Boffo Box Office Special Effects

First…a treat.

I hadn’t realized just how much that scene does homage to the old melodramas.

Well, George Lucas didn’t have to go into space to film Star Wars. However, in 1916, with far fewer special effects techniques available to him, director Stuart Paton did go underwater to film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This was the first movie ever to have submarine scenes, and it broke box office records all across America.

Paton’s film sits at about the historical halfway mark between the surreal insanity of Georges Méliès’ 1907 version and the quite interesting Disney sound and color version in 1954.

This 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea doesn’t follow Verne’s story very closely and the acting and direction aren’t the best of the era, but that’s okay. It’s got the Williamson brothers.

They filmed their footage in the Bahamas, per IMDb. Thirty-eight years later Disney came back to the same spot for the same reason: the water’s clarity (and presumably also the warmth – something Buster Keaton would wish he had seven years later…but that’s a story for next week).

I’d love to know how those divers are breathing in Paton’s movie, since the aqualung wouldn’t be invented until the 1930s and there appear to be no air lines attached to their suits. They’re probably using one of the scuba sets that existed back then.

While such primitive gear probably limited the acting and filming time underwater, the overall result still looks impressive today. Disney’s version of the underwater funeral is pretty much the same thing that Paton envisioned, just more extended and with better choreography and composition thanks to 30-plus years of technological advances.

Ladies and gentleman, our feature film today – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea!

Categories: Saturday Silents

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