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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

Senior HTF Member
Jul 3, 1997
Real Name
Ronald Epstein

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Studio: Walt Disney
Year: 1954
Rated: G
Film Length: 127 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.55:1)
Subtitles: English

In 1870 the French novelist Jules Verne published his
novel "20000 leagues under the sea," a story of Captain
Nemo, a man who lost all his family during the English
occupation of India and together with friends builds
the submarine "Nautilus."

This 1954 Disney version of Jules Verne's 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea
represented the studio's
costliest and most elaborate American-filmed effort
to date and included underwater scenes that were
filmed off Jamaica and the Bahamas.

As the film opens, the year is 1868, and rumors of
a monster in the South Seas are haunting ships. The
French government recruits Professor Arronax (Paul
Lukas) and his assistant Conseil (Peter Lorre) to
investigate. They board a US Navy vessel and set to
sea. Also aboard the ship is Ned Land (Kirk Douglas),
a harpooner and the sole survivor of a ship's crew
which was attacked by "the monster."

Out at sea, When the monster sinks their ship,
Arronax, Conseil and sailor Ned Land are rescued
by what turns out to be an atomic powered submarine,
the Nautilus. It is under the command of Capt. Nemo,
a man who has become a recluse from what he deems
an evil socity. While Conseil and Ned become
convinced that Nemo’s madness outweighs his genius
and begin to plan an escape, Arronax is completely
taken in. Meanwhile, Ned and his friends encounter
cannibals and a giant squid among many other

I have to admit that 20,000 Leagues under the sea
was never a favorite Disney film of mine. I always
felt that compromises were made to make the film
"family orientated" and thus, the film plays as far
lighter fare than it really should. Still, as a
teen, I was so fascinated by the film's climatic
effect piece that I would often find myself speeding
through 2/3 of the VHS tape just to watch the giant
squid sequence over and over again. Though some of
the special effects look cheesy today, they were
impressive enough in 1954 to win an Academy Award.

Watching this film once again for the first time
in 15 years (I last watched it on VHS during the
80s) was a most favorable experience mainly for
the fact that I was watching it widescreen for the
very first time. Originally released on a huge
Cinemascope screen, many videocassette versions
not only "cropped" the picture, but also artificially
sped up the action.

How is the transfer?

It's quite obvious that Disney spent a considerable
amount of time restoring this title for DVD release.
Most striking here is the quality of the print which
looks absolutely pristine. The image is very clean
and virtually free of defects. Filmed on Eastman 5248,
colors are very strong and finely depicted, with
fairly strong black levels, giving the imagery a
lush, picturesque look. There is a slight hint of
background grain and the usual exhibiting of noise
in skyshots. For a film that is now almost 50 years
old, this transfer makes everything seem brand
new again.

Though the film features a brand-new 5.1 Dolby
Digital soundtrack, the results aren't necessarily
ground breaking. Though this film may not have the
dynamic range of modern releases, audio comes across
very clean, without distortion and with well
integrated dialogue that sits firmly in the center
channel. There is exceptional stereo separation
across the front channels. As for the rears? Well,
it seems that Disney opted to extend audio to the
rear channels mostly for its most impressive visual
sequences. Highlights include Captain Nemo playing
Toccata and Fugue D Minor on the organ as
well as the film's climatic explosions. Now and
then you'll hear the film score creeping into the
rears as well. What is most impressive here is the
.LFE response to the engine hums of the Nautilus
craft where bass was deep enough to feel vibration
beneath me.

Special Features

Disney has gone to great lengths to release a
stunning 2-disc Special Edition that is sure to
delight fans of all ages. Let's take a look at
what is being offered here....

Disc One contains the feature and an
accompanying full-length audio commentary
with director Richard Fleischer and classic film
historian/author Rudy Behlmer. Behlmer keeps the
pace of this commentary running at a breezy pace,
acting as an interviewer to the director. It starts
off quite interestingly with Fleischer talking about
his problems working with Cinemascope, a format
which was very new at the time. The director had
no training in using this new format, and thus, had
to make up all the widescreen staging as he went
along. Disney was still new to live-action features,
and thus, they went to outside sources for their
actors and technicians. Fleischer talks about
working with this wonderful ensemble of talent.
Of course, we learn quite a bit about the filming
of underwater sequences and the fact that the
company had full cooperation from the U.S. Navy.
Many of the effect shots are carefully explained,
including those using miniatures, matte paintings
and rear projection. It's interesting to hear that
this film was essentially a one-lense picture (no
close-up, zoom nor wide-angle lenses), and thus
the director had to use every device he could to get
the right look out of it. From the pieces that I
sampled, this is a very informative and well paced
dialogue that should be very satisfying for fans
of the film.

