"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" Movie Review

This is one of the most difficult reviews I've had to write. On the one hand, I really love Paul Gross. I think he’s a terrific actor and very handsome, and entirely too smart to just be an actor. (Which is probably why he’s a singer, songwriter, director, script writer, and producer, as well.)

On the other hand, this adaptation of Jules Verne's classic really stank. I mean, it REEKED. Not even Paul Gross as Ned the Whaler could save this baby.

The Hallmark presentation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is not so much an "adaptation" as it is a "miscarriage." 20,000 Leagues is generally considered one of the first science fiction novels, in as much as it's fiction based on science. It's a lovely book, full of action and suspense and wonderfully goofy scenes (as when Captain Nemo and the narrator suit up and take a stroll in an underwater meadow, followed by a peaceful underwater afternoon nap amongst the corals).

There are a few things which needed updating. For example, in the original version, Ned isn't really a character so much as a Savage Innocent sounding board for the narrator's pontifications. And to their credit, Ned the Whaler has been granted a big dollop of autonomy for this movie version, which is just what his character needed.

In the original version, the narrator's faithful companion is a young Belgian boy whose name escapes me. I understand that the practice of retaining underage Belgian assistants may have been considered acceptable in the Victorian era, but in the 21st century it comes off as peculiar, if not downright unwholesome.

In the abstract, it's not so bad that Hallmark turned the narrator's underage Belgian assistant into his feisty, intelligent daughter (who is stifled by Victorian ideals of womanhood, and torn between falling in love with either the brilliant and courteous Captain Nemo, or the burly and quick-witted Ned the Whaler). This artificially romantic dilemma would have been fine as a sub-plot, but it quickly bloats completely out of proportion and takes over at least two thirds of the script.

There is no action. There is no adventure. There is no spine-tingling exploration of the mysterious world of the deeps. In this version, there is only scene after scene of turgid dialogue and significant glances of romantic intent.

Oh lord, deliver me from Oprah-tized rewrites of science fiction classics.

To complicate this morass of ill-conceived rescripted character motivations, the acting is as stiff as the dialogue. Captain Nemo is given to painfully scripted speeches about how he loves her for her mind, while Ned the Whaler (a far more interesting character) never gets to say more than about three words in a row before he's hustled off-screen on the thinnest of pretexts.

Paul Gross (the only actor of the lot who emotes both consistently and convincingly) does an excellent job with what little material he's given, despite the fact that he's done up in distractingly swarthy makeup. He also smiles a lot, which makes up for quite a few of the movie's sins. Not enough of them, but quite a few.

Final score: 12 points

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