SATURDAY AFTERNOON B-MOVIE CRAPFEST: “The Amazing Captain Nemo” (1978)

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Last week we did Irwin Allen’s not-at-all-famous B-movie, “City Beneath The Sea.” The man had kind of a nut for underwater shows, and for pretty obvious reason: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was his longest-running series. (4 seasons, 110 episodes) He made periodic attempts to re-capture that particular spark, and this is, more or less, the final one.

PLAY BY PLAY

It Is The Year 1978! The Evil Professor Waldo Cunningham - no really! - is aboard his equally evil submarine, the Raven, which is obviously made from a cannibalized Space: 1999 Eagle. (As you can see here http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_mpBGa4P5jUo/SfMM-ZGBCII/AAAAAAAADGE/sXwyLjL_EeU/s1600-h/nemo17.jpg and here http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_mpBGa4P5jUo/SfMNIAfvdJI/AAAAAAAADGM/yiLS6Tnxjrw/s1600-h/nemo38.jpg ) Waldo calls the president on his big video phone, and blows up the uninhabited island of “Akitoa” (Not to be confused with the real island of “Krakatoa” which really did blow up, but not in 1978), and then informs the president that if he doesn’t deliver a ransom to thus and such a spot by thus and such a date, then he‘ll nuke D.C. What kills me is that (A) the president doesn’t get a single line, and (B) we actually see the president jotting down the information Cunningham gives him, like he’s scribbling down a phone number from a commercial. He’s the freakin’ president. Even in the bad half of the seventies, wouldn’t he have people to do that kind of thing for him?

Meanwhile, by the most serendipitous of coincidences, the US Navy is conducting war games. Two frogmen (This was before most people knew what “Seals” are) discover a wonky looking submarine (

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_mpBGa4P5jUo/SfMO9ks2uEI/AAAAAAAADHk/f3rMHUR_fv0/s1600-h/nemo35.jpg ) trapped under a ledge. They go inside, and quickly awaken Captain Nemo, who’s been in cryogenic suspension since 1878. (That’s 100 years for you Trekies who are bad at math n’ stuff) Our two frogmen - Tom and Jim - express some disbelief that a man who looks like Jose Ferrer and claims to be a fictional character can be taken at face value. Nemo blithely shrugs this off by pointing out that Jules Verne was a biographer as well as a writer of fiction. “Why, if Jules Verne were alive today,” Jim says, “He could write a whale of a sequel!” “Not yet,” insists Nemo, “For I have not yet completed my odyssey.” He’s trying to find Atlantis, don’t’cha’know.

The depth charges from the wargames more or less free the nautilus, and we jump forward a bit (I’m sorry, weren’t they under a tight schedule here to avoid nuking DC?) the Nautilus is in drydock, having been updated with modern communications, and having her brass fittings polished n’stuff. Despite having a fleet of attack subs, the US Navy decides to send a 100 year old steam punk boondoggle captained by a fictional character out to take out professor Cunningham.

Nemo finds The Raven without much difficulty, and Cunningham attempts to zap the Nautilus with a laser, but the Nautilus has a force field (“Really, Irwin, you want to make a submarine show? Are you sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable with space ships?”) and then Nemo decides to swim over to confront Cunningham for no particularly good reason. Tom insists on coming with him because “You’ll need someone to hold your coat.“ “A diving suit has no coat. Oh, I see.“ They’re captured by Waldo’s goofy “I wanna’ be Darth Vader at the Disco” sidekick, a robot named “Tor.” (The whole sub is crewed by Robots), and then they mange to rip off the prison break scene from Star Wars, which was what all the kids were talking about at the time. No, seriously, check out the hallway they were shooting it out in on the Raven

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_mpBGa4P5jUo/SfMNqIW7UrI/AAAAAAAADGs/BYSaO6dapVM/s1600-h/nemo31.jpg They escape and swim back to the Seaview…excuse me, the Nautilus…while Cunningham launches his nuke. Nemo shoots it down with a laser.

Without much explanation, Raven starts hauling up radioactive waste from the deep trenches such stuff was put in back in the seventies, thereby poisoning the world and wiping out all life for obscure reasons. In fact, we never really get any explanation as to why Waldo does anything, he just seems to like wonton destruction (“Wonton Destruction” was, by the way, easily the best Chinese Punk band I ever saw. They did three sets at the El Matador in Lincoln1986, and I saw ‘em another time opening up for the Impotent Sea Snakes over at Josephine‘s Cozy Corner Lounge in Omaha, the next year), he just seems to like to do stuff with a high ‘sploisony factor. I mean, at least nuking DC is a time-honored form of extortion. They pick up a scientist and a saboteur to try and solve the problem, while Waldo attempts to destroy the Nautilus using “Magnetic Mines.” These pull the sub of course and make it a sitting duck for the Raven’s attack, but Nemo and Tom manage to shut off the mines (“Magnetic force does not abate all at once!”)

Oh, I forgot to mention that at one point Nemo “Clones” the Nautilus. Also, it’s nuclear powered. “You don’t mean you had fission a hundred years ago?” “That is precisely what I mean!” Both of those are relevant…ish, I guess.

