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April 1994


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BRIAN TAVES <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 5 Apr 1994 11:50:11 GMT
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          Per  Roberta Pearson's posting  re  cinematic utopias:   For  me,
          perhaps the premier attempt to offer a filmic representation of a
          possible utopia is LOST HORIZON. The drama ensues not from the
          failure of the utopia or its teaching but that of certain
          individuals within it, who retain old world baggage and flee.
          Nonetheless, the community endures and Colman is shown managing
          to return.
          A curious update of this essentially Eastern myth into an sf
          setting was offered in CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY
          (1970). In an original scenario, Nemo has built an undersea
          Shangri-La, disrupted only when he rescues survivors of a
          shipwreck. Some stay, others are driven to leave, for greed or
          other reasons, but the city continues. Nemo is presented as a
          sort of LBJ-style figure, having created a Great Society under
          the ocean, removed from surface strife. (I compare this film with
          LOST HORIZON in more detail in an essay in The Jules Verne
          Encyclopedia, to be out in a few months from Scarecrow.)
          Indeed, in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, one can see the
          submarine Nautilus itself as a sort of self-contained utopia (as
          does Roland Barthes), temporarily violated by the presence of the
          narrators, who find its internal perfection unbearable and must
          While not directly from any specific novel, UNDERWATER CITY does
          share a number of Vernian utopian motifs. In MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
          (ie, 1951, 1961, 1974), a semi-idyllic civilization is created by
          castaways from scratch, although threatened by forces man-made
          (pirates) and natural (island is volcanic). Nemo intervenes in a
          godlike fashion, only revealing himself to the castaways toward
          the end.
          A 1929 film of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND has little in common with the
          novel, but emphasizes even more heavily the utopian theme, with
          Nemo having created a scientific island paradise, which is
          invaded. The film actually has more in common with another Verne
          novel, Face au drapeau, in which a pirate abducts an inventor
          from the asylum where he was placed by the American government.
          The pirate, hoping to dominate the seas, gives him the resources
          to create a scientific island fortress, armed with semi-atomic
          weaponry. This story was filmed directly by Karel Zeman and
          released in the US as THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE.
          Hope this very brief overview of one particular stream has added
          something to the utopian dialog. (As you may have guessed, I'm
          working on a book on Verne in the cinema.)
          Brian Taves, Motion Picture Division
          Library of Congress