Head to Head: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

By  · Published on May 18th, 2010

As the Armageddon/Deep Impact generation knows full well, sometimes studios have similar stories to tell at roughly the same time. The horse race ensues, and audiences are forced to either choose or to endure the monopoly of one concept hogging the theater.

It looks like the next public domain property that will be getting the double stuff is Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” – the rousing tale of Captain Nemo and a giant squid. With no Mega Shark in sight, Disney and Fox each want to take audiences for a ride on a submarine.

With the spirit of competition in mind, let’s take a quick look at the personnel currently involved, and see which one we’re looking forward to the most. You can play along at home.

The Studio

Disney: Not only is there a track record here of family-friendly success, but Disney has already made a classic version of the story featuring Kirk Douglas. The studio has shepherded strong moneymakers in the Pirates movies, and is hoping to repeat that formula with Prince of Persia. Point being – if you see Bruckheimer’s name anywhere near this, we know exactly what film to expect. That legacy earns the studio points and loses them points because the second and third Pirates movies became bloated monsters meant only to print money. Still, that leaves some good hope that the first installment of 20,000 Leagues (as if this wouldn’t be set up for franchise) will have some heart.

Fox: As a studio, they’ve put out an incredible slate of films. Just not lately. Under Tom Rothman, the studio has taken a decidedly empty turn into the world of cardboard cutouts and crap that leaves directors frustrated but wallets happy. They were the studio that released Avatar and gave Cameron a lot of breathing room, but as for their family adventure stuff, it’s either pretty bland, a blatant cash-grab, or the occasional hit like Marley & Me. Under Fox, the movie will probably end up looking really pretty, but that’s about it. However, Ridley and Tony Scott will be directly producing the film, and the balance of history there is between films like Matchstick Men, Gladiator, and Kingdom of Heaven with Hannibal, Body of Lies and A Good Year. They’ve mostly, as you can tell, worked with Scott as director, but their batting average is pretty even for projects outside his purview.

Advantage: DISNEY

The Director

Disney: Disney truly dodged a multi-million dollar bullet by passing on McG. Color me surprised, but David Fincher is on board for what looks like his first true literary adaptation and what has to be his first real attempt at a summer tentpole after legitimizing himself as a master filmmaker. The positives are self-evident here, but the negative is that he might not exactly find his sea legs in translating something to a wider audience. I’m obsessed with the man’s work, but not all of it is exactly, to put it mildly, accessible (or two hours long). The other question is whether he’ll dive into this first before Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or if he’s willing to put that aside so that Disney can have their version out before Fox’s.

Fox: Apparently there’s no lock on this, but Wanted director Timur Bekmambatov might be the man for Fox’s job. He’s worked with them before (they distributed Day Watch and produced Wanted) so that established relationship is a good thing. Plus, I’m excited to see what else the man has up his sleeve considering he’s just getting established in the wild world of American filmmaking. He’s certainly got a good eye, can tell a solid story, and probably has some cool ideas for the character. As far as anticipation, he loses out to Fincher only because he’s newer at the game, and Fincher is a modern icon.

Advantage: DISNEY

The Writer

Disney: The Mouse has gotten Scott Z. Burns to write the adaptation. We most recently saw his dramatic and comedic chops with The Informant! and some action with The Bourne Ultimatum. Neither film gives a close idea of how he’ll work with a large-scale action adventure, but he’s done some strong character work on both – so if Nemo is the focus, Burns’s skills should be put to a great test.

Fox: Fox has Clash of the Titans co-writer Travis Beacham on board to pen their version which apparently takes place in the future. That’s really the only movie we have to judge him on – which is nearly impossible considering that his was an earlier draft, and because Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi came on board as well. Essentially, he’s an X factor in all of this.

Advantage: DISNEY

Head to Head

On all accounts, Disney has the stronger candidate here, but as Eric Vespe from Aint it Cool mentioned on Reject Radio last night, they also have the shakier candidate because Fincher has been known to sign on to a multitude of projects and to drop them at the first sign of trouble. It’s also strangely out of character for the auteur.

Plus, other major factors – who’ll be starring – are missing at this point and could play a crucial role in swinging things back into Fox’s favor.

However, for now, Disney has Fox beat by a mile. They have a phenomenal director working with a studio known for creating movies that are both creatively worthwhile and money-making, and they have a writer who is young in the career but has churned out at least two strong scripts.

Fox on the other hand has a strong director and an untested screenwriter, but their biggest handicap is themselves.

All of this is fun distraction, and of course we’ll be keeping a close eye on both productions and will be crossing our fingers to be entertained by both.

Who do you think comes out on top?

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