20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954 film)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954 film)

Infobox Film
name = 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

director = Richard Fleischer
producer = Walt Disney (uncredited)
writer = Jules Verne (novel)
Earl Felton (screenplay)
starring = Kirk Douglas
James Mason
Paul Lukas
Peter Lorre
music = Al Hoffman
Paul J. Smith
cinematography = Franz Planer
editing = Elmo Williams
distributor = Walt Disney Pictures
released = December 23 1954
runtime = 2 hours, 1 minute and 48 seconds
language = English
budget =
imdb_id = 0046672

"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" is a 1954 film starring Kirk Douglas as Ned Land, James Mason as Captain Nemo, Paul Lukas as Professor Aronnax and Peter Lorre as Conseil. The film has become the most well-known adaptation of the book of the same name by Jules Verne.

*"The Mightiest Motion Picture of Them All!"
*"Walt Disney's Mighty, Magnificent, Memorable... [20,000 Leagues Under the Sea] "


In the year 1866, rumours of a devastating sea monster attacking ships in the Pacific Ocean have created apprehension and fear among sailors, disrupting shipping. Prof. Pierre M. Aronnax (Lukas) and his assistant, Conseil (Lorre), are on their way to Saigon but get stuck in San Francisco by the halting of ships. Aronnax is interviewed and mentions he has an open mind on the matter, but news reporters twist Aronnax's statements as if he had said the monster was definitely real, and make up an article with accompanying illustrations of the monster. The U.S. Government invites Aronnax onto an expedition to either prove or disprove the monster's existence.

The voyage on the U.S. warship is uneventful and frustrating at first, with only little boosts in crew morale thanks to the singing and music of Ned Land (Douglas), a cocky harpooner seen at the beginning of the film, dismissing a pair of con men who spin a fabulous tale about the fabled sea monster.

Just after the captain cancels further searching, the "monster" is finally spotted. Trying to take it down with cannon fire, the ship is rammed, and Ned, Aronnax, and Conseil are thrown overboard. They find themselves abandoned as the warship, badly disabled and the crew struggling to save it, drifts away. All hope seems lost.

The three drift into a strange-looking metal vessel, and realize the "monster" is a man-made "submerging boat", that seems to have been deserted. Inside they find all sorts of obscure and interesting objects. Aronnax then looks through a massive viewing window and sees the crew, wearing underwater-suits and breathing devices, holding an undersea funeral of a shipmate killed during the battle.

The crew spots the intruders aboard their ship. The three castaways try to escape, but end up being captured. The captain introduces himself as Nemo, master of the "Nautilus", and does not take kindly to visitors. "The sea brought you, the sea shall have you back", except Aronnax, whom he recognizes for his work and research. He tempts Aronnax to stay, but Aronnax prefers to share his companions' fate – thus passing a test of character.

Nemo's knowledge and technology make a strong impression on Aronnax. His companions, however, do not share his enthusiasm. Nemo takes them all on an underwater expedition to gather supplies, but Ned rather foolishly tries to salvage a treasure chest from a sunken wreck, almost getting attacked by a shark. Nemo lectures him that he "cannot eat pieces of eight" and reminds him the greatest treasure of all is a "sound mind and a full belly." Aronnax gets more and more intrigued by Nemo's skills, especially what powers the Nautilus: atomic energy. Aronnax: "Such a secret could revolutionise the world!" Nemo: "Or destroy it".

After having travelled "10,000 leagues under the sea" [meaning, "10,000 leagues "across the sea" while submerged the entire voyage"] , Nemo takes Arronax to the penal colony island of Rora Penthe, where inmates used as slaves load a ship with minerals to produce ammunition, so "the world will die a little more" (Nemo). Nemo reveals he was once a prisoner himself, as was the crew of the "Nautilus". At night, the "Nautilus" rams the ship and destroys it, killing the entire crew. Aronnax accuses Nemo of being a hypocrite, to which Nemo defends himself, stating his actions have just saved some thousand people from death in war. But it becomes obvious that revenge is also involved.

Ned, having seen fellow sailors murdered, has had his fill and spurs into action, sneaking into the captain's cabin to get the co-ordinates of Nemo's base of Vulcania. He puts messages in bottles, hoping somebody will pick these up and free him of his captivity.

Off the coast of New Guinea, the "Nautilus" gets stranded on a reef. Under the pretense of wanting to participate in a scientific survey, Ned asks to go ashore with Conseil, but he attempts escape, only to be chased back to the Nautilus by cannibals, who are repelled from the ship by electrical charges circulated on the "Nautilus"'s skin. Because Nemo had him warned, he now puts Ned in a cell.

