20,000 Leagues Under the Sea {1954}

This definitive big screen big budget adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1870 science fiction novel is a handsomely-staged family adventure mostly remembered for Kirk Douglas star performance and fabulous design. Yet there’s also a surprising degree of Cold War concerns bubbling beneath the surface, making this hugely entertaining version far more interesting than most subsequent adaptations.

Running at just over two hours, the filmmakers sensibly abandon the vast majority of Verne’s self-aggrandising scientific posturing in successful pursuit of huge box office success.

Broadly faithful to the wide-eyed adventurous spirit and plot of Verne, we follow a Professor, his servant and a harpooner, who’re kidnapped at sea by the mercurial and revenge-driven submariner, Captain Nemo, and join him for several escapades onboard his submarine, the Nautilus, while plotting their own escape.

The trio were recruited by the US government in San Francisco, a reassuringly ‘Western’ opening location for the audience, before sailing to the South seas to confirm or deny the existence of a sea monster which has been sinking ships. 

The smooth but shady US recruiting agents want to to beat other nations in capturing this sea monster in order to establish and exploit any military capability it may possess. And thus the 1950’s audience is immediately plunged into an allegory of the post-war arms race with the Soviet Union.

Whereas the French writer Verne had the US government employ Professor Aronnax in order to have a compatriot hero to appeal to Verne’s home readership, here Aronnax is not only valued as a scientific advisor but his nationality offers the cover of political neutrality to a US military expedition in contested overseas territory.

This accurately reflects the use of other nation proxies to project US power and further its national interests during the then developing Cold War and establishes a degree of paranoia which the film later develops when it deploys mushroom cloud imagery. 

However while the film demonstrates the destructive power of nuclear weapons, it also offers an argument in their favour and sympathy to those who developed them. More of which later.

Peter Lorre is a wonderfully cowardly cynic as Conseil, servant to the dull Professor Aronnax, played by Paul Lukas, who’s performance suggests the Hungarian actor fully understands he’s not there to upstage the top-billed star, Kirk Douglas, who plays the two-fisted harpooner, Ned Land.

Already a household name and a double best actor nominee for 1949’s Champion, and 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, Douglas perfectly understands the material, and delivers a wonderful cigar- chomping, scenery-chewing and scene-stealing performance, which screams ‘movie star’.

A role tailor-made to demonstrate his athleticism, humour, charisma and boisterous comic ability, Douglas also commits fully to the required singing and dancing, and if he’s not the greatest at either, well I doubt there was anyone on set with the authority or nerve to tell him.

It would be hard to find a scene in his career more joyous than the one where he shares a song and kiss with a pet seal, and their duet is a piece of wonder that is comic, angry and tender. If only Douglas had always been this generous to his co-stars.

And in the fight scenes you have to worry for the stunt team as the 38 year old Douglas, still six years from  playing rebellious Roman slave, Spartacus, seems determined to never pull his punches. At times he seems to be auditioning for a live action version of Popeye the sailor.

Director Robert Fleischer would re-team with Douglas two years later with The Vikings, and in a lengthy career, Fleischer would go on to make 1967’s serial killer drama, The Boston Strangler, 1973’s sci-fi conspiracy thriller, Solyent Green, 1980’s musical remake, The Jazz Singer, and 1984’s Sword-and -Sorcery sequel, Conan the Destroyer.

The mysterious Captain Nemo is revealed by turns a brilliant scientist, ruthless, an intellectual and a sympathetic victim, an ‘other’, i.e. a non-WASP, who serves his ‘guests’ ‘unusual’ food.

All this is true to Verne, but although early film incarnations of Verne’s novel recognised Nemo’s royal identity as an Indian prince, here Nemo is played by white British actor, James Mason. His other major role that year was alongside Judy Garland, in A Star is Born.

Here the template is set for subsequent interpretations to whitewash the role and those who follow in Mason’s footsteps include the very non-Indian actors, Herbert Lom, Michael Caine and Patrick Stewart.

But Mason’s character is more interesting than many later interpretations, with Nemo’s non-white otherness being coded as Jewish, and Nemo’s struggle for revenge on the British empire being substituted for the fight to use nuclear power to defend the state of Israel.

Verne’s Nemo wants revenge for the slaughter of his wife and child by the British during the 1857 Indian War of Independence, but Mason’s Nemo is a widowed state-less refugee, a survivor of slavery in a mine producing phosphate for war weapons. 

We later see the mine which is visibly intended to evoke the Holocaust of the Second World War. Nemo was sent there after refusing to divulge the secret of the power source of the Nautilus, implied as nuclear power. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the European Jewish emigre scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project and its development of the first nuclear bombs, will be able to see the intended parallels.

The world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571) was delivered to the US Navy in 1955. Thus Nemo using nuclear power for world peace dovetails nicely with contemporary US military policy, he’s also trying to protect his island sanctuary from assault, a haven which can be read as a proxy for the recently established state of Israel. Nemo repeats, ‘There is hope for the future, when the world is ready for a new and better life then all this will someday come to pass in God’s good time.’

There is hope for the future, when the world is ready for a new and better life then all this will someday come to pass in God’s good time.

The giant squid which threatens the Nautilus is direct from Verne’s novel, but allied to the theme of nuclear power aligns 20,000 Leagues with sci-fi monster movies of the day, which saw humanity threatened by insects and other creatures mutated to enormous size by nuclear sources.

Nuclear paranoia of sci-fi classic, The Day The Earth Stood Still, had been released in 1953, and Ray Harryhausen’s 1955 The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, saw a hibernating dinosaur released by an atomic blast to terrorise the world.

Released the same year as 20,000 Leagues, Them! saw huge radiation-affected ants bring terror to the US, and Godzilla stomped into cinemas in 1954. The US was threatened by aliens in 1953’s It Came From Outer Space, and by giant spiders in 1955’s Tarantula! Whether aliens, monsters or giant insects, and whether nuclear powered or not, 1954 was hotbed of paranoia about the Soviet nuclear threat.

It must also be noted that 1954 was the height of McCarthyism, the Red Scare, and the communist ‘witch-hunts’ in Hollywood. Ever the patriot, Walt Disney had testified before the HUAC hearings in 1947, and it’s interesting that the ultimately sympathetic Nemo argues in favour of the benefits of nuclear power, and the film ends on an audience-reassuring note in faith in god, science and the future.

The nuclear subtext is dressed up in art direction and special effects and 20,000 Leagues deservedly won Oscars  in both those categories, as well as scoring a nom for the editing. 

The sets, model ships and submarines are great and the locations are epic, representing Hollywood at the top of its game. If the Nautilus is more a metallic fish than the tube of Verne’s imagination, the submarine is a gorgeous steampunk creation, with brass fittings, red upholstery and a magnificent organ. And long before Spielberg’s 1993 dinosaur adventure Jurassic Park, the animatronic work of the giant squid is spectacular.

Although stock footage of whales and dolphins is occasionally mixed in with scenes on deck clearly filmed in a studio, there’s an impressive commitment to the underwater diving sequences, made when aqua diving was a novelty not an easily-accessible holiday activity. 

These sequences were filmed in the photogenic waters of the Caribbean, as was the silent 1916 version of 20,000 Leagues, and if that gives some sections the air of a travelogue, it’s worth remembering foreign travel was an expensive luxury at the time and this form of visual escapism was very much intended to drive box office. 

Still, the shark attack is very impressive and the location work helps retain Verne’s tone of wide-eyed wonder and his view of the sea as a resource to be worked. Mind you, the man-handling of crabs and giant turtles by the underwater performers wouldn’t be allowed today.

Sadly the same couldn’t said for the depiction of the South sea islanders, who Nemo describes as ‘cannibals’, and whose appearance is played for laughs, and their portrayal is no less sophisticated than similarly portrayed people in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. 

And though Nemo drolly asserts the ‘cannibals’ right to attack the Nautilus, true to the book he then defends the Nautilus with electric shock treatment. 

Similarly to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, there’s no denying the scale of the action is impressive, perhaps ever more so than then, in our CGI era. And seeing Douglas run through the jungle reminds us of his son Michael, in 1984’s Romancing the Stone.

