Blue Movie Magic

20000 leagues

January 25, 2023

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There’s a lot in the news these days about James Cameron’s new Avatar movie, Avatar: The Way of Water. Some of it is focused on the dazzling new cinematic technology the director used to make the film, while others are protesting what they see as the “cultural appropriation” of the film. Most of it talks about the enormous amounts of money the film is making.

The critics, as with most things, are divided, with some calling it the movie of the year and others calling it all wet. 

Everyone agrees it was very, very blue.

To be honest, I haven’t seen it and probably won’t for the simple reason that the first Avatar movie made me sick. Literally. Let me explain.

Back in 2009, 20th Century Fox held a press screening of the film for Boston critics at the AMC Boston Commons on Tremont St. There was something wrong with the projection so the 3D imaging of the film was slightly off, just enough to make the movie extremely difficult to watch, let alone follow. Plus, it gave me a raging headache.

Naturally, the studio was apoplectic about the botched screening and promised to fly in a technician from Hollywood the next day to make sure we could see the film the way it was supposed to be. I didn’t go back. Even though the projection was flawed, I had a gut feeling there wasn’t enough in the movie to make it worth another three hours of my life.

Thinking of the Avatar movies, though, reminded me of a time when a blue movie did entrance me with the magic of the movies. It was the first time I saw the 1954 Walt Disney movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, starring Kirk Douglas, James Mason, and Peter Lorre. There is a funeral scene in the film showing Captain Nemo and his crew burying one of their fallen comrades at the bottom of the ocean. The blue of the sea is beautiful; more than that, the color bled off the screen and turned the entire theater blue. The walls were blue. The aisles and seats were blue. Even my skin was blue, sitting as close as I did to the screen. It remains one of my most magical movie memories. It made watching  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea an immersive experience that no 3D or other modern technology will ever match. 

Click here to watch the trailer.

I’ve watched  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea more than a dozen times since then; it’s still one of my favorite films. Sure, it’s a little dated, especially the Giant Squid attack, and I still hate the scenes where Douglas sings or hams it up with the trained seal, but it otherwise holds up as an adventure film. The older me appreciates Mason’s tortured Nemo, as well as the comic relief provided by Lorre. And the kid inside me still feels in awe watching the funeral scene, even though the TV or Kindle screen isn’t nearly big enough to turn the room blue. But if I sit close enough…

Cinekong Extra Credit

While it’s usually interesting to go to the source material of a film like I’ve watched, I have to admit that I find it tiresome reading Jules Verne. His ideas are great, but his books are tedious to slog through. So, let me suggest listening to this classic as an audiobook. Specifically, the audiobook read by science fiction writer Harlan Ellison. Ellison doesn’t read the book word-for-word, which is almost as dull as reading it yourself. Instead, he performs the text with breathless enthusiasm, turning it into an aural adventure that rivals the film version. It’s not a dramatic presentation; he isn’t very good at doing voices that differentiate the characters. His love for Verne’s tale, though, comes through in an addictive way.


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