The tide floats the "Nautilus" free, but a warship is fast approaching and opening fire, causing a hull breach and momentarily loss of control, sending and sinking the "Nautilus" deeper than ever before, where it attracts the attentions of a giant squid.

The electric charge fails to repel the monster squid, so Nemo is forced to fight the beast on the surface in a stormy night. During the battle, Nemo is caught in one of the squid's tentacles, but Ned – who has freed himself from his cell – jumps to his rescue and saves his captor's life.

As the "Nautilus" approaches Vulcania, Nemo confides to Aronnax that he had considered using him as a mediator to share his secrets with the world. But it is too late. Vulcania is surrounded by warships that have deployed ground troops. Nemo takes this as an answer and decides to destroy his base rather than let his findings fall into wrong hands. But when returning to the "Nautilus", he is struck and mortally wounded by an invader's bullet. After navigating the "Nautilus" out of Vulcania and settling on the ocean floor as its last resting place, Nemo announces, "I'm dying. And the "Nautilus" is dying with me." Loyal to Nemo to the very end, his entire crew declares that they will accompany their captain in death.

Nemo orders everybody to return to their quarters. Against joining in the mass suicide, Arronax, Conseil, and Ned are forcibly taken to their cabins. Ned fights back, escapes to the now deserted bridge, and manages to surface the "Nautilus", hitting a reef in the process which begins to rapidly flood the ship. After rescuing Arronax and Conseil, the three escape in the launch/lifeboat. In his final moments, Nemo staggers to the viewing window, slumps against it, and looks at his beloved ocean one last time before he collapses and dies.

The companions witness the destruction of Vulcania in an incredible explosion, apparently atomic, creating an enormous mushroom cloud. The shockwave and the flooding takes the "Nautilus" back to its watery grave, and as the "Nautilus" disappears forever, Nemo's last words to Arronax echo: "There is hope for the future. And when the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will someday come to pass. In God's good time."


The film received positive reactions, and has become a classic film of the Disney corporation. Audiences fondly remember it for the giant-squid battle and for the "Nautilus" itself, which have both become iconic images of both the film and Verne's original novel.

Even 50 years after the initial release "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" is considered by many the most mature Disney live action production, rich in controversial and philosophical dialogue revolving around timeless issues, a fascinating display of pessimism (Nemo) versus optimism (Prof. Aronnax).

The film was also highly praised for the performances of the leading actors. This was the first time that major Hollywood stars such as Kirk Douglas, James Mason and Peter Lorre had appeared in a Disney film, although Robert Newton, a well-known actor in British films, had played Long John Silver in Disney's 1950 version of "Treasure Island". Mason especially was singled out for his performance as Captain Nemo, and many people who first saw him onscreen in the film identify him most strongly with this role.

In addition, the era in which events take place comes alive in meticulous artistic accuracy, down to the beard trim of the sailors, surpassed only by the riveted steel skin of the "Nautilus". And yet the Disney version echoes the hopes and fears of audiences of the 1950s and beyond, equally illustrating the chances and the dangers of nuclear power. What was also well noted about the film was that the film's director, Richard Fleischer, was in fact the son of the man who was arguably Disney's biggest rival in the 1930's, Max Fleischer, creator of the Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons.

The film has inspired a dark ride at Tokyo DisneySea and a walkthrough at Disneyland Paris. Disneyland used the original sets as a walk-through attraction from 1955 to 1966. Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom also had from 1971 to 1994 which consisted of a submarine ride, complete with the giant squid attack. For this ride, voice artist Peter Renaday stood in for James Mason in the role of Captain Nemo.


*Kirk Douglas ... Ned Land
*James Mason ... Captain Nemo
*Paul Lukas ... Professor Pierre Aronnax
*Peter Lorre ... Conseil
*Robert J. Wilke ... "Nautilus"'s First Mate
*Ted De Corsia ... Captain Farragut
*Carleton Young ... John Howard
*J.M. Kerrigan ... Billy
*Percy Helton ... Coach driver
*Ted Cooper ... "Abraham Lincoln"'s First Mate
*Fred Graham* ... Casey

* Not credited on-screen.

