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Silent Era Home Page  >  Home Video  >  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
 
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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.

20,000 Leagues
Under the Sea

(1916)

 

The Universal Film Manufacturing Company was not known in the silent era as premier producer of motion pictures. Yet, in 1916 they produced a film that could not be made effectively without expensive special effects and special photography. (The novel had previously been made as short films in 1907 by Georges Méliès and in 1913 by French company Éclair.) Marshalling the expertise underwater experts Ernest and George Williamson, Universal financed the extensive production which would require location photography, large sets, exotic costumes, sailing ships, and a full-size navigable mock-up of the surfaced submarine Nautilus.

Many film viewers familiar with the Walt Disney Studios version of the story and will be confused by the mish-mash conjoining of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo tale with his Mysterious Island novel, and by a claptrap Far East coda concocted by director Stuart Paton. The schitzoid intercutting of the two storylines has, at best, angular logic and disjointed flow. Charles Denver’s melodramatic dreams of conscience and a rather cartoonish octopus are laughable. And the film is further hampered by Allan Holubar’s mawkish and self-conscious performance as Nemo. But there is extensive underwater photography, which must have amazed audiences in 1916, and there is good model special-effects work.

We were dumbfounded by a shot of a group of people stranded on an island, sitting and conversing at a dining table constructed of island debris, being served by the only surviving black man in the party.

The film is an important part of a well-rounded silent film education, but most viewers will have to overlook the storytelling shortcomings for the groundbreaking special effects. — Carl Bennett

coverImage Entertainment
1999 DVD edition

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916), color-toned black & white and black & white, 101 minutes, not rated.

Film Preservation Associates, distributed by Image Entertainment,
ID4666DSDVD, 0-14381-46662-1.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, snapper DVD case, $24.99.
Release date: 26 January 1999.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 7 / additional content: 0 / overall: 7.

This early DVD edition features a video transfer from a good to very-good (what appears to be) 16mm reduction print, with minor print damage consisting of scratches, scuffing, speckling and processing flaws. The print wear makes viewing some of the underwater shots a chore, with the scuffing taking away some of the light, murky images captured by the original photography. The transfer generally holds good tonal ranges from highlights to shadows, but is too tightly cropped. The opening title will be cropped off both sides on all television monitors, and a few times heads are cut off. Once again I step onto my soapbox to advocate windowboxing for silent era films on home video. It is distressing as a viewer to be distracted by actors’ heads and intertitles lost into a TV’s overscan area by tight cropping. The combination of print and early analog video transfer makes for so-so viewing on a high-definition system.

Overall, the disc is well-produced by David Shepard and Dean Duncan of Film Preservation Associates, with an orchestral-sounding music and solo piano score composed by Alexander Rannie and Brian Benison. Not generally known for catchy disc extras, this early silent film DVD features limited but interesting animated menus.

We have viewed an incomplete but very-good 35mm black & white print of this film (conspicuous in the absence of the octopus footage), which appears to be a combination of 35mm and 16mm materials, and know that its presentation on home video could greatly benefit from a new high-definition transfer from that print, which has better picture detail in its shadows than this disc. This edition is recommended to those who can’t wait for the release of a higher-quality disc.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website. AmazonUS
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website. AmazonCA
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era. AmazonUK
coverGrapevine Video
2012 DVD edition

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916), color-tinted black & white, 104 minutes, not rated.

Grapevine Video, no catalog number, UPC 8-42614-10531-9.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $14.95.
Release date: 20 November 2012.
Country of origin: USA
This edition has likely been mastered from a 16mm reduction print.

The film is likely to be accompanied by a music score compiled from preexisting recordings.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website. AmazonUS
 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from . . . Grapevine
coverAlpha Video
2013 DVD edition

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916), black & white, 105 minutes, not rated.

Alpha Entertainment, ALP 7229D, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $7.98.
Release date: 10 December 2013.
Country of origin: USA
This budget edition has likely been mastered from a 16mm reduction print.

The is likely presented with a compilation of preexisting recordings.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website. AmazonUS
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website. AmazonCA
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