We’re in the middle of the Civil War, and three Yankee prisioners (and a journalist) escape with a Southern soldier on board in a hot air balloon. But they picked the wrong night to do this, as the storm is beating down so heavily and the winds are so powerful that they’re literally being blown off the United States and into the Pacific Ocean. Soon, they arrive in a deserted island full of gigantic animals and a stranger who has been helping them along, in hiding. With the help of two English women who are also stranded, they learn to live on the island as a family, but not for long. They soon find out that the person who has been hiding, and the man responsible for the giant animals, is none other than Captain Nemo, who had been presumed to be dead, and the ship The Nautilus. Soon pirates invade, mixed with the volcano that’s about to engulf the island with hot lava. Soon they’ll have to find a way to escape, whether Nemo wants to or not.
This film has two elements that make me want to love it automatically: first, it’s based on a classic Jules Verne novel, an author I grew up reading and loving. This book has very little to do with the original novel, as it adds characters, but it’s still a very entertaining film. The performances are mostly pretty good. Michael Craig is pretty good as Captain Sirus, doing the typical macho American type, and I loved seeing Joan Greenwood (from the previously-reviewed The Importance Of Being Earnest) playing her typical English self. Gary Merrill provides some good comic relief while being the wise man of the group, and Herbert Lom is his usual intense self in the role of Captain Nemo, although secretly I wished it had been played by James Mason. Curiously, the film has a very political theme, something very rare in most fantasy movies of the time, that makes it much more relevant today.
The second thing I loved about this movie wasn’t the politics, however. It was the monsters! Yes, the effects here were made by Ray Harryhausen, the man who gave us films like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and the Sinbad films. His monsters are not as fantastical as the ones in those films, but they’re still pretty impressive. We get a giant crab, a giant chicken/ostrich hybrid, and the most terrifying of all, a giant bee. I swear, that bee looked so realistic I felt like it was a real giant one! The scenes that feature it are very intense, and it’s some of Harryhausen’s most underrated work. So if you want a great movie full of action, romance, adventure and giant monsters, this film will not disappoint. Very recommended!