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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Special Edition

As Disney's first big-budget live-action movie, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an adventure film of the grand school, the kind they don't make 'em like anymore. James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas, and Peter Lorre star in this loose but visually spectacular version of Jules Verne's novel. The narrative is a string of memorable set-pieces such as a funeral on the ocean floor, the glowing-eyed "sea monster" knifing through the hulls of tall sea vessels, and the famous hand-to-tentacle battle with a giant squid. Its Oscar-winning special effects and art direction play out in rich Technicolor and vast CinemaScope. The result is a "fun for the whole family" experience that refuses to aim low or to condescend with cutesy pop-culture references. The script is simple yet intelligent and purposeful. The undersea photography is brimming with exotica, the banshee-scream of the Nautilus dynamos when the super-submarine attacks tall warships will repeat in your dreams, and the beautiful Nautilus itself, from its ridged spine to Nemo's palatial Victorian furnishings, is exactly what a submarine is supposed to look like.

With Disney's two-disc DVD, we get one of the best filled-to-bursting Special Editions ever assembled. The painstakingly restored image looks gorgeous in its unusually broad CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.55:1 (anamorphic) and the THX-Certified Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is terrific. Also on board is a pirate's chest of supplemental extras. There's an audio commentary with director Richard Fleischer and film historian Rudy Behlmer; an excellent "making of" featurette; the previously lost "Sunset Squid" sequence; a short on the real Humbolt Squid; a featurette on Jules Verne and Walt Disney; a tour of the Nautilus; Peter Lorre's ADR Tracks; Captain Nemo's Organ Music; an appreciation of composer Paul Smith; abundant Production Archives material; the Donald Duck cartoon that played as part of the theatrical release; the original theatrical trailer; and bios. Twin-chambered keep-case.
—Mark Bourne

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