Friday, April 8, 2011

B-T-S of Disney's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'

This week we watched Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for the first time in years. We checked it out from the library and the DVD is the two-disc edition. This means that there are all kinds of special features, including an hour and a half documentary of the "making of" 20,000 Leagues. That has to be the best "making of" that we've ever seen! And we watch lots of them. Wow. Actually seeing how the special effects were accomplished was amazing. It goes to prove why Disney was the best. Classic Disney, that is --- back when it was Walt Disney. Even knowing how the effects were achieved, I still can't "see" it when watching the movie. Interestingly enough, this was Disney's first go at live-action filming. That kind of surprised me. The quality is so good.

The interviewed "cast" for the documentary was fabulous, featuring Richard Fleischer (Director), Peter Ellenshaw (Matte Painter), Roy E. Disney (nephew of Walt Disney), cut-ins from an old interview with Harper Goff (Production Designer) and, of course, Kirk Douglas! What a "cast". Kirk Douglas is great, and had all good things to say. The "making of" really showed off the genius of Disney's production company. He had men that were, literally, the best at their craft --- which is why their productions are so flawless.

The stories of filming the underwater sequences were so cool! There had to be one safety man for every two actors or crewmen working underwater. That brought the total up to 33 men underwater simultaneously. "Actor divers" portrayed the four stars underwater, and any shots where the four stars are actually "seen" underwater are a dry-for-wet shoot in a sound stage. Captain Nemo is the only diver with the special lamp on his helmet (as can be seen in the photo above), which makes identifying him quite easy!

Casting the four main characters was crucial. Disney knew that they needed popular and experienced leading names who would be able to carry the film to success in the box office, so they cast four popular veterans. They are all fabulous, and I can't imagine anybody else.

I think that the thing that "hit" me the most was a comment towards the end of the documentary. That all the other major studios in Hollywood at the time were openly laughing at Disney and his plans for the film. They told him that they could "do it better". Why was he bothering? Can you imagine anyone telling Walt Disney that they could do it better? Do anything better? You have to be a pretty big nut about films to remember who Jack Warner, David O. Selznick and Louis B. Mayer were. Sure, lots of their films are remembered, but who reads the names in the production credits? But Disney? I can't imagine that there are many people in the World (even the third-world countries have cell phones and internet) who don't know who Disney is and remember his name. Hind sight is great. All in all, it is an amazing documentary and really enhances the film.

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