6 (2015).