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

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, May 4, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    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
  2. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

    Feb 8, 2001
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    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!

  3. alan halvorson

    alan halvorson Cinematographer

    Oct 2, 1998
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    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.
  4. MarcinL

    MarcinL Stunt Coordinator

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

    cant wait to pick this up.
  5. Joe Fisher

    Joe Fisher Screenwriter

    May 11, 2001
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    Real Name:
    Joseph E Fisher
  6. Thomas Hart

    Thomas Hart Stunt Coordinator

    Jun 24, 2000
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    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.[​IMG] A missed opportunity.
  7. Kajs

    Kajs Second Unit

    Jun 22, 2001
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  8. Steve Christou

    Steve Christou Long Member

    Apr 25, 2000
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    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.
  9. Jeremy_Z

    Jeremy_Z Agent

    Oct 14, 2000
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    So it is being released on the 13th.
  10. Rob T

    Rob T Screenwriter

    Aug 26, 2001
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    I'll be getting it for sure! [​IMG]
  11. david*mt

    david*mt Second Unit

    Dec 11, 2002
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  12. GarySchrock

    GarySchrock Second Unit

    Feb 28, 2003
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  13. Kenneth Cummings

    Kenneth Cummings Supporting Actor

    Aug 7, 2001
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    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.
  14. Chris Farmer

    Chris Farmer Screenwriter

    Aug 23, 2002
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    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.
  15. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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

    Matthew_Millheiser Supporting Actor

    May 1, 2000
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    Great Gobs of Gumption, I can't wait for this!! [​IMG]
  17. Mike_S

    Mike_S Stunt Coordinator

    Jan 1, 2000
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    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.

  18. David Von Pein

    David Von Pein Producer

    Feb 4, 2002
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  19. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

    Jan 12, 1999
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    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!
  20. Jake Lipson

    Jake Lipson Screenwriter

    Dec 21, 2002
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    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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