a real oddity, even when it was new
17 December 2010
The first screen version of Jules Verne's undersea adventure was a critical, financial and artistic disaster when first released in 1929, but in retrospect it ranks among the more unusual failures ever made. Poised uncomfortably between silence and sound, it suffers all the drawbacks of both eras while retaining the virtues of neither, mixing outlandish melodrama and painfully awkward dialogue passages into a primitive fantasy set, in large part, at the bottom of the deepest, darkest sea, where a parallel race of strange, aquatic midgets live. There's an odd, anachronistic flavor to the mythical mid-19th century Slavic setting, peopled by characters named Sonia, Nikolai, Dmitri et al. It's as if the technology of the future (circa 1930) was superimposed over the ideas of the past, with dialogue and action set to the romanticized movie standards of Jazz Age Hollywood. As a silent film it would have been unconvincing; as a quasi-sound FX spectacle it's simply ludicrous, and the (loosely) synchronized sound effects only accentuate the silent images.
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