by: Madison Barnes
The classic Jules Verne novel 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA has been in development at Disney since 2007. Nearly 7 years later, there is no clear progression of directing or casting choices, and the production’s start date seems more of a fantasy than reality. With huge stars and directors coming and going from the project, the fate of this re-make is really up to a couple of key decisions by the executives at Disney, who are holding tightly to to the reins as the budget is estimated near $175,000,000 and they don’t want another “The Lone Ranger” or “John Carter” on their hands. So far, David Fincher is at least the second director to leave the project after disagreements with the studio. Brad Pitt was slated to star in the film, but departed shortly after Fincher. McG was also rumored to helm the film at one time, and the Wachowski Siblings and even Michael Bay are apparently in consideration. The Tracking Board is here to explain these twists and turns, and hopefully shed light onto how the picture could come together.
To start, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” was a novel published by french writer Jules Verne in 1870, and was popular in its own right before Walt ever decided to “Disney” it up. It centers around a US Government’s commissioned expedition to stop a giant sea monster from attacking ships in the Pacific Ocean. Disney’s 1954 film version was a huge success, starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason, and it seems they are really insistent on making this one just as good, if not better. They just can’t agree with any particular director or writer as to the way it should be adapted for today’s market. This may be due to the fact that the original 1954 film is an exaggerated telling of the novel, and previously-attached director David Fincher may have wanted to return to the darker, more nuanced roots of the book. Both Fincher and Disney had public disputes about the film, each giving contradictory press releases almost at the same time.
Disney seems to be in no rush, however, and reports indicate they are taking a deliberate, slow march towards completing the project. On their directing shortlist is Ben Stiller, Ridley Scott, Wally Pfister, the Wachowski Siblings, and Michael Bay. Each one of these helmers could steer the ship in a completely different direction, but fans of the novel would probably have been happy with David Fincher’s dark, nuanced style, or that of Ridley Scott or the Wachowski Siblings. If Disney does decide to go the Michael Bay route, they may have a great action movie, but one without the neccessary substance.
The acting shortlist is comprised solely of A-listers, as Disney is not taking any chances. The likes of Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Jake Gyllenhaal, and even Denzel Washington are all in contention. Tom Hiddleston and Armie Hammer are even being considered for supporting roles.
The key here is deciding the tone of the movie. Yes, it’s a Disney movie, but does the studio want it to be light and airy like “Transformers,” or darker and more science-fiction like “The Matrix”? My pick was David Fincher with a more allegorical approach, like “Fight Club,” but it seems that option is already gone. Hopefully, whatever Disney decides will be a balanced approach and won’t market too heavily towards younger audiences. There is great potential to reach people of every age, from 16-55, and they’re going to have to negotiate one way or another if they ever want to re-surface that great ship they submerged over 50 years ago and bring it to life for the modern cinema.