Ok, so first things first; I’ve been pretty much unable (with what I can assure you was literally A BIT of effort) to find a movie for 1906. We’ll chalk that one up, once again, to sci-fi being in its early years still.
However, for 1907 we have a film called Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (Vingt mille means ‘20000’ in French, for all you Francophoné-pas) (which in turn almost certainly doesn’t mean ‘French speakers’ in French), which is a film adaptation of one Jules Verne’s science fiction novel of the same name. In English, we know this story as 20000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Oh, so yeah. Guess who made it. I dare you.
That’s right, it’s everyone’s favourite film-making child of 1861, Georges Méliès! He didn’t half have a bit of a monopoly on things at this stage of the development of film…
I think we can assume that, even though based on somebody else’s story, what I’m about to watch is outrageously surreal/silly/both. Let’s find out!
As you can see, Georges has wasted even less time than usual with this one in cutting to the chase. This still was taken 14 seconds into the film, and we’re already at the launching ceremony for the submarine you see in the background. As is becoming almost formulaic by now, there’s a gaggle of gentle-women up on the balcony, and a small regiment of (I THINK) female members of the Navy there to give the submariner an entirely proper send-off.
Before you know it, we’re joined by the pilot of the vessel (I’ma call him Eddy) who’s a solemn, sensible sort of chap. Except he’s not, he’s completely class; he does a kind of slapstick dance, packs three of the Navy girls into the submarine, stops to ask the other guy for directions off a map, then climbs in himself and we’re ready to roll. All of this took only two minutes.
There’s a clever piece of trademark trickery here; you see the submarine with its hatch open in the background? I’m pretty sure that hatch is much less mobile than it looks; everyone packs in close enough around the craft as to completely hide it, there’s a stop-motion kind of flicker and when everyone moves away there’s a sealed up submarine. This allowed Méliès to then have it sink off screen (whatever the crew climbed into earlier has presumably been replaced by a static piece of wood with a submarine drawn on it). Cunning, Georges.
Anyway, before you can say “what the HELL are those two men doing 20000 leagues under the sea?! Are they painting the set?!”, the craft’s seen cruising the ocean floor.
After that, we cut abruptly to a good two minutes of I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT. One minute, there’s a couple of clever little shots of the submarine making its way through the depths, and then we cut to the following;
Now, it’s very possible that there’s either some piece of early-1900’s politics/history that I’m missing here, or even (having never read it myself) some plot element of Verne’s novel that would explain this huge five-pointed underwater star. If you know what it is, please explain it to me. Because I’m at a complete loss.
But it gets better! The female/male cast ratio of this one by far outdoes any of the previous Méliès films; so far there’s only been two men on screen, and now we’re treated to an entire troupe of ladies dancing for a good minute or two in front of the star!
On a side note, if you have trouble understanding these stills, I feel for you. These films are hard enough to work out when you can see everything moving; the moment you freeze the motion you’re stuck with trying to work out what different regions of either black or white relate to. The above is essentially the same set as the picture of the star before, only now the star’s covered in seaweed and there’s roughly 20 dancers all helpfully dressed in the exact same white clothing in the foreground. Yeah, difficult; sorry -__-
On a side-side note, I tend to watch these silent ones with my own playlist of music in the background. I was watching these dancers while listening to a Knife Party dubstep remix, so there was, like, 96.5% more wub wub.
Immediately glossing over the hardcore rave scene (which I think may have been intended as a kind of transition method, much like the ultra-modern star wipe. Except this one took up at least a good fifth of the movie), we see the submarine touch down on the ocean floor, and Eddy climbs out in search of more underwater babes. But lo, there are dangers down here under the sea, and the most terrifying fake fish in the WORLD attacks!
This bit truly made me laugh out loud; the fish itself, as you can see, is pretty hilarious. But the way it entered the shot was inspired; it just kind of glides clunkily in from the left of the screen, almost as if it’s being pushed on wheels. Then the lower part of its mouth opens and shuts a few times like some kind of weird puppet and it wheels off to the left again, seemingly bored by events. Cue massive crab; same story, right hand side. All very trying for poor Eddy.
It’s worth noting that he now buggers off away from the submarine to a new set, and nothing is seen of the three Navy girls he took with him back up on the surface. I don’t like to think what kind of nefarious purposes he brought them for, but certainly none of them left that ship…
At this point the actor has a bit of a romp around the set; he valiantly fights off a huge and presumably too expensive off-screen monster with his shirt, remembers that he’s supposed to be walking around like he’s 20,000 leagues under the sea (that is, with your arms out as if you’re sort of half swimming), gets his arm caught inside a clam, sniffs the clam (YES I know that’s rude, but it’s literally the only way to describe a moment in a film when somebody sniffs a clam. Also rude is funny :D) and finds the smell not to his liking.
Not yet bored of being caught in things, he sticks his head into a piece of coral which proceeds to grab it. What a nonce. Seemingly unable to decide whether he’s actually submerged in water or just in a slightly wet cave, Eddy swim-walks his way over to a spot where he scoops up some water off the floor for a drink.
Long story short, he gets a bit grumpy at how everything under the sea seems to want to attack him/grab various of his body parts. At that moment, everything under the sea turns up to attack him, including a giant octopus.
Last things last, we’re hit with a real Méliès gem; the mermaids (who I now realise were the dancing girls from earlier) show up to save Eddy. They do this by pushing him to the floor and covering him with a white sheet. Yeah… The screen flashes and suddenly we’re up on land again, looking at a bucket. A small bucket, with a man’s legs sticking out of the top. Helpful by-standers rush to help the poor man, and what do you know; it’s Eddy! Safe and sound back on solid ground.
No mention of those three girls in the submarine, by the way. I’m just saying.
So that’s that; Eddy has a celebration which I feel was cut cruelly short at around 2 seconds, and the film ends. There’s the smallest hint that the guys who helped him don’t really believe his tale of underwater monsters and mermaids… Poor guy.
Overall, that one was possibly LESS crazy than the first two… ish. Less deliberately surreal, at least. It had at least two occasions that really pleasantly surprised me and made me laugh, and for that I think I’m going to hit it up with a grand total of;
7 Freaky Tentacle Monsters out of 10!