Hollywood Presents Jules Verne: The Father of Science Fiction on Screen
By Brian Taves
University of Press Kentucky, 2015 www.kentuckypress.com/
A Review by
Colleen R. Cahill
Jules Verne, one of the fathers of science fiction, created many really good stories. So it’s not surprising that the film and television producers for almost 100 years have mined those tales, creating some very interesting and popular productions. What you might find difficult is how to find out about these various shows, but that problem is solved with Brian Taves’ Hollywood Presents Jules Verne, from the University of Press Kentucky, giving us a thoughtful and fascinating look at the wealth of Verne’s material that has been translated for both the big and little screen.
For many, Jules Verne and film conjure up memories of the highly influential 1954 version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, but that is just the tip of the mountain that are Verne movies and television. Indeed, the introduction of this book states there are more than “three hundred film and television versions” of Verne works. Taves focuses his book on primarily English language productions that were either filmed in Hollywood or had “American funding or distribution guarantees”. Using a chronological approach, the book begins with films of the silent era and covers well into the 21st Century, evaluating the various works not only for their production and aesthetic values, but also for their cultural impact. For example, the 1916 version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea not only used some of the earliest footage of underwater filming, but it also was “enhanced by the public concern over submarine warfare” during World War I.
From filmmaking’s early years, the book moves us through various transitions in style and technology, from a 1929 version of The Mysterious Island to 1950’s major releases like of films like Around the World in Eighty Days to recent works like Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D. As Taves takes us through time, we can see that Verne screen productions come in waves, with high and low cycles. He also shows how different films focus on different aspects of Verne works, with some highlighting the science, others the adventure, and a few the social commentary that was an underlying theme in many of the author’s books. A wide range of films are presented, including the animated versions of Verne’s tales, which was an introduction to this author for many children. The book also demonstrates that there are still plenty of ideas in Verne’s books to be explored today as less than half of Verne’s sixty-eight novels have been adapted to the screen.
There are plenty of surprises in this book, not only in those actors who appeared in Verne films, such as Lionel Barrymore, Patrick Stewart and Jackie Chan, but also in the various interpretations of Verne’s books. Hollywood Presents Jules Verne is for fans of Verne, film buffs and those who want to learn about the wondrous mix that is Verne on film.