Despite the film throwing a series of grandly staged set-pieces at us, it’s possible a modern multiplex audience may find the pace plodding. Yet the crowd-pleasing ticking clock plot and punch-ups of the finale are pure Hollywood entertainment, harking back to Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, and anticipating the missions of 007 of the following decades.

And though the final scene of the novel is downbeat, the filmmakers compromise by cleaving closely to Verne yet also providing a note of uplift, in which Kirk Douglas’s seal is seen to survive, and Nemo is given the last word.

To do this a cinematic sleight of hand is used which would be echoed two years later in Elvis Presley’s big screen debut, Love Me Tender. The enduring fascination with and longevity in popular culture of Verne’s greatest creation, Captain Nemo, lies with his mercurial nature which allows for continual reinvention. However, never did I think when I began writing this that I would end with a comparison with the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.

Available on Disney+.

Love classic sci-fi? Check out my website HERE

Verne returned to Captain Nemo in his 1875 novel, The Mysterious Island, which has been filmed several times. Read my review of 1961’s Mysterious Island, HERE

You can read my review of the 1916 adaptation of Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, HERE

You can read my review of 1929’s The Mysterious Island, HERE

Read my review or the 1941 Russian adaptation of The Mysterious Island, HERE

And you can read my review of 1951’s Mysterious Island, HERE

And my review of 1973’s version HERE

@ChrisHunneysett

When JUDY met JOKER: Mental health in Hollywood

I was recently invited to discuss the portrayal of mental health in movies by the lovely people of the No Really, I’m Fine Podcast, and thought I’d share my notes with you.

It begins with recent films Joker and Judy, and ends with One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, taking in Changeling and Airplane! along the way. I hope you enjoy and/or find this useful.

WARNING: contains spoilers

You can listen to the podcast here and give them a follow @ImFinePodcast_

Joker and Judy are two recent and very different films in which the eponymous characters suffer mental illness in very differing ways, and in doing so the pair conform to a long established pattern of gender division in the portrayal of mental illness in the movies.

Joker

Phoenix on fire

Joker is a savage and disturbing thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix an aspiring stand-up comic and part time clown who suffers from a disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times, he’s also generally nervous, lacks confidence and is not good socially.

When his medication and therapy is withdrawn because of funding cuts, he slowly becomes an insane and violent criminal, inspiring riots in the streets.

Judy

Zellweger on song

Judy is a biopic of Hollywood legend Judy Garland, who we see towards the end of her flagging career on stage in London, Renee Zellweger stars in a sympathetic portrait and sees Garland battles with long-standing nerves and addictions, leading to problems in her personal life including fighting a custody battle for her two younger kids, and a difficult fifth marriage.

Joker is a great example of when men in movies suffer mental illness, they typically externalise their problems and make them epic. Men seek to blame and punish others, become violent and their battles take place in a public arena. Male experiences of mental illness are closer to fantasy and framed as heroic, somehow successful, to a degree redemptive, or as in the case of Joker, they become powerful or somehow inspirational.

But when Judy and women suffer mental illness they typically internalise their problems and make them intimate. Women blame and punish themselves emotionally and physically, and their battles take place in the domestic arena. Female experiences are grounded in reality and framed as tragedy.

Plus women’s experiences of mental illness are defined by a perception of promiscuity, and of being a ‘bad’ i.e. neglectful mother, even when that ‘neglect’ is caused by the need to work in order to provide for their children.

It’s notable and typical Joker survives beyond the films end, and Judy doesn’t.

These gender defined portrayals and outcomes are consistent across all forms of mental illness when portrayed in movies, it doesn’t matter what form the mental illness of a character takes. Let’s look at a couple of examples, beginning with an absurdly extreme example to illustrate the point.

Dementia

Still Alice from 2014, is a small intimate, domestic drama which stars Julianne Moore as a middle aged woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes from 2011, is an epic action sci-fi adventure with John Lithgow suffering Alzheimer’s. His scientist son is trying to find a for cure Alzheimer’s, and along the way unleashes the monkey apocalypse.

Snow Cake

Weaver

Autism

Snow Cake is a 2006 indie romantic comedy drama starring Sigourney Weaver as a small town single woman with Autism, coming to terms with the death of her daughter.

Rain Man is a 1988 Las Vegas road trip comedy-drama starring Dustin Hoffman and is about the reconciliation of two wealthy brothers.

Rain Man

Hoffman

The next example is of deliberately inflicted mental damage, and the one after is a symptom of of mental illness, not a cause. However the gender division remains.

Enforced loss of memory; brainwashing.

Gaslight is a 1944 American psychological thriller starring Ingrid Bergman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is going insane.

The Bourne Identity is a 2002 action thriller starring Matt Damon who demonstrates advanced combat skills and fluency in several languages as he fights his way across Europe.

Eating disorders

Heathers is a 1988 satirical High school comedy starring Winona Ryder, which as well as touching upon bulimia, shows high school girls struggling with bullying, fat shaming, teenage suicide and violent, toxic boyfriends.

The Machinist is a 2004 dark thriller starring Christian Bale about a troubled factory worker who loses weight due to insomnia caused by a trauma, and eventually achieves salvation and peace.

So in all these examples we see the gender divide of external/internal, public/domestic, epic/intimate and heroic/tragic. Let’s have an example which provides another typical division, sexuality and a violent response.

Multiple Personality Disorder

Split is a 2016 psychological horror thriller starring James McAvoy as a man with 24 different personalities who kidnaps and imprisons three teenage girls. And similar to Joker, he is a super-villain

The Three Faces of Eve is a 1957 mystery drama starring Joanne Woodward as a married but childless woman suffering from a duel personality. Eve ‘White’ is a submissive housewife, while Eve ‘Black’, her ‘other’ personality is outspoken, promiscuous and considered a danger to other people’s children.

Filmmakers couldn’t show Eve having sex in 1957, so her promiscuity is presented in coded form, as dancing with a man other than her husband, who responds by slapping Eve.

This is important as it links madness in woman with promiscuity, and makes clear violence is an acceptable ‘cure’, or at least, a treatment.

Mental illness in men is super-villainy, mental illness in women is promiscuity and mistreating children. Sanity for men is being a superhero, and sanity for women is being married,  maternal, monogamous and submissive. And violence is the treatment. Which brings us to hysteria, and hysterical women in the movies.

HYSTERIA

Lets look at the most common mental affliction for women in the movies: Hysteria.

This can either be having a chronic attack of ‘nerves’, intense anxiety, or standing about screaming. It’s very loosely defined, if at all.

Airplane

Surely you can’t be serious?

Airplane! is a 1980 disaster comedy, the funniest film ever made but not without it’s problems. There’s a joke about a hysterical woman being slapped into submission. First a doctor, shakes her, shouts at her and then slaps her. She continues screaming, and so a fellow passenger steps up to shout, and shake and slap, and behind him is a queue of passengers, and they are armed with boxing gloves, guns and baseball bats.

This joke works because the filmmakers know the cinema audience is totally accustomed to seeing men slapping women when they’re acting hysterically.

I was 11 or 12 years old when I first saw Airplane! and even then I’d seen enough movies to understand the joke.

Hollywood allows, encourages and expects men to inflict violence on women who are mentally ill. Violent ‘treatment’ is justified, accepted, and normal.

The word hysteria comes from the Greek word for uterus, hystera, and the Greeks believed that the uterus moved up through a woman’s body, strangling her, and causing madness.

This suggests an entirely physical cause for the symptoms but, by linking them to the uterus, it means hysteria only affects women. So madness is framed around your gender. And this thinking continued well into the twentieth Century.

Men who don’t have a uterus are inherently sane, women who do, are inherently prone to madness. For women sanity is equated with being passive, submissive, and governable.

Hysteria is a catch-all condition which because it’s definition is so broad, it makes it very easy for doctor’s to identify and treat – usually but not always with violence.

 

Hysteria

Now this won’t hurt a bit

Hysteria is 2011 period drama set in 1880, and starring Hugh Dancy as the real life
Dr. Granville, who treats hysteria.

Because the medical profession thought anxiety originated in the uterus, common practice at the time was to manage the symptoms of hysteria by massaging a woman’s genital area.

