Monday, February 21, 2011

Movie Monday: The Amazing Captain Nemo

I had some other movies I wanted to talk about this week, but when I popped this baby into the DVD player I knew pretty quickly this was the one...

Via the super-cool Warner Archives site, I picked up The Amazing Captain Nemo, a 1978 movie I had never heard of, but the combo of that character and producer Irwin Allen was enough for me to risk the twenty bucks.

Apparently Nemo was a proposed TV series (or mini-series; reports differ) but the ratings were so poor that the series was scuttled, the episodes repackaged into one long feature, and then released to theaters: which is kind of weird, when you think about it--trying to get people to pay for something they didn't watch for free.

Okay, anyway, The Amazing Captain Nemo opens aboard a super high-tech submarine, and right from the first shot we see what level of special effects, costuming, and set design we're in for:
sg, I'm going to admit up front that I love stuff like this: there's a clunky, spit-and-bailing-wire to charm to these ambitious 1970s sci-fi productions, with their sparkly gold lame costumes and Batman-esque sets that warm my heart. But when you consider this aired in 1978, a year after Star Wars broke all sort of new ground in this genre, you can see why people probably laughed this off the screen.

Anyway, the sub we're aboard is commanded by Prof. Waldo Cunningham (Burgess Meredith), who is your prototypical supervillain: he has a missile that he is threatening to use to blow-up Washington DC (and that's bad how?) unless he gets...a billion dollars!!

This leads into the opening credits:
The credits are really cool, with their nautical feel and bright, splashy colors. Jose Ferrer is first as Nemo, then Meredith, concluding with what I can safely say is Thye Greatest Credit in Movie History:
At the same time as Prof. Cunningham is threatening Washington, a Navy ship discovers the hull of a wrecked ship at the bottom of the ocean. Two officers named Tom and Jim (Tom Hellick and the wonderfully named Burr DeBenning, star of The Incredible Melting Man) swim to investigate, and they can't believe their eyes: this ship is a beautifully ornate, sophisticated vessel, and one that doesn't look all that damaged, considering.

They get inside, and unlock a gas-filled chamber. Out of this chamber walks...Captain Nemo!
Yes, not only is Jules Verne's most famous creation real, but he is alive, kept in stasis by suspended animation somehow!

After some awkward explanations to Nemo as to where and when he is, he is brought aboard the Navy ship. He quickly gets caught up in the mission to stop Cunningham--adjusting amazingly well to waking up over 100 years in the future.

As I mentioned before, I really love the look of these 60s and 70s sci-fi productions; they have a colorful clunkiness that I find dazzling to look at. Case in point, shots like this:
Since producer Irwin Allen's budget was pretty small for such an ambitious production, the, movie--wastes a lot of time on other stuff that is more traditional TV of the time, like sub-plots featuring other characters, like a budding romance between Miller (Warren Stevens) and Kate (Lynda Day George, who was kind of a go-to pretty woman for 1970s TV):
Watching these two romance reminds he how much television has changed: this the main romantic sub-plot of this show, but these two were on, say, a CW show today, seen as they are here they'd be relegated to grandparent parts, and Nemo would be played by some 19-year old. But I digress.

Nemo doesn't feature all that many F/X-heavy shots, but there are some nice ones, like this sequence where the Nautilus has to navigate through a series of sea mines:
Even though his plans were thwarted at the end of the first act, Meredith's mad would-be conqueror is involved in the second, and we get to see more of him surrounded by the weird robot-y looking henchmen he's built. I love this little guy who operates the sub's laser cannon:
...nice to see what the guy who was inside Twiki did the days Buck Rogers wasn't shooting.

Somehow the Navy talks Nemo into becoming a sort of special agent for them, even though he's busy resuming his quest to find Atlantis--something he does, almost in his spare time. Its here we get to see Horst Bucholz come aboard as King Tibor, Ruler of Atlantis:
While Nemo tries to reassure the citizens of the fabled Lost City that he is not there to conquer, Prof. Cunningham also gets involved much to everyone's displeasure.

Meredith hams it up here unmercifully, making his work as The Penguin look subtle. Maybe that's because, visually, Meredith by himself isn't all that imposing, and the costume department does him no favors:
In his rumpled grey suit, loose tie, and sensible blue loafers, Prof. Cunningham is about as imposing as my Great Uncle Fred. Makes we wonder if Cunningham's sub didn't cover everything in those sticky googly eyes, too.

Anyway, Nemo and Tibor make friends, and team up against Cunningham and his army of robots. Ferrer, for being a fairly old guy at this point, gets to do a decent amount of action stuff, like a sword fight and this laser fight:
Eventually Cunningham's plan is thwarted, leaving him to become the Joker to Nemo's Batman. The two Navy men who discovered Nemo take a leave of absence from the service (yeah, because that's so easy to do) and join Nemo as his crew, preparing for more underwater adventures!

Even though I'm goofing on The Amazing Captain Nemo quite heartily, I actually enjoyed it very much--yes, there's enough ham and cheese here to stock a deli, but its so un-self-conscious in its over-the-top-ness, and maybe if the show had been a hit Allen would have been given more money to spend, we might have been treated to some truly amazing underwater sights.

Despite being three episodes sort of stitched together--which sometimes can be fatal, pacing-wise--it moves a brisk clip, and you generally don't get bored watching it, especially if you're a Verne/Nemo fan as I am.

e4` nb

(Note: directly above was typed by our cat, Frankie, before I moved off of this page. I'm not sure how she felt about the movie, but I assume "e4` nb" means she liked it)

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