Monday, January 27, 2014


The only amazing thing about THE AMAZING CAPTAIN NEMO (1978) is the fact that it took seven (count 'em, seven!) writers, including the illustrious Robert (PSYCHO) Bloch to come up with the screenplay for this swill.

THE AMAZING CAPTAIN NEMO was originally broadcast on CBS television in 1978 as a three-part mini-series entitled THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN NEMO. The three episodes were intended to serve as a pilot for a proposed weekly television series, a series which never got picked up by the network. The material was produced by Irwin Allen (although his name does not appear in the onscreen credits). Allen had scored ratings gold in the 1960s with his popular sf television shows VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, LOST IN SPACE, THE TIME TUNNEL and LAND OF THE GIANTS. By 1978, Allen had become known as the "master of disaster" producing blockbuster disaster films THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974).You've gotta wonder why he would want to return to episodic, network television when his films, cheesy as they were, were making money.

 I suspect one motivation was the desire to catch a ride on the runaway trainload of science fiction films and television shows that sprang up in the wake of George Lucas's game changing STAR WARS (1977). You can see the STAR WARS influence in NEMO. One submarine passageway is clearly inspired by a similar hallway in the Death Star and all of the hand guns fire blaster rays instead of bullets.

The three episodes of RETURN OF CAPTAIN NEMO were bundled together and padded out for a 102 minute running time and theatrically released overseas as THE AMAZING CAPTAIN NEMO (a clear attempt to try and squeeze some financial gain out of the property). That's a British quad poster at the top of this post and I dearly wish that what was on the screen was anywhere near as good as what's depicted on that poster. Unfortunately, it's not.

In the film, Captain Nemo (Jose Ferrer) is found in suspended animation aboard his legendary submarine The Nautilus (redesigned here to look more like a whale or dolphin). The captain is revived and soon pressed into service against the mad Professor Cunningham (Burgess Meredith) who threatens the world from his own underwater vessel, The Raven.

In the first episode, Nemo prevents Cunningham from destroying Washington D.C., in the middle segment, Nemo must put an end to leaking containers of radioactive material at the bottom of a deep sea trench, while in the finale, Nemo discovers the lost continent of Atlantis but has to stop Cunningham from using Atlantean technology to rule the world.

Ferrer is without a doubt the best thing about the whole enterprise. He plays Nemo with an air of understated flamboyance. It would have been nice to have seen him really cut loose and go over the top to play Nemo with an air of smug superiority and arrogant condescension. Burgess Meredith phones in his performance as Cunningham (a lame name for a villain if there ever was one). Meredith was far more fun to watch as The Penguin on the BATMAN television series.

The supporting cast is comprised of Tom Hallick and Burr DeBenning (who?) as intrepid U.S. Navy intelligence officers who join Nemo's crew, Warren (FORBIDDEN PLANET) Stevens as their boss, Mel Ferrer as a double-crossing nuclear scientist, the lovely Lynda Day George (what would a 1970s television show be without her?) as his assistant and Horst Buchholz as, believe it or not, King Tibor of Atlantis. Buchholz's sole claim to fame is as an answer to a much asked trivia question (who played the Magnificent Seven?).

The control room sets of both the Nautilus and Raven have a similar design and I suspect that they are one and the same with all of the Nautilus scenes shot first, the set re-dressed, and then used as the Raven (or vice versa). The special effects range from passable to bad but the designs of both subs are impressive, even if they're never really clearly shown due to the "underwater" effects.

THE AMAZING CAPTAIN NEMO suffers from non-existent character development, wooden acting by most of the cast, a cliched screenplay and iffy special effects. Perhaps I shouldn't be too hard on this one because it was made-for-television with a limited budget and production schedule. But a bad movie is still a bad movie regardless of circumstances and THE AMAZING CAPTAIN NEMO certainly falls into that category.

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