As an addict of pop TV culture, it’s very rare that I have zero memory of a cheesy movie starring Burgess Meredith. The Amazing Captain Nemo was a mystery to me. At first my theory was this update of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a European production. A little research proved this was made by Irwin Allen, the producer behind The Towering Inferno, Lost In Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. This wasn’t originally a movie, but a three episode mini-series originally called The Return of Captain Nemo in 1978. Irwin’s people edited the footage together into a 102 minute movie. This made sense since TV stations can run it as an afternoon movie. This repurposing was done for The Master and Planet of the Apes TV series. Walt Disney did it for Davy Crockett and Dr. Syn. There are probably few purists bemoaning this alteration of their beloved Return of Captain Nemo, but the trimming appears to have killed dead dramatic spots between the big action moments.
Jim Porter (Burr DeBenning) and Tom Franklin (Tom Hallick) are navy frogmen who stumble across the Nautilus during war games. There arrival causes Captain Nemo (Jose Ferrer) to come out of suspended animation. It’s a century later and he’s ready to get back on his quest for Atlantis. His mission is detoured with the arrival of Professor Waldo Cunningham (Burgess Meredith). He’s got his own mega-sub except it’s loaded with nuclear missiles. Professor Waldo is like an evil Mister Rogers as he attempts to control the world while wearing a loose tie and cardigan. To make sure we know he’s evil, his main henchman has a metal head. Will the President of the United States surrender our country to a guy named Waldo? Not as long as he has the amazing Captain Nemo owing us a favor for fixing his submarine. Jim and Tom assist the pursuit of Waldo’s sub. The second episode has Kate (Mission: Impossible’s Lynda Day George) arrive on the Nautilus to understand Nemo’s technique for suspended animation. Little does she know part of her science team is on Waldo’s payroll. The spy is bent on sabotage. The final episode (or third act) has Nemo dock in Atlantis. Is this underwater empire what he expected?
This show is classic Sci-Fi cheese of the late ‘70s. The production has the same quality as Logan’s Run, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica. Irwin Allen recycled props from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea including musical cue and sound effects. He even has them rip-off elements from Sci-Fi hits of the time. There’s a major Star Wars moment with a hallway battle copied from the jail breakout in the Death Star. There’s even clone cues of John Williams’ score. Burgess Meredith is extremely comical as the man who would rule the world. This guy couldn’t score an early bird discount in Orlando. Luckily we have Jose Ferrer’s credible turn as Nemo to balance out the production. He keeps The Amazing Captain Nemo from sinking into the lowest trench of a kitsch sea.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. They picture quality is good enough for you to notice all the dirt left on the film from the special effects guys and the ragged nature of the stock footage shots.
Trailer (2:17) is for the movie and not a preview for the mini-series.
The Amazing Captain Nemo is essential viewing for fans of cheesy ‘70s TV sci-fi. Irwin Allen finally merged his love of Captain Nemo with a chance to revive elements of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. There’s strange humor in Nemo having to battle it out with the bookish Burgess Meredith. It’s refreshing to finally catch this unsung underwater weirdness.
Warner Archive Collection presents The Amazing Captain Nemo. Starring: Jose Ferrer, Burgess Meredith, Mel Ferrer and Lynda Day George. Directed by: Alex March. Running Time: 102 Minutes. Released on DVD: April 6, 2010. Available at the WB Shop.