TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
As the only other feature-length cinematically released adaptation of the Jules Verne story, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea makes interesting perhaps inevitable contrast to the more well-known Disney version 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) with James Mason. What becomes noticeable is just how definitive a version the Disney version became subsequently recognized as. This version lacks any submarines with plush, ornate retro-Victorian interiors. The most notable contrast between this and the Disney version is the characterization of Captain Nemo. There in nothing of James Masons brooding performance in Allan Holubars characterization in fact, there is no villainous side to this Captain Nemo at all. He rams the Abraham Lincoln but there is no explanation of him destroying ships of war as part of his mission.
What is also noticeable about the film is that half of the screen story has been mixed in with Jules Vernes Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea sequel Mysterious Island (1875), which was about Confederate prison escapees who land on a desert island where they were aided by Captain Nemo. (Although the film paints the castaways as much more brutal and in-fighting than the more communally-minded, mutual survival oriented ones in the book. Indeed, the addition of Mysterious Island to the story mix unbalances and takes over in the latter half with much running around involving revenge on a rapist captain, Nemos daughter and the castaways). More importantly, the film takes from Mysterious Island Jules Vernes explanation that Captain Nemo is in fact the Indian Prince Dakkar. Where James Masons brooding performance became the definitive characterization of Nemo that every subsequent performance in an adaptation of either 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mysterious Island or made-up sequel modeled itself on, the uncredited Allan Holubars Nemo is cast more as a movie cliché version of a Hindu an old man in silks, bandana and long beard.
What is also noticeable about the two versions of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is their focus as science-fiction films. The sense of wonder in the Disney version was the retro-wonderment of a submarine as though it might be designed by a Victorian inventor; the sense of wonder in this version is simply seeing underwater photography for the first time. This was the first film to be filmed underwater, using techniques pioneered by the Williamson Brothers, who were some of the earliest deep-sea divers. Underwater photography has been rendered routine today but for an audience in 1916 seeing the film for the first time must have been a totally wondrous experience. There is a ten minute sequence touring the ocean floor where we are given title-card narrated detail about what we are observing. Later we see divers fighting a shark and a sequence where they are attacked by an octopus. This latter is a sequence that makes one stop and think for a couple of moments in addition to filming underwater, did the Williamsons not only go to the extent of building a mechanical octopus too or is it the real thing? Finally, one realizes that octopi are not that big in reality and its flat eyes give it away, but it was certainly convincing for awhile. The first appearance of the full-size Nautilus the camera irising out on it floating at sea is also impressive as are the apparently full-size staged sequences of it ramming ships although the underwater shots of its hull are clearly just the same model shot repeated over.
Other versions of the Jules Verne novel are: George Meliess silly 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1907), which played the story as burlesque and added mermaids; two simultaneous remakes with the tv movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997) with Ben Cross as Captain Nemo and the ponderous tv mini-series 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997) with Michael Caine as Nemo; and the cheap modernised 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2007) with Sean Lawlor as Nemo.
Full film available online here:-