Comparisons with the book

Earl Felton's script deviates noticeably from the original Jules Verne book by integrating elements of the lesser known Jules Verne book Facing the Flag, whose main attraction is an invention of peril (German book title) which Felton re-interpreted as nuclear power rather than the super nitroglycerin Verne had envisioned. Thus, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" became more palatable to movie audiences of the atomic age. Other elements borrowed from Facing the Flag were Ned Land's messages in bottles and Nemo's base Vulcania, inspired by Ker Karraje's pirate hideout Buttercup Island. Other changes included:
* Ned Land is an unwilling and recalcitrant passenger in both versions, but only in the movie is he locked up in the brig.
* In the book, Professor Aronnax is more deliberate about joining the original expedition than in the movie.
* In the book, Ned Land is described as a man of few words, but in the film he is talkative and outgoing.
* Conseil doesn't speak in the third person, as in the book.
* Esmerelda, the trained seal, was created for the film (as comic relief).
* The film's main song, "A Whale of a Tale," was also created for the film. The theme was used repeatedly throughout the movie (19 times) by Leagues' music composer Paul J. Smith as Ned's musical motif. Al Hoffman (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics) composed 'Whale of a Tale;' however, Disney didn't list the two men in the credits of the film. Years later, both remained bitter at Walt's refusal to correct this slight in subsequent re-releases of the film. In 2005, Michael Eisner/the Disney Company again refused to alter the credits for the Special Edition DVD of "20,000 Leagues".
* The "Nautilus" in the book is described as being thin and speedy, while the "Nautilus" of the film is shown to be massive, powerful and capable of incredible surface speed. Elmo Williams, film editor on 20,000 Leagues, was put in charge of supervising Ralph Hammeras special effects team by Walt Disney early into the filming. Williams has stated in his autobiography that they had the Nautilus moving through the water at, in adjusted/converted speed, of what would be 90 knots, or 103 miles per hour.
*Also, whilst in the movie it is nuclear-powered, in the book it is powered by electricity.
* A few events from the novel, most notably the sea battles between Nemo and the ships sent to destroy him, Arronax witnessing his sinking of a ship, and the undersea funeral, were included or integrated into the film but not in the order that they occurred in the novel (example: Arronax does not actually witness Nemo sinking another ship or learn of his family's deaths until near the end of the book whereas this occurs much earlier in the film.)
*In the book, Arronax accompanies Ned and Conseil to the island while waiting for the tide to release the Nautilus from the reef. There they go on a hunting trip to hunt animals to eat and take back to the Nautilus. In the book they do not try to escape. In the movie, only Ned and Conseil go.
*Only one very large giant squid attacks the Nautilus in the movie whereas several (at least seven) smaller squid (25 feet as described by Arronax) attack in the novel.
*One of the squid in the novel drags off and kills one of Nemo's men. This does not occur in the movie; instead the squid captures Nemo and attempts to devour him alive after knocking several of his men into the water.
*In the book, Ned rescues Nemo from a shark and later, Nemo saves him from the squid, both as repayment and stating that "I owed myself this revenge" since the squid had just claimed one of his men. This is reversed in the movie, with Nemo saving Ned from an impending shark attack and Ned rescuing Nemo from the squid despite Nemo's having him locked away in the brig. Nemo repaid this by reinstating Ned's freedom on board the Nautilus but in a later conversation with Arronax stated that Ned, "probably regrets saving my life as much as I would regret saving his. The only difference is that I wouldn't have tried."
* While the book's version of Nemo did have an island stronghold where he stopped to resupply his ship, the final sea-battle at Vulcania was fabricated for the movie; the "Nautilus" in the book disappeared in a whirlpool, and whether or not it actually sank was a mystery that was only resolved in Verne's later book "The Mysterious Island".
* At the end of the novel, Nemo delves into depression after he destroys a ship and kills all aboard. He directs the Nautilus into a whirlpool and it is not known if Nemo survives. He turns up alive in Verne's "The Mysterious Island", at the end of which he dies. It should be noted that the film adaptation of "Mysterious Island" is based upon the novel itself rather than the Disney movie. This explains Nemo being alive in that film.In the movie, Nemo is mortally wounded by a gunshot and the Nautilus is crippled beyond repair by cannon fire. A dying Nemo then steers the ship towards "its final resting place,". (It is suggested and presumed that Nemo has discovered nuclear power, which may power the submarine as well as the spectacular explosion that destroys the island.) He does this, not out of selfishness, but out of care for mankind, believing them unready for his discoveries. He leaves behind these final words: "There is hope for the future... and, when the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will, someday, come to pass, in God's good time." Ned, Arronax, Conseil and Nemo's pet sea lion Esmeralda barely escaping in time.
* In the film, Nemo's nationality is never revealed, and James Mason plays him with an English accent. He tells Professor Aronnax that he and the crew of the Nautilus are former inmates of the prison camp shown in the film. He also admits to Aronnax that his quest for revenge is motivated by the fact that his wife and child were tortured to death by those who unsuccessfully tried to obtain Nemo's scientific findings. Aronnax does not reveal to Conseil or to Ned what Nemo has told him.

ee also

* 1954 in film
* Captain Nemo
* Nautilus
* , a ride that used to be in Walt Disney World that was based on the film.


External links


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