Thursday, June 21, 2012

CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY

A later entry in the Hollywood cycle of Jules Verne-inspired science fantasies, MGM's CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY (1969) is a good-natured, family-friendly adventure film that benefits from lush production design and a terrific, eclectic cast.

When a trans-Atlantic Clipper ship is wrecked in a storm, a small group of survivors - including U.S. Senator Robert Fraser (Chuck Connors, TV's THE RIFLEMAN) -  is rescued by the notorious Captain Nemo (Robert Ryan, THE PROFESSIONALS) and taken aboard his miraculous submarine, the Nautilus. They soon arrive at Nemo's fabulous, underwater domed city of Templemir, where the shipwrecked refugees are invited to become part of the apparently utopian society -- but no matter what they wish, they'll never be allowed to leave. Nemo fears that if the warlike nations of the Earth discovered the existence of his literal City of Gold, his people would be at risk of destruction. Unfortunately, Senator Fraser has a mission of his own to complete, and although he respects the scientific genius and what he has accomplished in Templemir, he still plots to escape...

Directed by journeyman British director James Hill (BORN FREE, A STUDY IN TERROR) from a script by Pip & Jane Baker that borrows and rearranges elements from Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and related works, UNDERWATER CITY is an enjoyably nutty adventure flick with some large, amazingly complex and ornate sets, cool Old School miniature effects, likable characters, and plenty of genial, gentle comedy. There's even a really awesome undersea battle with a giant manta ray! Robert Ryan is somewhat miscast as Nemo - a little too tired-looking and too whitebread for Verne's antihero - but he plays the part with professional conviction and even some pathos. Conners is great as the square-jawed, two-fisted Senator, and flame-haired Italian beauty, luscious Lucianna Paluzzi (THUNDERBALL, THE GREEN SLIME), is as gorgeous and appealing as ever as one of Templemir's more prominent citizens.

Previously unavailable on home video in any format, Warner Archive brings CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY to manufactured-on-demand DVD with a colorful, nearly-pristine, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. For a film of its vintage, it looks exceptional, with stable hues, good detail, and virtually no specks or other notable damage evident. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is clear and loud. The original theatrical trailer - narrated by the great John Carradine and marketed as part of MGM's Children's Matinees series - is also included, in 1.33:1 "full screen."

As Verne films go, UNDERWATER CITY falls somewhere between Disney's classic 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and AIP's MASTER OF THE WORLD, with a reasonably lavish and lively all-ages adventure that should please fans of undersea fantasy, no matter how old they are. Great fun and greatly recommended.

BUYCaptain Nemo and the Underwater City