Finally, kind of out of nowhere, Nemo discovers Atlantis, where he meets with the locals, where he discovers that Waldo has already taken the place over. Waldo captures the crew and forces them to torture Nemo. This is all somehow tied up with Nemo’s plans to blow up a whole bunch of cities on the surface, but we’re treated to a final - and ludicrously cheap - shootout between the Nautilus and the Raven. The Raven loses, and Nemo decides, having fulfilled his life’s ambition, not to tell anyone about it.

THE END

OBSERVATIONS.

You’re pretty much not going to believe this is real, you’re going to insist it’s a fake commercial from SCTV or something. In fact, the narrator even sounds a bit like Dave Thomas in Bill Needle-mode, but I assure you it’s real:

I’m pretty sure I was even watching that night. And I’d really like to review “The Big Bus” here, assuming I can ever find a copy of it.

Pure and simple, this is a thinly veiled revividus of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, only gayer and way, way, way stupider. Waaaaaaaaaay stupider. Nemo is Admiral Nelson, Tom and Jim randomly switch back and forth between the Crane and Sharkey roles, it’s embarrassing. There’s even snatches of a slightly-re-worked Voyage theme here and there in the soundtrack (Most notably when Tom and Jim discover the sub for the first time.) “Kate” put in for no real reason other than it’s the ‘70s, and Irwin finally realized it’s a good idea to have a little eye candy on his shows.

The details are a bit fuzzy as to whether this movie was intended as a movie, or as a TV series. It’s often put forward as a miniseries, but no one had that in mind. The movie has really no coherent interior structure, with each act of the three-act film essentially being a completely unrelated adventure that happens to have a recurring villain. There was a three-episode series that ran in the fall of ‘78, and as you no doubt guessed, each episode amounts to an expanded version of the acts in this film. The reasonable assumption is that the movie is a truncated form of the three episodes, hammered together and chopped down to feature length. I’d assume that too, but this is Irwin Allen we’re talking about here. He was the unquestioned master of stock footage. This is the guy who shot the Lost In Space pilot, then chopped it up and built the first SIX episodes of the series around scenes from it. This is the guy who built the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea pilot out of special effects sequences from his movie of the same name, and leftover sets. This is the guy who won a freakin’ academy award in 1952 for a film composed entirely of stock footage. Really! So, you know, I can’t really tell if the chicken or the egg came first here: was the series prior to the movie, or the movie prior to the series? Either way, it’s one terrible rotten egg hanging out with the chickens.

Regardless of its provenance, “The Amazing Captain Nemo” was released theatrically in Europe. Check this noise out!

The series derived from this really used a lot of stock footage. The “Death Star Shootout” scene was used twice, as I recall, without any differences or editing, it was just “Hey, let’s re-use that scene we used two weeks back. No one will ever know.” The robots are all pretty lame, though I have a strange fascination for the midget-bot in the gun turret atop the ship, and of course “Tor,” Cunningham’s sidekick, who regularly exclaims things like “NEMO IS ESCAPING!” In a loud, poorly enunciated voice.

I’m a little unclear as to whether Tor is a robot or not actually. On the one hand, everyone else on the sub (Excepting Burgess Meredith) is a robot, so it makes sense. On the other hand, absolutely no effort is made to conceal a human mouth yammering away inside that Victor von Doom helmet.

This movie pretty much completely fails to make use of its leads the academy award-winning Jose Ferrer and the Tony and Emmy award-winning Burgess Meredith. Both of them are phoning it in. Meredith seems to be going for a kind of dissonance between unbelievable evil and the demeanor of an elderly Home Ec teacher, but it doesn’t really work (Though it is an interesting idea). They’re both phoning it in. Special effects are terrible, and they’re not even really trying here. I mean, laser battles underwater? What? Don’t you people even have Torpedo technology? Sheesh.

The Sets are…uhm….well, the Nautilus should be all cool and steampunky and stuff, but it basically just looks dowdy and threadbare. They actually used a lot metal in the construction, but it’s all dented and uneven and just looks ratty. Poorly lit, too. The inside of the Raven is actually way more interesting than the inside of the Nautilus, though it’s obviously even more fake.

The miniatures…ehm…well, they weren’t really trying here, either, were they? The miniature for the Nautilus is actually a superattenuated miniature of the Seaview which has been butchered. The Raven is, as has been pointed out, the back three fourths of an Eagle from Moonbase Alpha, evidently affixed to what might be a marital aid. The music re-uses stuff composed seven years earlier for “City Beneath The Sea.”

All of this might be forgivable and even charming if it had come around in the ‘60s, or in Japan, but everything here has that horrible, grainy, forlorn, dingy look that the seventies are known for - shows that look stretched out and faded even on their first time through the ol’ projector, if you know what I mean. I like stupid, mind you, and I particularly like Irwin Allen’s unique brand of stupid, but no one is really having any fun here, no one seems excited.

Whether the movie or the series came first, this project was intended for a regular weekly series that didn’t happen. Ordinarily that drives me crazy. I really want to know where “City Beneath The Sea” or “Legend of the Rangers” was going, you know? I’m optimistic, I tend to see the potential in unrealized dreams. But in the case of this movie…wow, I don’t. I really don’t. It didn’t get picked up as a (regular) series, and I find I couldn’t care less.

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