Also appearing on this disc is the original
animated Donald Duck cartoon, Grand Canyonscope
that was part of the initial theatrical presentation
of 20,000 Leagues. Now, here's the problem --
and perhaps I am missing something here to justify
this complaint -- Disney took a Cinemascope cartoon
and included it here in non-anamorphic letterbox.
It seems to me that the studio could have gone the
extra length to make this cartoon an anamorphic
presentation. Furthermore, the cartoon is not in
the best visual condition.

There are Sneak Peeks for The Lion
King: Special Edition; Pirates of the Caribbean;
Finding Nemo, X-Men: Legend of Wolverine
Atlantis: Milo's return.

Let's move on to Disc Two where the weight
of this set's bonus material is located....

The DVD begins with a wonderful animated sequence
that places you in an elevator that takes you to
the lower depths of Disney's film vaults. Once you
pass the doors that guard the 20,000 Leagues
Under The Sea
vault, you find yourself in a
small screening room that you can navigate through
left and right, using your remote.

The making of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
is a remarkable find. The studio has recovered
"making of" material in their film vaults that was
originally considered to be long lost. Combine this
with interviews of the surviving actors and filmmakers
and you have yourself a real gem of a featurette.
We learn that Walt Disney had originally envisioned
20,000 Leagues as being an animated film...
that is, until sketch artist Harper Goff (who is
interviewed here) convinced Walt that it could be
done live-action. Walt was also quite interested
in using this film to take advantage of the newly
introduced Cinemascope format. Director Richard
Fleischer tells a remarkable story of how he was
selected to direct this film -- especially when
his father, Max Flesicher was Walt's biggest
competitor. We learn the difficulties of taking
the popular story and turning it into a workable
screenplay. This was to be the most expensive
movie ever made to that point, and the entire
Disney company was riding upon its success (as
well as the opening of DisneyLand). We get
insight into the building of the giant squid and
the creation of the elaborate underwater equipment.
Through interviews with Kirk Douglas and surviving
filmmakers, we learn that Douglas was often difficult
to deal with on the set. Even worse was Paul Lucas,
who as an aging actor who was forgetting his lines,
and taking great offense at any criticism that was given
to him. As for Kirk's guitar playing? Well, Kirk
knew the basics, but it was Harper Goff that gave
Kirk some showmanship pointers. Of course, the real
magic of this featurette is watching many of the
recently discovered behind-the-scenes footage taken
on the Universal, Disney and Fox lots as well as
on-location scenes featuring actors dressed as island
cannibals. You'll be amazed at the home-movie
footage taken from the Nassau Bahamas locale where
the underwater sequences were lensed. The biggest
problem of filming underwater? The thick clouds
of silt that was often stirred up from the ocean
floor. How did the filmmakers deal with the problem?
Well, you'll just have to watch. This is just a
taste of what is included in this spectacular
87-minute featurette that covers all aspects of
this film's production from underwater stunts, props,
and art direction to how all the film's effects were
created. All of this ends with a very detailed
look at how the picture almost became derailed by
the problematic squid-attack sequence. An outstanding
featurette that will remain a staple for future
generations to enjoy.
(length: approx. 87 minutes)

Jules Verne & Walt Disney: Explorers of the
takes a look at two great
storytellers, separated by time but united by
imagination. Through interviews with people that
include a historian and Sci-Fi writer, we learn
about author Jules Verne and his books that were
full of adventure and technological wonders. His
visions were quickly captured in early and
later film, beginning with Universal's 1916
production of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
which featured the first look at underwater
photography. Walt Disney, like Jules Verne, was
considered a visionary. Instead of putting his
ideas on paper, Walt brought his visions of the
future to the silver screen, and later, theme parks.
(length: approx. 16 minutes)