Treating so many women results in his hand getting tired. So he adapts an electrical feather duster to use as an electric massager. And invents what we know today as a vibrator.

But the point to this, and remember this is a true story is this is a case of a doctor sexual abusing a mentally ill woman.

During Hysteria a character called Charlotte is arrested and during her trial, the prosecutor recommends Charlotte is sent to a sanatorium and be forced to undergo a hysterectomy, as that would ‘cure’ her.

The important thing to takeaway from Hysteria, the film and the condition, is the link between men diagnosing women as mentally ill, and then using violence and invasive force to subdue them. And here we have another common thread in cinema. A choice between prison or an asylum. We’ll come back to that in Cuckoo’s Nest.

So as well as the public/domestic, epic/intimate, gender division, women are identified as mentally ill for not conforming to men’s ideas of submissive, domestic and maternal womanhood. Also the women are typically punished for their behaviour beyond the expected ‘treatments’, often with death. Here’s a couple of examples, again using different types of mental health for comparison.

 

Falling Down

On the streets

Revolutionary Road

In the house

Depression

Falling Down is a 1993 thriller starring Michael Douglas who walks across Los Angeles using a bat, a gun and a rocket launcher on those who annoy him.

 

Revolutionary Road is a 2008 domestic drama starring Kate Winslet as a childless housewife who has extra-marital sex, then an abortion and then dies.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

As Good As It Gets is a 1997 romantic comedy starring Jack Nicholson as a misanthropic and obsessive-compulsive novelist whose reward for redeeming his previous bad behaviour is sex with the gorgeous Helen hunt.

Mommie Dearest is a 1981 docudrama starring Faye Dunaway as real life Hollywood star Joan Crawford, who’s depicted as an abusive mother who adopted her children to benefit her career, she is eventually publicly humiliated and dies of cancer.

PTSD

First Blood is a 1982 action film starring Sylvester Stallone as Vietnam War veteran John Rambos suffering PTSD, who destroys a small town in a one-man rampage.

In Our Name is a 2010 British drama starring Joanne Froggatt as a female soldier suffering PTSD, who sexually rejects her husband and struggles to care for her daughter on her return home from a tour of duty.

Schizophrenia

The Soloist is a 2009 drama starring Jamie Foxx as the real life Nathaniel Ayers, a talented but homeless musician who finds some measure of stability.

Through a Glass Darkly is a 1961 Swedish family drama starring Harriet Andersson who childless and sexually aberrant, sexually rejects her husband but has incestuous sex with her brother.

Suicide

It’s a Wonderful Life is a 1946 feel-good sentimental fantasy drama starring James Stewart as George Bailey who attempts suicide on Christmas Eve

The Virgin Suicides is a 1999 drama starring Kirsten Dunst, and sees five suburban teenage sisters suffer depression and make a suicide pact. They are all childless and unmarried, and one is promiscuous.

 

Dirty Harry

Men get guns

Criminality

So the gender division leads to women identified as mentally ill for not conforming to men’s ideas of submissive, domestic and maternal womanhood, and are punished for their behaviour beyond the expected ‘treatments’, often with death. Now we’ll see how these signifiers for women’s mental illness are also aligned to criminality.

Dirty Harry is a 1971 neo-noir action thriller which sees a serial killer called Scorpio shooting strangers on the streets of San Francisco, chased by a cop, Clint Eastwood.

Seven is a 1995 crime thriller with Kevin Spacey playing a serial killer, torturing strangers and being chased by a cop, Brad Pitt

Single White Female is a 1992 psychological erotic thriller which stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as a childless and promiscuous singleton who is obsessed with her roommate.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is a 1992 psychological thriller starring Rebecca De Mornay as a childless widow out to destroy a woman and steal her family.

 

Fatal Attraction

Insane, moi?

Fatal Attraction is a 1987 psychological thriller starring Glenn Close as childless, promiscuous singleton who becomes obsessed with a married man with whom she had an affair.

In all of these films the criminal, man or woman, is killed, reinforcing the idea violence against the mentally ill is acceptable.

But cinema simultaneously aligns female criminality with madness, violent behaviour, promiscuity, childlessness and unmarried.

In all cases cinema is reinforcing a definition of sanity for women, which is to be married, maternal, monogamous and submissive.

And if as a woman you step outside this male definition of female sanity, then expect to be labelled as mentally ill and men are justified in using violence against you, and you may end up dead.Which brings us to Angelina Jolie.

Film Title: Changeling

Check out the bars and that noose.

Changeling is a 2008 crime drama based on real-life events from California in 1928, and stars Angelina Jolie as a single woman called Christine, whose son Walter goes missing. But when she’s reunited with him,  she realises the boy the authorities insist is her son, is a different boy entirely.

She is naturally angry and upset, which as a woman is not the correct mental state to be challenging the State’s authority, as being ’emotional’ allows the police and local government to define her behaviour as irrational, i.e. a sign of mentally illness, and she is vilified as delusional, labeled as an unfit mother, and confined to a psychiatric ward

A doctor diagnoses Christine as delusional and forces her to take mood-regulating pills. Steele says he will release Christine if she admits she was mistaken about “Walter” she refuses. And the film doesn’t end well for anyone.

So cinema shows women being labelled as irrational is an excuse for any manner of abuse by the state and/or medical profession.

And under the guise of ‘treatment’ a woman may suffer incarceration, drug regimes, invasive surgery and/or lobotomy, as well as losing possession of her kids. And the criteria for judging the success of any treatment is how submissive and quiet the female patient is afterwards.

Another criteria for madness is not being maternal, not liking children, women are forced into domesticity and punished when they fail. being labelled a bad mother makes it very easy for the authorities to teak your kids away from you.

There is no happy ending to this film. But it does show some of the nasty ways the mentally ill are treated in asylums.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

I love this film, made in 1975, and was the 2nd of only 3 films have won all four top Oscars, best actor, actress, film, and director.

It was filmed film in a real mental hospital, in the Oregon State Hospital, and consequently is very good on visualising the mechanics of mental health treatment, the bars on the windows, the forced drugs, the physical restrictions such as strait jackets, and the barbaric use of electro-shock treatment.

Cuckoo McMurphy

Nice hat, Chesaroo

Remember how in Hysteria a character faced being sentenced to either prison or an asylum?

Cuckoos Nest starred Jack Nicholson as convicted sex offender Randall McMurphy, who chooses asylum over prison because he wants to avoid a regime of hard labour to which he’s been sentenced. McMurphy thinks the asylum offers an easier existence, and he is of course, very wrong.

 

The central conflict in the film is between McMurphy and Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched, who runs the hospital ward to which he is restricted.

Cuckoo Ratched

The doctor won’t see you now

Presenting a sex offender as a hero was problematic, even for the 1970’s, and so the filmmakers down play the reason McMurphy is in the hospital, with his criminal behaviour rarely referred to beyond the opening scene.

And in the way Airplane! uses the audiences knowledge of cinema conventions to make a joke about hysteria, the filmmakers use the audiences knowledge of cinematic sanity to portray McMurphy as heroic, and to demonise Ratched.

McMurphy’s sanity is emphasised by showing him indulge with cinema’s male signifiers of sane male behaviour, such as playing cards and basketball, drinking, and having sex with a woman.

And it demonises the film’s authority figure Nurse Ratched by aligning her with cinemas traits of female insanity and criminality, such as being non-maternal, non-sexual, and non-submissive.

We’re asked to sympathise with and support an unpenitent rapist, a drunk, a brawler and gambler, and one who isn’t ill but wanting to avoid hard labour. Whereas the person we should be rooting for is the hard working and dignified professional, Nurse Ratched who’s been lumbered with the disruptive McMurphy.

In mental health in the movies, when woman succeed they remain defeated, and when men fail, they still win. It’s well, La La land.

ENDS.

 

Further reading:

https://hekint.org/2017/01/23/portrayal-of-schizophrenia-in-movies/

https://www.autism.org/movies-featuring-asd/

The below is from the World Health Organisation website:

There are many different mental disorders, with different presentations. They are generally characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others.

Mental disorders include: depression, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders including autism.

