Jules Verne wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870. The one of the first movie versions came in 1907 when Georges Méliès made a short film about Verne’s novel. Méliès also had the film had painted it making one of the first colour films, although there are number of black and white prints available of it.
The first full length film adaptation came in 1916 when Universal Studios made this ambitious silent film. The special effects cost Universal so much that it was impossible to recover the costs at the time and prevented more Jules Verne’s adaptation for some time.
The movie takes elements from Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and Verne’s follow-up novel The Mysterious Island. A mysterious sea creature has been attacking ships in the ocean and the American naval ship the Abraham Lincoln has been sent to investigate. Meanwhile a group of American Civil War soldiers have crash landed on a mysterious island when their balloon crashes there. Back to the Abraham Lincoln, it final meets the sea creature and is attacked. It’s revealed that the “creature” is really Captain Nemo’s submarine The Nautilus. The survivors from the Abraham Lincoln are taken on board and kept as prisoners. From there the two stories eventual merge.
The film features the earliest use of underwater photography but without underwater cameras. A system of watertight tubes and mirrors allowed the camera to shoot reflected images of the underwater scenes. The effect worked extremely well. It was also one of the few adaptations that featured Captain Nemo as an Indian like he was in the novels not British like the Disney version. The film holds up extremely well and while the 1954 Disney film is movie that everyone remembers, this silent version is worth checking out.