Learn about a real-life underwater terror in
The Humboldt Squid: A Real Sea Monster.
Travel to unknown depths of the ocean with
Filmmaker/Explorer Scott Cassell as we go
the sea of Cortez and come face-to-face with not
just ONE, but HUNDREDS of man-eating squid.
(length: approx. 7 minutes)

Lost Treasures: The Sunset Squid is a real
treat! This is the actual squid fight footage as
it was originally conceived and staged for the film.
It was screened for Walt Disney in 1954 and rejected.
The original work prints of this footage were long
destroyed, but what remains is this newly-found
16mm behind-the-scenes footage that brings back
this glorious sequence as it might have appeared
in the film. The quality of this footage is in
terrific condition and it's a worthy watch!
(length: approx. 3 minutes)

In the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea production
you'll find a treasure chest worth of
production material that includes:

* Dozens of production photos that include
tons of rare behind-the-scenes still shots as
well as production art, costumes and storyboards.

* Biographies of Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, James
Mason, Paul Lukas and Richard Fleischer.

* Posters, Lobby cards and Merchandise

* Production documents and an actual letter from
Harper Goff To Frank Johnson (Challenge Publications).

* An actual screenplay insert from Nemo's Death,
complete with an icon that lets you watch the
exact point of footage from the film.

* An original Radio Spot

* Various automated dialogue replacement
sessions featuring Peter Lorre and director
Richard Fleischer.

* The original recording of Toccata and Fugue
D Minor
(Captain Nemo's organ music)

* Various still shots from the film set to the
music of Captain Nemo's organ music

* A tribute to Paul Smith, the talented composer
who received many Academy award nominations while
at Disney, including a winning award for his
work in Pinocchio.

* An eerie Tour of The Nautilus, complete with
a look at original blueprints and conceptual
drawings of the ship's design as well as stills
of the set and props.

* A Storyboard to scene comparison of two
key sequences from the film.

* This is neat! An excerpt from Monsters Of The
that was used to promote the film's
release and features Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre
and director Richard Fleischer.

* A look at original film Merchandise that was used
as a tie-in with the release.

* Unused animation depicting marine life outside
the window of The Nautilus.

* 8 minutes of various 16mm trims (without
audio) that show rare behind-the-scenes glimpses
of the film's stars, crew and test footage.

The film's original theatrical trailer is
presented here in glorious Technicolor anamorphic

Finally, take a journey through 1954 and
see what the Walt Disney Studio was putting together
in its animated and live-action film departments --
not to mention the unveiling of DisneyLand.
(length: approx. 4 minutes)

Final Thoughts

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is the most
elaborate live-action production the studio has
ever produced. Nearly 50 years later, the film
stands as a triumph for the Walt Disney company.

Speaking of triumph, This elaborate 2-disc Special
Edition is quite an achievement from Disney Home
Video. Not only does it feature a pristine
presentation of the film, but also a massive amount
of never-before-seen bonus features that will take
fans hours just to wade through.

There are some films that become a staple to every
every DVD buyers collection. 20,000 Leagues Under
The Sea
is one of those films.

Can't recommend this enough!

Release Date: May 13, 2003

All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality


Senior HTF Member
Feb 8, 2001
Real Name
Looks like another installment of the incredible Vault Disney Series that began last year, apparently the only thing changed is the cover art, bizarre but I can't wait to get my grubby little paws on this!

Speaking of triumph, This elaborate 2-disc Special
Edition is quite an achievement from Disney Home
The real triumph was last year, when we got FOUR two disc sets of classic live action that were at or near this caliber film (video presentation perhaps not quite as pristine, but they're some of my favorite dvds regardless).

Any chance you'll review the Love Bug Ron?


alan halvorson

Senior HTF Member
Oct 2, 1998
Sheesh! How could anyone not want this? One correction - maybe - I'm not 100% certain: I don't believe that at any point the Nautilus power source was identified as being atomic, although, obviously, it had to be.

A side note: A couple years ago for our Minnesota State Fair, someone built a beautifully detailed scale model of the Nautilus. I wanted it then and I want it even more now.