Dementia is caused by a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke.

https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders

The mythical James Bond, 007

BOND AND KING ARTHUR

King Arthur
Richard Harris as Arthur

In the 23rd James Bond thriller,  Skyfall, director Sam Mendes sought to elevate super spy James Bond, from Hollywood action star to a timeless heroic symbol of England.

By employing poetry, imagery and story elements of Arthurian legend, Mendes stretches an umbilical cord through time to connect Britain’s most modern fictitious national hero, Bond, with its most ancient and legendary King, Arthur.

In Le Morte d’Arthur (pub. 1485), Thomas Malory codified the legend of King Arthur from disparate sources and established what we now consider to be the definitive legend.

Arthur is an orphan who wields a weapon only he can command and must fight a traitor, his step-brother Modred, to save his kingdom. Arthur is betrayed by a woman, mortally wounded in action and is hidden away from the world by the lady in the lake. There he will await until his return to once again rescue his land at the hour of his country’s greatest need.

In Skyfall these events and all occur, though not in this order, and are there to establish Bond’s mythical status.

Skyfall
007 goes sky falling

In the pre-title sequence we see Bond shot by fellow agent, Eve, before falling into a river and being pulled under water by a godlike female hand. Being brought low by a woman named Eve is obviously a very Christian idea, reminding us how closely Arthurian legend deliberately echoes the story of Jesus Christ, his betrayal, death and his resurrection.

Bond undergoes a symbolic Christian death at the hands of his followers, but remains in limbo waiting to be reborn. He only returns from the dead , when England is threatened by terrorists led by a former British agent.

De la croix
Grave matters

In Skyfall Bond/Arthur are tasked with defending Britain from Javier Bardem’s Silva/Mordred. All are orphans raised to be warriors.

And just as Arthur and Mordred were related, so we have lots of references to Judi Dench’s M as their metaphorical mother.

De la Croix is revealed to be the maiden name of Bond’s mother. De la Croix translates as ‘Of the cross’ and so ties in with the idea of resurrection. This feeds neatly into the conceit of Bond regenerating every time a new actor assumes the role. It’s also a nod to Ian Fleming’s socialite mother, Evelyn Beatrice St. Croix Rose.

Bond’s Merlin figure of course, is Ben Whishaw’s Q. He provides Bond with a pistol registered to his unique palm print so only he can use it. It’s an updated Excalibur, the sword in the stone.

Bond sails through a dragon’s mouth prior to sleeping with the mistress of his MI6 colleague-turned-enemy. Compare this to how Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon has Merlin invoke the Dragon’s breath to seduce lgrayne, the wife of his former ally, the Duke of CornwalI. John Boorman vividly illustrates this in his excellent telling of the Arthurian legend, in 1981’s Excalibur .

Dragon mouth
Enter the dragon

We hear how following the loss of his parents, the barely  teenage Bond spent three days in a tunnel before emerging an adult. An echo of the vigil an aspiring knight had to endure before being allowed to join the chivalric order.

Poet Laureate Alfred Tennyson wrote a cycle of narrative poems concerning King Arthur called Idylls of the King (pub. 1859). This is the significance of Judi Dench’s M quoting Tennyson, as Bond races to her rescue.

Fiennes
Ralph Fiennes as ‘M’

All we’re missing is a character called Mallory to appear and oops, that just happens to be the real name of Bond’ new boss, ‘M’.

I don’t believe a director as erudite as Mendes would incorporate these details by coincidence. It would be almost impossible to do so by accident.

These details in the subtext of the film echo in the subconsciousness of the viewer. They reinforce the idea of Bond as a saviour of the English.

The conflation of Bond and Arthur places 007 at the centre of British literary, cinematic and Christian cultural tradition, so elevating him from the contemporary to the mythical, and crowning Bond as the once and future king of English heroes, and Hollywood.

@ChrisHunneysett

TOP GUN: MAVERICK

Strap yourself in as the blockbuster of the summer as this breathlessly exciting sequel blasts you along on supersonic waves of nostalgia, extraordinary aerial photography and the unrelenting charisma of star, Tom Cruise.

Inspirational, respectful of military service, and a paean to can-do team spirit, Top Gun: Maverick is a high-fiving, high flying celebration of the virtues of endurance and excellence, a victory lap for the star’s long lived career and a muscle-flexing statement of intent from Cruise’s Hollywood military-industrial complex.

Cruise reprises the role as naval aviator and all-round fighter jet pilot hero, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, who back in 1986 used his amazing aeronautical skills to avert a potential Third World War, and marked his graduation from the navy pilot school, nicknamed ‘Top Gun.’

Now living alone in the world’s best man-cave, Maverick remains a lowly captain while his contemporaries and rivals have flown up the ranks, with his one-time adversary, Iceman, is now an admiral, allowing for a lovely emotional return for actor Val Kilmer.

Out of date, out of time and threatened with extinction, Maverick will not go quietly into the night when an admiral wants a to replace the pilots with drones. My favourite Tom Cruise persona is the Cruise who’s told off, and Maverick is told off a great deal here.

He returns to the Top Gun academy to teach the latest generation of pilots and handpick a team to fly an almost impossible mission to destroy a uranium plant in enemy territory. The team are noticeably more ethnically mixed compared to last time, and even include a token women flyer.

Sadly there’s no return for actors Meg Ryan or Kelly McGillis, but romance arrives in the form of the gorgeous single mother bar owner, called Penny. It’s a slightly-written role but Jennifer Connolly’s charm and talent make it seems more substantial than it is, and it offers Connolly an opportunity to demonstrate some impressive sailing skills, and there’s a nice riff on Richard Gere’s 1982 romantic drama, An Officer and a Gentleman.

Of course the emotional core of the film is family, and Miles Teller sporting a moustache and Hawaiian shirts of his late on-screen dad and Maverick’s erstwhile partner, Goose. Jon Hamm and Ed Harris are also on hand contribute to the excessive levels of testosterone.

Being a Tom Cruise film, the flying is done for real. And frankly the death-defying flying sequences are astonishing. In order to do justice to all involved please watch this on the biggest screen available to you.

The final mission is an exhibition of phenomenal flying and involves hurtling at high speed through a canyon littered with deadly rocket launchers, at the end of which is a target barely a couple of metres wide. If that sounds suspiciously like Luke Skywalker’s Death Star mission in the first Star Wars film, it’s worth remembering that mission was inspired by a Second World War movie, 633 Squadron.

Armed with sky-high levels of machismo this is a surprisingly funny film, with the humour delivered with a remarkably straight face and a tone that veers at times but never falling into self-parody. After all, it would be hard to send itself up as much as the gloriously self-knowing brash and glossy original did, even if all the cast weren’t in on the joke.

You don’t have to have seen the original to have a great at the cinema with Maverick and co. and new director Joseph Kasinski dedicates this film to Tony Scott, the late director of the 1986 original Top Gun, and pays homage to Scott’s visual style with plenty of sunsets and silhouettes.

Plus Kasinski brings back parts of the original soundtrack, and is aided and is abetted by the musical talents of electro-pop pioneer Harold Faltermeyer, pop star LadyGaga and composer Hans Zimmer, and deploys their talents with deadly frequency and precision.

At least as great a time at the cinema as the glorious original, Cruise gets the summer off to a flying start.

Dragonflight

By Anne McCaffrey, 1968

This brisk and inventive breakout novel is a romantic coming of age medieval sci-fi fantasy, which sees a pair of unrelated orphans who’re each cheated of their birthright, brought together by fate to attempt to save their world from a malevolent cosmic spore.

important and influential

Originally published as three short stories, and brought together in one volume in 1968, it became the first in a long series of books by the Irish-American writer who carved out an important and influential space for herself in the genre.

Set on the planet Pern, Dragonflight is an exciting medieval revenge story which is as concerned with time travel as it is with flying fire-breathing lizards, but where the former is a device to explore grief and regret, the latter are a means of allowing surrogate maternity, an experience which is crucial to charting the central character’s emotional development.

gloriously unrepentant

Our protagonist, Lessa, is a highborn young woman who’s introduced as living in serfdom having been robbed of her birthright. Using her wits, courage and resilience, and with the aid of F’lar, leader of the socially disparate dragon riders, Lessa becomes queen of all the dragon riders, which is about to face a cosmic menace which threatens the existence of all human life on the planet.

