Universal’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: The First Submarine Photoplay

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In my endless search for out of print films or “lost” films now available via the internet, I often scour www.archive.org and other sites for things I may have overlooked. Recently, I came across two Fritz Lang films from 1919 and 1920 that were for years presumed missing and only recently were restored to having somewhat coherent plotlines. Today, I discovered that Universal’s early attempt to tackle Jules Verne is now available for streaming and download.

More a curious relic of the past than an accurate interpretation of Jules Verne’s novel, the first long playing version of the story of the nautilus still holds value for the fan of the author and victorian era sci-fi. The movie itself borrows from both Mysterious Island and the aforementioned tale of Captain Nemo, but butchers and recombines them in such a way that the end result is nothing short of ridiculous.

The film is still worthwhile for both the prop design and the incredible underwater vignettes, which are the first dramatic scenes (supposedly) to be shot underwater. An interesting reminder that Hollywood’s literary reinterpretations are nothing new, 20,000 Leagues (1916) is a worthwhile view at least for the purposes of viewing the early days of science fiction adaptation in film.

The film is now available for free download in several formats, including video for iPhone and iPod at www.archive.org.


For a more stimulating look at Jules Verne, check out Karel Zeman’s Fabulous World of Jules Verne.

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Topics: Movies, Steampunk

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