Stunt Coordinator
Aug 20, 2002
Whew those are some big bars, whats the Aspect Ratio on this title???

cant wait to pick this up.

Joe Fisher

May 11, 2001
Real Name
Joseph E Fisher
Whew those are some big bars, whats the Aspect Ratio on this title???
2.55:1 Ratio. Its listed right at the beginning below the cover scan.

I also can't wait to see this, as it will be my 1st time ever seeing it. Already have it on pre-order and will be eagerly awaiting it's arrival on or about the 13th of May.

Thanks Ron :emoji_thumbsup: :emoji_thumbsup: :emoji_thumbsup:

Thomas Hart

Stunt Coordinator
Jun 24, 2000
Great review (very informative) and an almost great disc!

I will definately be picking this one up, But (you know there had to be a but)........

It is quite disappointing that the Disneyland Emmy Award winning special "Operation Undersea" (12/8/54), which was made exclusively from the promotion of the movie, was not even included. Even though it is on the Collector's Edition of the laserdisc version of the film!?! I believe this disc would have been the perfect (if the only) showcase for that show.:frowning: A missed opportunity.


Second Unit
Jun 22, 2001
Real Name
It is quite disappointing that the Disneyland Emmy Award winning special "Operation Undersea" (12/8/54)
This is the only other thing I wanted to be included....

Nevertheless, this has been in my top 5 most wanted DVDs for the last 5 years...it sounds like a great set and I can't wait to pick it up!

Steve Christou

Long Member
Senior HTF Member
Apr 25, 2000
Manchester, England
Real Name
Steve Christou
Great review Ron. I actually saw '20,000 Leagues' at the cinema in a reissue in 76 or 77, I remember the poster emphasising sharks instead of the giant squid because 'Jaws' had recently come out and broken all box-office records.

I love this film and can't wait to get my hands on the dvd, I have the documentary 'Operation Undersea' on tape, shame they didn't include it, but they prob used many excerpts from it on the special documentary.


Second Unit
Feb 28, 2003
I don't believe that at any point the Nautilus power source was identified as being atomic, although, obviously, it had to be.
Hmm, it's been a while, but I thought I remember a scene with the Doctor in stunned awe referring to the atomic power. It's been quite a while since I've seen it, and I've undoubtably read the book more recently, so I could be getting them confused.

Definitely one I'm picking up.

Kenneth Cummings

Supporting Actor
Aug 7, 2001
While the ride at Disney World (now gone) based on this movie sucked, I will be picking up this movie, as it been a long time since I seen it. And thank you once again Ron.

Chris Farmer

Aug 23, 2002
I wsa too young to remember any discussion of the power of the sub in the movie, and have never read the book (I need to though), but my dad said that in the book there's a description of how the Nautilus is powered, and that it was done by the splitting of very small pieces of matter or something like that. Note that this was in the late 1800s, well before the atom had even been discovered, much less nuclear fission. Jules Verne was a genius.

Can't wait to add this one to my collection.

george kaplan

Senior HTF Member
Mar 14, 2001
Almost certainly the film does not use the term 'atomic power', but it is clearly implied that that is what it is.


Stunt Coordinator
Jan 1, 2000
I have DISNEY's Archive Collection laserdisc of this title. It appears that this new DVD release will have far more supplements than the laser and no doubt the new anamorphic transfer and 5.1 sound will easily surpass it as well. Bring it on! Great review Ron.


Tim Glover

Senior HTF Member
Jan 12, 1999
Monroe, LA
Real Name
Tim Glover
Looks terrific Ron. Nice review. I've also never seen this film in widescreen so I guess I'll be really seeing it for the first time. Can't wait!

Jake Lipson

Senior HTF Member
Dec 21, 2002
Real Name
Jake Lipson
By-the-way - this was originally announced for May 13 but delayed to May 20 to match The Love Bug, which is also getting a double-disc special edition. I just wish they gave the same classy treatment to Treasure Island. Apparently not.

Speaking of May 20, though, it will probably break my budget between this one, The Love Bug SE, The Rescuers, Dances With Wolves SE and the Finding Nemo soundtrack...but whatever I manage to get out of it will be great! I've never seen the movie in its correct 2.55 OAR either, so that will be a treat!

Can't wait for this one!

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