Lessa is a a masterful creation, a gloriously unrepentant figure who never dwells on the killing she performs to execute her plan of revenge, and who at one point considers infanticide as a means to her bloody ends.

Proud, astute, clever, Lessa constantly confounds the men she meets, proving to be better than than the best dragon riders, who earns respect for her deeds and never coasts on her regal heritage. Unless it suits her purposes.

the book shows its age

Where it’s easy to imagine Lessa as a role model the young Princess Leia, her beau, F’lar, is tall, dark, handsome, arrogant and aloof figure, who combines the swashbuckling of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood with the emotionally reticence of Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy.

He’s a man of action, but also rational, a thinker, a planner, and frankly a bit dour. And in contrast Lessa acts on her wits and frequently on instinct.

Their contrasting personalities allow for dramatic sparks, and it’s here the book shows its age. McCaffrey has a clear eye for power imbalance in the sexual relations and there is stuff in here that’s uncomfortable to read.

When F’lar considers Lessa disobedient or hysterical, F’lar shakes and slaps her. A lot. And F’lar’s abuse of Lessa is publicly tolerated. A passage where F’lar shruggingly dismisses his own recognition that his sexual congress with Lessa is on a par with rape is particularly egregious.

And where hopefully such brutish and abusive behaviour would now be frowned upon or acknowledged as a bad thing by the author, McCaffrey seems inclined to not even admonish F’lar. Instead McCaffrey at all times emphasises that Lessa is a survivor as well as a potential saviour.

The author’s real focus is on the mother and daughter relationship which is the beating emotional heart of the book. Long before Game of Thrones, Lessa was the mother of dragons, specifically her golden dragon, Ramoth. And in McCaffrey’s world it’s motherhood that’s capable of making life complete and healing society.

leather-clad sword-wielding warriors

Ramoth is Lessa’s surrogate child and Ramoth growth to maturity reflects Lessa’s rise to the top of the social hierarchy, instigating a rebirth in all around her and a flowering of empowerment and growth.

This is a also a very modern story of a young mother coping simultaneously with parenting and a new partner while running a large business imbued with centuries of deeply ingrained misogynistic practices. And having to save the world from the apocalypse at the same time. And Buffy the Vampire Slayer thought she was having hard time of it.

chattel and concubines

McCaffrey’s brutal medieval world of of castles and keeps is fully realised with tapestries, poems, and ballads, and various strands of society rubbing up against each other. The author understands this macho world of leather-clad sword-wielding warriors who treat women as chattel and concubines, and seems to enjoy the testosterone-fuelled attempts of men to assert authority over each other.

There are exciting duels and airborne battles aplenty, and the scenes of the airborne fire-breathing dragons fighting are as exciting as any aerial dogfight in a Second World War movie.

blood, rank and destiny

Yes, Dragonflight could be considered more fantasy than sci-fi, though the author apparently bridled at the suggestion, pointing out her humans are descendants of future colonists from Earth, and who’ve genetically engineered local species to assist them in their new planet. This history is established with a brief Introduction to the novel, and dictates how the story develops in future volumes.

Despite having a fiercely strong woman protagonist, there’s no social commentary as you will find in writers such as Miriam Allen deFordMcCaffrey is happy to create a world of royal bloodlines, and talk of purity of blood, rank and destiny without pause of thought. It’s a striated society with little if any crossing of lanes

In contrast to Ursula K. Le Guin, or Nicola Griffith, McCaffrey’s world is also a predominately heterosexual and mostly white world, though race, class and sexuality are, to an extent, explored in later books.

sci-fi movie, Avatar

Safe to say McCaffrey is determined to tell a barnstorming adventure in the most straightforward manner possible, which is not to suggest she’s not a great storyteller. She rattles along at a fair lick, gleefully swooping about her planet, plotting here and there, dropping breadcrumbs of clues as to how our heroes will win.

McCaffrey puts the reader’s need to be entertained before any egotistical drive of her own to be considered a great stylist or an ‘important’ writer. By a dedicatedly tending to her craft, McCaffrey creates a fabulous living and breathing world.

The dragons are given voice and communicate telepathically with their chosen rider with whom they have an emotional bond. Dragons are a metaphor for animal instincts of humans which must be tamed and unleashed at the correct moments in order to demonstrate one’s maturity, such the sexual experience, where the telepathic bond with one’s dragon heightens the emotionally experience of sexual congress.

convention-defying survivor of domestic abuse

It’s difficult to read McCaffrey’s scenes of the dragons hatching ceremony where they form an emotional telepathic bond with their human rider, and not imagine director James Cameron was not at least passingly familiar with Dragonflight when he wrote the script to his 2009 sci-fi movie, Avatar.

Dragonflight, made McCaffrey the first woman to win a Hugo Award for writing fiction, as well as the first to win a Nebula Award, and by creating Lessa, a rule breaking, tradition-challenging, convention-defying survivor of domestic abuse to rise to pre-eminence in a male-dominated world, it’s the least McCaffrey deserved.

If you haven’t read Dragonflight, please do.

Love sci-fi? Check out my website, Nemo’s Fury

Read my review of Disney’s fabulous 1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, HERE

Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island (2010)

If I thought the 2005 version was poor, then this dull, cheap and silly Syfy channel produced and action-lite adaptation is without question the absolute nadir of Mysterious Island screen adaptations.

Bermuda Triangle time-travelling

It keeps the US Civil War escape, the hot air balloon, Captain Nemo and the island, and then introduces a Bermuda Triangle time-travelling aspect when a modern jet plane crash lands.

that sucker is now nuclear

Fortunately for our heterosexual male castaways, out of the wreckage step a pair of glamorous young white women, very much inappropriately dressed for the environment, and perilous encounters with strange creatures create opportunity for romance, as well as lame moments of culture clash comedy.

giant octopus

One is named Julia Fogg, presumably in homage to Jules Verne and his creation Phileas Fogg, from Around the World in Eighty Days.

Nemo is a very white and American genial grandfather, who has put aside his grudge against the British to pursue world peace. As for his submarine the Nautilus, to paraphrase Marty McFly, that sucker is now nuclear, and lightning is harnessed to facilitate the castaways escape.

electric gun

There’s pirates, a volcano, a giant octopus and an electric gun, the last two have clearly wandered in from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But at least that suggests someone on the production team is at least passingly familiar with Verne’s work.

However there’s no stars, no dog, a minimum of not-so special effects, poor acting, dreadful dialogue, and tepid direction. Devoid of tension, excitement or sense, this is worse than the most cheap episode of Dr Who, even the Sylvester McCoy ones.

fantastical element

Amazingly, it’s clear someone involved had hopes of a sequel, or maybe a franchise or spin-off TV series, which is the easily the most fantastical element of this entire sorry enterprise.

Love classic sci-fi? Check out my website HERE

Read my review of Disney’s fabulous 1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, HERE

You can read my review of the 1916 adaptation of The Mysterious Island, HERE

You can read my review of 1929’s The Mysterious Island, HERE

Read my review of the 1941 Russian adaptation of The Mysterious Island, HERE

You can read my review of 1951’s Mysterious Island, HERE

And you can read my review of 1967’s The Stolen Airship, HERE

And my review of 1973’s version HERE

@ChrisHunneysett

Mysterious Island (2005)

This Hallmark TV movie is an uninspiring adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic colonisation adventure novel which is chiefly remembered for featuring the return of famed aquanaut Captain Nemo.

Reasonably faithful to Verne’s story, a starry headline cast of Patrick Stewart and Kyle MacLachlan is supplemented, or possibly squandered alongside screen stalwart Roy Marsden, TV stars Gabrielle Anwar and Gabrielle Anwar, footballer-turned-actor, Vinnie Jones, and Omar Gooding, the brother of Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr.

giant rats, scorpion and giant bees!

Cleaving reasonably close to Verne, MacLachlan stars as Cyrus Smith, the leader of a band of US Civil War castaways stranded on a desert island and suffer various perils including giant monsters and pirates.

