Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Magical Mystery Tour: New Book Surveys Jules Verne on Film

As a kid, two of my favorite sci-fi flicks were Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) and Mysterious Island (1961). Whenever they came on TV, I was sure to watch—because as a kid, that was the only way I or just about anyone could see their favorite films. This, of course, was well before video tape and DVDs and the internet hurtled us into the future and changed everything.

A hidden place and a lost land, where in each noble characters used bravery and wit to battle strange creatures and adverse circumstance: I loved each of those stories because they took me somewhere else, somewhere elusive and fantastic beyond the regularity of suburban Detroit, where I grew up. For me, there is something resonant, almost mythic about those two film stories. Off course, I didn’t feel that way back then—I just loved the sheer adventure. Today, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Mysterious Island remain favorites, and as an adult I have watched them more than a few times, having purchased the DVDs. (These two films, like other Verne stories, have been filmed on more than one occasion. I have watched the more recent remakes, but don’t find them as satisfying.)

What those two films have in common is that both were based on books by Jules Verne (1828-1905), the great French novelist often called the “Father of science fiction.” Along with Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, Verne is one of the most translated authors in the world. And, it’s not surprising, he is also one of the most filmed authors. Going back to the earliest years of the silent era, more than 300 film and television adaptations of Verne’s stories have been made. The most recent are an animated Japanese film, The Lost 15 Boys: The Big Adventure on Pirates’ Island (2013), and a French production, Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir (2014).

Each of these adaptations and many others are surveyed in Brian Taves’ fascinating new book, Hollywood Presents Jules Verne: The Father of Science Fiction on Screen (University Press of Kentucky). Film buffs and science fiction enthusiasts, as well as anyone drawn to steam punk will want to own a copy.

Besides Journey to the Center of the Earth and Mysterious Island, how many of us have not seen one or another version of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea or Around the World in Eighty Days (out of which sprang such immortal characters as Captain Nemo and Phileas Fogg)? Each is included in this Taves’ book, along with less familiar film adaptions of works like From the Earth to the Moon, Michael Strogoff, Master of the World, and others. They’re all here, feature films, box-office hits, low budget productions, shorts, serials, television shows and miniseries.

Taves knows of what he writes. He is author of a handful of books popular culture and film history (including highly recommended studies on directors Thomas Ince and Robert Florey - the director of the 1937 Louise Brooks' film, King of Gamblers), and works as a film archivist with the Library of Congress. Over the last 30 years, Taves has also written numerous articles on Verne, and co-authored The Jules Verne Encyclopedia (1996). Taves is currently editing “Jules Verne - The Palik Series,” stories and plays by the author never before translated into English, produced by the North American Jules Verne Society and published by BearManor Media.

If you’ve never seen Journey to the Center of the Earth (the 1959 version, starring James Mason, and with Pat Boone in his finest role) or Mysterious Island (the 1961 version), search out a copy today. Also, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (the 1954 version, with Kirk Douglas and James Mason) is also quite good.

And while you are at it, sign up to follow Taves work. He is always into something interesting.

A variant of this piece first appeared on Huffington Post

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