I Watched a Bunch of Adaptations of the Jules Verne Books I’ve Read

When I got super into literature before ending up majoring in English in college, I had a pretty serious Jules Verne phase. I had heard him referenced quite a bit in popular culture, which is hardly surprising considering what a scifi fan I was, but it was reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in high school that really got me into his work. From there, I proceeded to read Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, and Around the World in Eighty Days, and started but never finished The Mysterious Island. So, yeah! That was literally decades ago, but nevertheless I randomly decided to watch a bunch of adaptations of those books because why not.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

“YOU CALL THAT MURDER? Well, I see murder, too, not written on those drowned faces out there, but on the faces of dead thousands! They are the assassins, the dealers in death; I am the avenger!”

Maybe I was just in a bad mood or something the first time I saw this? It’s actually pretty great. It does drag a bit at times, but I mean, it’s based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. If it doesn’t have a somewhat ponderous pace it’s not doing it right. But it’s anchored by the strong character work of Captain Nemo.

Also, while it certainly wasn’t Verne’s or the filmmakers’ intention, I deeply appreciate Nemo’s anti-imperialism. It’s obviously undermined by the film’s own racism (which they put in Nemo’s own mouth when he calls the indigenous people of New Guinea “cannibals”), but you know. It’s something.

(B-Rank)

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)

Ah yes, who among us can forget the famous bullfighting scene from Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days. It’s definitely in there. Don’t check.

Seriously, though. I don’t put any stock in The Academy’s opinions, but how the heck did a movie that’s like 90% B-Roll win Best Picture?

(D-Rank)

From the Earth to the Moon (1958)

I literally fell asleep.

(D-Rank)

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

This one at least didn’t put me to sleep. I rather liked all the actors and the general shape of it. The elements that were added to manufacture additional drama didn’t do much for me, but I recognized their necessity. Or at least, the necessity for something to fill that void.

Speaking of additions, pretty impressive that the film managed to add a female protagonist and still be exactly as ragingly misogynistic as Verne’s original. Really top notch work there.

(C-Rank)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997)

Oh thank goodness finally one of these that doesn’t suck.

I actually had already seen this one, back in college when I was taking a film class. We had to write a paper comparing a film adaptation to the book it was based on, and I picked this one.

I’m actually kind of impressed by what a huge difference swapping out Professor Aronnax’s manservant Conseil for his daughter Sophie makes. Whereas Conseil was barely a character and mostly there to be impressed by Aronnax and Land and someone for Aronnax to say scientific things to when Nemo isn’t around, Sophie has actual relationships with every principal character and a lot to contribute to the narrative as a whole. Plus she looked really good disguised as a boy at the beginning of the movie.

Obviously the love triangle between her and Nemo and Ned Land was about the most cliché way things could’ve gone, but whatever. At least she’s a character, and in a lot of ways she actually wrests the protagonist status away from her father who is the protagonist in most versions of the story including the original novel.

As always it’s a bit frustrating to see Captain Nemo’s anti-imperialism used to villify him, but I’m pretty sure a literal Hallmark Channel Movie wasn’t going to be the one to break the mold as far as that goes. But yeah, on the whole despite the obvious limitations of being a television movie, this is pretty easily one of the best adaptations of a Verne novel I’ve seen. So that’s something.

(B-Rank)

Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Aside from the fact that it’s (very loosely) based on a Jules Verne novel, this and Wild Wild West are literally the same movie.

A genuine star who deserves better (Will Smith/Jackie Chan)?✓
A climax involving an anachronistic flying machine?✓
A sorta ridiculous but very positive portrayal of an unspeakably evil world leader (POTUS/The Queen of fucking England)?✓
Tons of casually homophobic dialogue to make sure you know the main characters definitely aren’t gay for each other (they’re not gay for each other, guys!)?✓
A fucking crossdressing gag?✓

This has way more racism, though. Like, way more. Like, I swear to Chaos, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a Turkish prince for some reason. And despite a character ruefully asking, “Does England own everything in Asia?” at one point, the literal Queen of England swoops in as a deus ex machina good guy at the end of the movie, because why the fuck not.

Still, it was fun enough seeing lots of exaggeratedly pretty settings and seeing Jackie Chan do some ridiculous stunts and kick the shit out of a bunch of people. When I was a really uptight English major I hated this movie for having basically nothing to do with the book, but I don’t care even a little about that now. So yeah. This was fun I guess if you can ignore all the gross stuff in it. Which isn’t really an altogether rare experience in what’s meant to be a broadly entertaining Hollywood blockbuster, so there you have it I guess.

(C-Rank)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2004)

“Hey! I’m a big, tough boy!”
-Bernadette

For the most part this animated adaptation was fine? Not great but fine. But then there are a few times when it made some choices and those deserve talking about for sure.

This is another one where they added a female character, this time Consiel’s niece Bernadette, but Consiel was also along for the ride so there were four surface-dwelling guests aboard the Nautilus. And much like in the Hallmark Movie version, she had to disguise herself as a boy, but this time she did so for most of the film’s runtime and it honestly looked hella great on her. Kinda tempted to headcanon her as a trans boy or enby.

Professor Aronnax was much younger this time around, likely to facilitate his romance with Bernadette. At least Nemo didn’t make a run at her. And Ned Land… oh, Ned Land.

Making Ned a black man who had recently been freed from slavery was… an idea, sure. But having only the most superficial of passing references to it, and having him barely be a character, kinda spoil that one for me. If you’re gonna do that, you really need to give it more time to breathe and actually mean something. It can’t just be a background detail that it’s honestly not impossible to imagine someone watching this movie and missing. It just can’t.

And when you combine that with the fact that this movie, which was made in 2004!, includes the scene of the protagonists being chased back to the Nautilus by “cannibals”… kinda tells you something.

And what was up with that framing narrative? A bunch of teenagers find basically a message in a bottle telling the whole story and think it’s the coolest thing ever? There really didn’t need to be a framing device at all, and this one just felt incredibly silly.

(C-Rank)

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

(CW: Kink)

This was alright? Definitely one of the better Verne movie adaptations I’ve seen since I randomly started watching them. But that isn’t a particularly high bar to clear. The CGI was kinda shoddy at times, but oh well.

But also main characters almost get vored by carnivorous plants and a T-Rex, so obviously I’m happy.

(C-Rank)

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Verne’s Mysterious Island is also Stevenson’s Treasure Island (even though it’s in the Pacific) is also Swift’s Lilliput & Blefuscu (even though it’s in the Pacific) is also Atlantis (even though it’s… in the Pacific…) but that’s not important right now, The Rock needs to jumpstart a submarine with an eel.

(C-Rank)


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