Verne’s upstanding hero Smith is nicely subverted by the casting of MacLachlan, an actor who’s incapable of not suggesting a less than healthy and far from incorruptible moral fibre beneath his square jawed Hollywood leading man looks.

The younger of the two women is kidnapped twice.

Impressive Caribbean location, compensate for lack of CGI, and what special effects there are make you feel nostalgic for the virtues of MacLachlan’s 1984 sci-fi adaptation, Dune.

Anwar and Calvert play characters invented for the film whose job is to provide glamour and be rescued. The younger of the two women is kidnapped twice.

As ever, Neb is the only non-white character and unlike in Verne’s novel is an equal member of the team, and often at odds with the cowardly southern ‘gent’, Pencroft.

nuclear weapons

Verne’s Indian prince, Captain Nemo is once again whitewashed, but at least Stewart adds gravitas to his portrayal of the ageing aquanaut. This version of Nemo was born an Englishman who was raised in India and committed acts of war against the British Empire killed his wife and child.

Nemo now wants to end all war by creating a weapon so powerful it could obliterate an entire city. This not so-veiled nod to nuclear weapons would have been perfectly at home in the post-war paranoia of the 1950’s.

But here Nemo seems more a low-budget steampunk 007 Bond villain. Nemo’s Neru jacket-wearing English henchman alludes to Nemo’s Indian upbringing, but also calls to mind 007’s adversary, Dr No, itself a riff on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

There’s a dinner party scene with Stewart and MacLachlan where some actual acting breaks out, and
at least both actors are in the same room when it was a shot, unlike a later scene where Stewart is palpably absent, and seems a post-production inclusion to make Nemo a more sympathetic character.

swashbuckling intellectual property

I suspect in their thespian heads Stewart and MacLachlan are playing out a version of The Tempest, with the outcast scientific ‘wizard’ Nemo as Prospero, and Smith as Prince Ferdinand.

Jones contributes his unique acting skills in a pleasingly minor role as the pirate Captain Bob, and I’ve a strong suspicion his vocal performance has been dubbed out of existence.

Anyway, the side effects of Nemo’s experiments cause local flora and fauna to grow to prodigious size, producing giant rats, scorpion and yes, giant bees! They have nothing to do with Verne and were first introduced to The Mysterious Island mythology in Ray Harryhausen’s 1961 film version, as well as recurring in the later 2012 version.

However the special effects seem to have gone backwards in quality since Harryhausen’s time, and the giant Preying Mantis is sadly laughable.

Cast, crew, production designers and presumably the effects guys are all trying hard, but this whole enterprise is a great example of what happens when the budget and schedule are far from sufficient.

There’s no obvious love of the source material, and Verne’s work seems treated as a convenient vaguely swashbuckling intellectual property to be exploited in a mediocre-at-best manner in the wake of the Oscar-nominated blockbuster box office success of 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

the door ajar for a sequel

Mysterious Island aims for mainstream family swashbuckling fun but everything feels geared to just passing muster, and will make you feel a lot kinder to even the most bloated episode of Keira Knightley’s pirate franchise.

This was directed by Russell Mulcahy with the love of hammy performances seen in his far superior 1986 fantasy action movie, Highlander, and he provides a more open ended finale than Verne did, leaving the door ajar for a sequel which so far hasn’t occurred.

Love classic sci-fi? Check out my website HERE

Read my review of Disney’s fabulous 1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, HERE

You can read my review of the 1941 Russian adaptation of The Mysterious Island, HERE

My review of 1951’s Mysterious Island is HERE

You can read my review of 1961’s Mysterious Island, HERE

And you can read my review of 1967’s The Stolen Airship, HERE

And my review of 1973’s version HERE

@ChrisHunneysett

Mysterious Island (1995)

A lengthy and largely location set TV adaptation of Jules Verne’s second Captain Nemo adventure, this Canadian & New Zealand co-production is underpinned by the intriguing premise, ‘what if Captain Nemo was the bad guy, a psychopath enjoys playing mind games with people instead of helping them?’

Staying true to the sweep of the novel, the US CivilWar-era castaways crash land on a deserted island. Only here they have been shot down by Nemo. This is a knowing riff on how Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest begins, with the wizard Prospero creating a storm to shipwrecks passing boat so he can toy with them.

Further drawing on The Tempest, this Nemo is a manipulative figure played with theatrical relish by John Bach, who uses the island castaways for lab rats in a series of experiments to explore the limits of human psychological endurance.

Nemo becomes increasingly sinister and violent figure, adding much needed tension, with the tone nearing that of TV’s The Prisoner at its best moments, with the castaways being provided with gifts by Nemo, while subject to ever more ingenious and dangerous trials, and anticipates the rise of Reality TV shows such as, I’m a Celebrity.

Far from being an exiled Indian prince, Nemo is white, nor is he seeking revenge on the British for past wrongs. He does live in a steampunk Nautilus, and is introduced early as the antagonist. He’s interestingly complex, wanting to be the sole arbiter of death on the island and not taking kindly to his will being thwarted.

Living in splendid isolation with no-one to talk to, he records his thoughts by speaking them into a machine, so the audience can hear his thoughts and intentions. And his viewing machine harks back to communicator device of Ming the Merciless from the 1930’s Flash Gordon serial.

This version mixes up, takes away and adds to the core list of castaways, enhancing them from Verne’s empty paragons to more complex, more realistic and dramatically interesting, failures of humanity.

There’s no dog or orang utan and the characters are fleshed by the game performers. Verne’s character of young Herbert is reconfigured as the teenage son of Jack Pencroft, who is accompanied by the new character of his Irish wife, Joanna. A woman!

As Joanna, actor Colette Stevenson often outshines the men and is a scowling sarcastic nurse and nursemaid and object of attention from not just her husband. And she’s frequently frustrated at being left at the home while the men go off hunting and fishing.

Here the Confederates among the castaways are unrepentant racists, and Neb is a freed slave turned Union soldier under command of Captain Cyrus Harding, which allows for more dramatic conflict among the castaways than Verne achieved or was interested in.

Neb is eager to act as a salve to Cyrus’s conscience, and no sooner has Neb been used b the scriptwriters to forgive Harding his slave-owning past, then Neb is dispiritingly revealed to be regarded as little more than a Star Trek redshirt.

For an adaptation which cleaves reasonably strongly and pleasingly to its source, this is one departure than rankles rather than enhances the series.

However the introduction of Maori characters make for an interesting addition to Verne’s story, and they speak in own language with the show providing subtitles. And Nemo revels in the castaways ‘becoming a downtrodden minority in their own home’.

Yes this series is often formulaic and each episode feels padded, but it’s no worse than other shows of the time and it improves as it goes along. There’s great use of New Zealand locations, the stunt team are working hard, and with a little more money spent on interiors and props, plus a sharper sense of humour, this could have been very good indeed.

Love classic sci-fi? Check out my website HERE

Read my review of Disney’s fabulous 1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, HERE

You can read my review of the 1916 adaptation of The Mysterious Island, HERE

You can read my review of the 1941 Russian adaptation of The Mysterious Island, HERE

My review of 1951’s Mysterious Island is HERE

You can read my review of 1961’s Mysterious Island, HERE

And you can read my review of 1967’s The Stolen Airship, HERE

And my review of 1973’s version HERE

@ChrisHunneysett


The Mysterious Island (1975)

This brisk sixty minute animated adaptation is hand drawn in the style of the famous TinTin cartoon series, and delights in its similar sense of old fashioned derring do.

Faithful to Verne in its story, character, US Civil War-era setting and spirit of adventure, it sees am intrepid band of balloon-wrecked castaways and their dog attempt to colonise their new island home.

Fighting pirates and escaping the erupting volcano are given prominence, and the characterisation is appropriately two dimensional.

Nemo appears early, a watchful, mysterious and potentially malevolent figure, but is eventually revealed as an old dying man, and though his appearance alludes to his background as Verne describes it, his identity of Dakkar, Indian prince is not mentioned, nor is his vendetta against the British. Neb is introduced as a manservant, but is otherwise treated as simply another member of Captain Harding’s team.

The Nautilus is an enormous, palace-like vessel, bearing little relation to Verne’s description and unlike Verne’s version is capable of firing torpedoes.

Unremarkable yet straightforward, faithful and enjoyable, and played at a pace it’s target audience of young kids may have been content with at the time, but to a modern generation it will seem painfully slow.

Love classic sci-fi? Check out my website HERE

Read my review of Disney’s fabulous 1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, HERE

You can read my review of 1929’s The Mysterious Island, HERE

You can read my review of the 1941 Russian adaptation of The Mysterious Island, HERE

My review of 1951’s Mysterious Island, is HERE

You can read my review of 1961’s Mysterious Island, HERE

And you can read my review of 1967’s The Stolen Airship, HERE

And my review of 1973’s version HERE

@ChrisHunneysett

Under the Seas (1907)

This thoroughly delightful silent short film by early cinematic genius Georges Melies is a parody of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

It bears little relation to Verne in terms of story, character, location or humour, but does channel his sense of wonder at the natural world, while nodding to his work with the inclusion of a submarine and an exciting battle with an octopus.

Melies gives this story far more fun and invention than Verne allows his audience, and it’s probably important to suggest the debt the filmmaker also owes to HG Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, first published in 1900.

Most of Under The Seas is now sadly lost along with much of Melies‘s work, but what we have remains . What we do have is wildly inventive and charming in the single camera static style familiar to fans of his work. Melies provides fantastical fish and dancing underwater nymphs among the slapstick, adventure, fantasy and spectacle.

No discussion of the cinematic adaptations of Verne would be complete without a passing mention of Melies, not least because his astounding and enchanting 1902 A Trip to the Moon is indebted to Verne’s 1865 novel, From The Earth To the Moon, featuring a group of scientists who travel to the moon in a cannon-propelled capsule.

Under the Seas is well worth seeking out and tragically it won’t take long to watch.

Love classic sci-fi? Check out my website HERE

Read my review of Disney’s fabulous 1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, HERE

Read my review of 1961’s Mysterious Island, HERE

You can read my review of the 1916 adaptation of Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, HERE

You can read my review of 1929’s The Mysterious Island, HERE

Read my review of the 1941 Russian adaptation of The Mysterious Island, HERE

And you can read my review of 1951’s Mysterious Island, HERE

@ChrisHunneysett

Xenogenesis

Xenogenesis (1969) By Miriam Allen deFord

Full of extraordinary range, relevancy and variety, this anthology of 16 unconnected thought-provoking, sci-fi stories are by turns tremendously exciting, engaging and amusing. Each is deftly told and though recognisably sci-fi, they encompass other genres such as horror, adventure, and mystery.

on a par with Asimov’s, I Robot

Originally published in magazines from 1950 to 1968, this tumultuous time span covers momentous moments in society such as the widespread legalisation and availability of divorce, contraception, and abortion. And all this tectonic social dynamic provides much fertile inspiration for the author.

The ears of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk will be burning as you read this as many of the stories can be read as critiques of contemporary future visions of brave interplanetary space captains romping across the cosmos and having consequence-free relations with alien species.

And elements of the stories would seem to be a forerunner to and a probable influence on the script for director Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror masterpiece, Alien, and possibly on authors such as John Wyndham and PD James.

robot soldiers, spaceships, and laser guns

All great sci-fi such as this uses the future as an analogy of the time it’s written in, and by beginning in the US colonial past and then blasting off to the space-bound future, allows deFord to stretch connective tissue across human history while firmly addressing the present.

Yes, deFord deploys sci-fi paraphernalia such as robot soldiers, suspended animation for interplanetary travel, spaceships, and laser guns in her always entertaining yarns of exploration.

insanity, crime and punishment

But she’s not exploring new worlds and civilisations, and boldly going where no man has gone before for the manly derring do of it, but to sail into the heart of darkness of contemporary issues surrounding gender, motherhood, insanity, crime and punishment.

In her stories, government agencies favour men over women for status, privilege, genetic tinkering and the potential evolution of humanity. Agency and autonomy are removed from or denied to women, often by male control of the reproductive process, while punishment is meted out to pregnant or promiscuous women by society and government.

And the destruction of indigenous peoples and culture by colonisation is a repeated theme as stories challenge our understanding of civilisation.

Despite this, the stories are always entertaining, often global in scope, and even have notes of optimism. In common with many female sci-fi writers, such as Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett, and Mary E. Bradley Lane, education is emphasised as the bedrock of equality and civilisation.

DeFord mocks contemporary capitalist US by making anarchy synonymous with socialism, and of course this lack of an ‘executive class’ appalls our all-American heroes of the patriarchy.

New worlds are an opportunity for men to indulge in sex, and men’s ego-driven, one-track mind and lust-driven exploration are mined for humour as deFord constantly toys with male attitudes to sex and fatherhood.

Male explorers are bemused when they’re not immediately attractive to the opposite sex

Male fragility is a running joke. The many thrusting Captain Kirk-a-likes littering the book like a virus are careless and callous about fatherhood, and suspicious and dismissive of women’s behaviour. Male explorers are puzzled by pacifism of aliens they meet, and are bemused when they’re not immediately attractive to the opposite sex.

Women reproduce without sex or male involvement and male protagonists are frequently unable to grasp their redundancy in the reproductive process. One male character is so alarmed at his sudden lack of sex drive he decides the only recourse is to commit suicide, rather than be shamed for being thought ‘queer’.

Despite or possibly because of this, many of the stories are underpinned with hope, though it must be noted those hoping for race and class intersectionality will find little, if any signs of it here,

Still, this is a huge amount of easily digestible fun, and Xenogenesis proves you can deliver challenging and overtly political narratives as long as the storytelling is sufficiently smart and gripping. And this is on a par with Asimov’s, I Robot, in the pantheon a crowd-pleasing and thought provoking sci-fi anthologies.

Here’s a synopsis of each story in turn.

1 The Daughter of the Tree

This opening story sets the tone and themes for all the stories to follow. A frontier fable set in the year 1880, it describes an encounter north of Seattle between a white 18 year old orphan, Lee, and an unnamed Native American* who introduces Lee to a mute young woman called, ‘the daughter of the tree’.

It’s an expert mystical mystery story of ancient tree spirits which touches on colonialism, racism and the liquidity of family bonds, as well as the frailty of life, the power of nature, eco-concerns and the scarcity of resources. A haunting introduction before

* in keeping with the date of publication, the term ‘Indian’ is used in my 1969 edition

2 The Superior Sex

Satirising the ridiculousness of inequality, this gender-flipping tale is full of humour and violence, and sees a pair of astronauts land on another planet where due to a surfeit of men, woman practise polyandry and men are pejoratively described as a ‘seed-bearers’.

The world is mixes advanced tech and feudal hierarchy with robot soldiers, brain-implanted language translators and medical experimentation to explore issues of legal rights governing consent over one’s own body.

3 The Ajeri Diary

Set in the year 2297, this story is written in the form of the diary of a Federation ‘exosociologist’ who travels to a distant planet, Algol IV, to study a humanoid alien race and their gender demarcated society.

While our male protagonist is made welcome by the males, he’s unable to meet or interact with any females of the species, and his innate prejudice leads him to draw the wrong conclusions as to why.

4 Quick to Haste

Four colonist astronauts are initially delighted when they land on an idyllic agriculture alien world populated by carefree humanoids, whose uninhibited young women offer sex, but not without consequence.

5 The Smiling Future

English speaking ‘Super-Dolphins’ with immense psychic power rise out of the polluted Pacific Ocean to take the politicians of a computerised over populated future earth to task for polluting the seas with atomic waste, and come with a eye-opening proposition to save at least part of humanity from extinction.

6 Gathi

A noirish fable of the social punishment of a promiscuous young woman, as seen from the perspective of an ancient tree, and explores how a woman’s life chances are dictated by procreation and exploitation.

7 The Children

Set in the the then future of 1982, a group of mostly male scientists conduct an experiment into the efficacy of time travel, and is a dizzying account of the fall and rise of humanity through a narrative which employs millennium-hopping and interstellar travel.

Wrestling with questions of the ownership of reproductive rights, prejudice and pride thrive before the story turns on itself and becomes a reflection on guilt and redemption. Marvellous!

8 Throwback

A bleak tale of betrayal exploring how insanity and criminology are defined and deployed by the 30th century state, which sees a non government-sanctioned pregnancy resulting in an artist having more than a brush with the authorities.

9 One-way Journey

A rumour-fuelled family story involving a state lottery and the Asteroid belt which ends on a nightmarish note.

10 The Season of the Babies

A planet’s desperate bid to be admitted to the prestigious Federation of planets is threatened by cultural breeding differences in this funny and savage satire with echoes of Jonathan Swift, which explores the connection between maternity, income, employment, and economics.

11 Featherbed on Chlyntha

Raising transgender and first published in 1957, a full 14 years before the publication of Kurt Vonnegut”s Slaughterhouse Five, this sees a human scientist kidnapped by aliens and exhibited in a zoo on their home world, where they conduct experiments to see if he’s reproductively compatible with their humanoid species.

12 The Transit of Venus

Nudity is a form of control and clothing is rebellion in this love story which uses a state scandal to explore social conformity, the evidence of insanity, and medical diagnosis an act of control by the state.

13 All In Good Time

A law professor teaches his class about a trial for a case of time-travelling bigamist from the year 2160. By some stretch the weakest story here but by no means a dud.

14 The Absolutely Perfect Murder

There’s a bleak view of heterosexual marriage in this noirish Manhattan murder mystery set in the year of 2146, which sees a disaffected husband plot to use time travel to kill his domineering wife. The pair’s life in a drug-upped hi-tech stupor speaks to monotony of their existence.

15 Operation Cassandra

Death cults, racism and artificial insemination feature in this tense post-apocalypse tale which mocks men’s ego, chivalry and sensibilities, while highlighting women are far more essential to the survival of the species the men are.

Amusingly it imagines a cult forming around George Orwell’s novel, 1984, and I’m not sure a less extreme version of this hasn’t happened, and this may easily be read as deFord considering Orwell’s seminal work to be over-praised.

14 The Last Generation?

A suitable conclusion for the anthology it draws all deFord’s preoccupations together in one tidy bundle, and is a compelling an argument for putting science at the centre of democracy and politics, and placing women and children at the centre of society.

Set in the then future of the 1970’s, a minor nuclear incident triggers a global infertility of all mammals with catastrophic eco-consequences.

A pointed reminder the power to shape the future is our hands, this final story is a cliff-hanging study about the hubris of playing god, and is possibly an influence on John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, and PD James’ The Children of Men.

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Read my review of Disney’s fabulous 1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, HERE

Captain Nemo and the Mysterious Island (1973)

Jules Verne’s second adventure novel to feature his greatest creation, Captain Nemo, is brought to somber if reasonably faithful life in this low budget Spanish production, which swaps the action packed thrills, larger than life monsters and wild imagination of previous adaptations, for the pleasure of Omar Sharif‘s company and plenty of political commentary.

Also known as La isla misteriosa y el capitán Nemo, or simply, L’Île mystérieuse, this production is either a TV movie or a TV mini-series, depending on where it was broadcast, and relies heavily on the undimmed star wattage of it’s sole name actor, Egyptian superstar Omar Sharif.

But it’s fair to say his decline at the box office had already begun from his sixties heyday of 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia, 1965’s Doctor Zhivago, and 1968’s Funny Girl, and his best efforts are hampered by a director more comfortable and interested with ideas than with pushing Sharif‘s performance or creating dynamic action sequences.

Verne’s US Civil War adventure about escaping Union POW’s being swept to a pacific island where they experience various perils as they establish a US colony and and meet Captain Nemo survives mostly intact. Yes, the extensive colonisation of the island is skipped, but the five principal characters are all there, including the African American, Nab, rechristened from Neb in other versions. He’s not given much character or agency but at least he isn’t relegated to a domestic role as in the source novel.

The POW’s escape from the stockade takes the form of a pitched battle and is excitingly staged on an impressive scale, but is sadly not indicative of what follows. The underwater photography is fine if far from groundbreaking, and the special effects are typical 1970’s TV quality.

Unlike the novel, Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus appear very early on to hook in sci-fi fans and the casual viewer with its star turn. Though a younger and more robust Nemo than fans of the book may expect, Sharif is a dignified and fittingly regal presence and never looks less than magnificent. And of course he has the charisma to carry off the role of Nemo, even in this staid production.

Nemo initially seems dressed in Flash Gordon’s wedding outfit, but later appears more conservatively in a turban and Nehru jacket, reflecting Nemo’s true identity as Dakkar, a deposed Prince of India.

I can’t be sure if Nemo’s real identity is explained or is just alluded to by his attire, but at least this version is giving Nemo’s Indian heritage its due, rather than whitewashing the character as some other versions will later do. Yes, I’m looking at you, Michael Caine. And you, Patrick Stewart.

Nemo uses his science to save a young boy from death. Harbert Brown is played by Rafael Bardem Jr. but I can’t find any biographical information for him. Though given this show’s director is the son of Rafael Bardem, a noted Spanish film actor whose career stretched from the 1940s through the 1960s. I suspect he is some relation.

Juan Antonio Bardem co-directs with Henri Colpi, and the former was imprisoned by Spanish fascist leader General Franco for making anti-fascist films. In case you were wondering, Juan Antonio is the father of director Miguel Bardem and uncle of actor Oscar-winner and James Bond 007 villain, Javier Bardem.

Nemo and his crew wear head scarves and flowing robes which may be a nod to Sharif’s turn in David Lean’s masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia, but it also certainly represents North Africa to the show’s Spanish audience, thus adding a layer of historical local conflict.

This version leans into the idea of the watchful Nemo not being an altogether benign presence, and allows this show to lean into the politics of Spain, then under the regime of dictator General Franco, who died in 1975.

Nemo employs electronic weaponised surveillance devices to spy on the shipwrecked POW’s, and this is reminiscent of 1967’s British avant-garde sci-fi TV series, The Prisoner, an idea also used in the 1995’s Canadian adaption of The Mysterious Island.

And this island surveillance of the shipwrecked also draws on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, whose central character, the powerful magician Prospero, spies and manipulates the behaviour of the castaways on his desert island. Later versions lean more heavily into Nemo-as-Prospero. I’m still looking at you, Patrick Stewart.

The costume department doesn’t shirk from styling the pirates in bandanas and Breton shirts, and when the action picks up the sound editor gets to be loudly expressive. It’s just a shame this decent bit of work is undermined in a lack of interest in or development of the characters.

The design of the Nautilus exterior errs towards the work of Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds fame, which would no bad thing if the quality achieved were anything near even his weakest moments. And there’s an absence of the novel’s sojourn to a nearby island.

However there’s good location work at sea with a raft and a canoe, and Verne’s volcano is intact until it isn’t and erupts. It’s a spectacular if all too brief moment, and I assume it’s stock footage, albeit of a superior quality. That said my viewing copy was a poor transfer to digital and the colours were certainly more muted than I suspect were intended.

I’ll point out here I watched the original Spanish-language version of this without subtitles, any very basic grasp of Spanish means any exposition, nuance or sophisticated humour was pretty much lost on me, assuming it’s in there to begin with.

This sits nicely alongside BBC’s sci-fi series, Blake’s 7 by way of Mike Hodges’ 1980 adaptation of Flash Gordon, in that exterior locations exploit the possibilities of local quarries, there’s plenty of stagey composition in the single camera set-ups, and the cast are all acting in capital letters. Only I enjoyed both those shows more than this middling-at-best take on Verne’s masterpiece of speculative fiction.

This is a generally dour and ponderous adaptation, not helped by the mournful and haunting soundtrack. As ever, Verne’s dog and chimp are employed to provide the meagre laughs.

Verne returned to Captain Nemo in his 1875 novel, The Mysterious Island, which has been filmed several times. Read my review of 1961’s Mysterious Island, HERE

You can read my review of the 1916 adaptation of Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, HERE

You can read my review of 1929’s The Mysterious Island, HERE

Read my review of the 1941 Russian adaptation of The Mysterious Island, HERE

And you can read my review of 1951’s Mysterious Island, HERE

@ChrisHunneysett