Movie Details

The second of two network-TV adaptations of Jules Verne's speculative 1868 novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this two-part ABC version originally aired on May 11 and 12, 1997, some two months after CBS's shorter -- and infinitely more faithful -- version. The year is 1886, and an unknown "creature" is terrorizing the high seas, causing merchant vessels to vanish without a trace. Enlisted by the U.S. government to find out what's really going on, oceanographer Pierre Arronax (Patrick Dempsey) and rough-hewn whaler Ned Land (Bryan Brown) set sail for uncharted waters. Ultimately, they are captured by the insane but honorably motivated Captain Nemo (Michael Caine), the inventor of the high-teach submarine Nautilus. This much can be found in the original novel. The rest of the film has less to do with Jules Verne than its does with the popularity of such theatrical features as Star Wars and Titanic, not to mention the then-prevalent specter of political correctness. Because he wants nothing more out of life than to slaughter whales, Verne's nominal hero Ned Land is transformed into the main villain -- while Pierre Arronax comes off none too sympathetically himself, depicted in an early scene as a wanton womanizer who sleeps with his own father's mistress. Also, a bit of gratuitous romance is thrown into the proceedings, with Captain Nemo suddenly acquiring a daughter, and another woman joining the storyline when the Nautilus makes a side trip to the lost city of Atlantis. Finally, what with Verne's good guys turning bad and Captain Nemo clearly certifiable, a new "hero" is introduced in the form of African-American crewman Cabe Attucks (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje). Oh, and did we mention that Nemo is actually a half-cyborg and a former Indian prince? This "new and improved" 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is only slightly less ridiculous than the 1916 silent film version, which also managed to add a love interest and a spectacular "flashback" sequence straight out of 1001 Arabian Nights. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi