The Amazing Captain Nemo (re-titled in optimistic fashion from its original title, The Return of Captain Nemo) recasts the anti-government submarine captain as an explorer turned reluctant crime fighter employed by the United States government. As distasteful and diametrically opposed to everything Nemo was about all that is, it’s done in late 1970s TV movie fashion so that he comes off like the Six Million Dollar Man, but with a kick ass sub instead of bionic superpowers. And instead of Bigfoot, he’s battling Burgess Meredith, whose character appears to have just escaped the old folks home for evil geniuses suffering from dementia.
Objectively speaking, the movie is as nasty as a pod of beached whales left in the sun for a month, but subjectively speaking it had an alien in a gold helmet with sporadic psychic powers, General Hospital‘s Luke Spencer in a stunning orange toga as an Atlantean, and most fantastically of all, Linda Day George as a nuclear physicist!
Captain Nemo of course is the centerpiece of this depth charge of awesomeness, and Jose Ferrer as Nemo does not disappoint! Or at least he forcefully says his lines and manages to look like what most of us landlubbers who have never seen a real sea captain, think a sea captain would look like.
He doesn’t exhibit much else in the way of personality beyond a can-do attitude whenever he and his partners (two of the Navy’s most elite underwater threat guys who do elite stuff like follow Nemo on missions and man the radio on the Nautilus) are confronted with a crisis every 15 or 20 minutes.
Nemo is discovered by these two when they happen upon the Nautilus during some war-games. Nemo is in a state of suspended animation and once he is revived, he unconvincingly explains how everyone left the ship once it got stuck under a reef, but that he took the ultimate gamble that one day he would be revived and figure a way to get his ship free again.
He doesn’t seem have any ambitions other than to get his ship fixed, a crew aboard and to continue on with his search for Atlantis. Our two Navy studs hook him up with their boss who helps arrange for the Nautilus to be fixed and crewed and then as repayment, has Nemo go find the other crazy old fart cruising around the ocean in a submarine, Professor Cunningham!
Cunningham (Meredith) has threatened to blow up Washington D.C. with his missile unless he gets one billion dollars. Obviously this was before our government’s official policy was to routinely debase our currency by printing an infinite amount of cash so that bankers and Wall Street types would not suffer the indignity of having to forgo their seven figure bonuses, and thus Nemo is needed to deal with this crazy old cooter.
Throughout much of the movie, Nemo doesn’t evidence much in the way of any sort of tactical acumen, invading Cunningham’s ship with just one other guy so that he can check Cunningham out, confronting a saboteur all by himself when he could have just called his crew and had them overpower the guy, or somehow managing to have his crew captured or incapacitated while he’s sightseeing in Atlantis. (He’s willing to stay in suspended animation with his ship for over 100 years when it gets stuck, but he’s the first out the door for a vacation to Atlantis even while the evil Dr. Cunningham is floating around somewhere and when the king of Atlantis references an evil guy, obviously Cunningham, already having visited them?)
Nemo though has the benefit of matching mits against an even more witless opponent in Cunningham. Cunningham routinely displays a “fail at all costs” mentality in his handling of the various schemes to at first extract a large sum of money and then when that is thwarted to move on up to total world domination! It’s like the lesson he took away from his first botched terror attack was that the problem was that it simply wasn’t grandiose enough!
Watching the monumentally lame way Cunningham’s security forces were defeated on his own ship by Nemo and one other guy despite having a ton of advanced technology, a bunch of robots in gold fetish body suits as well as large aliens with ESP, you knew that Nemo could pretty much put his bathysphere on cruise control and not break a sweat stopping Cunningham.
Still, Cunningham deserves high marks for his evil enthusiasm what with his bragging about using the most evil element known to man to annihilate 20 capital cities and thus take over world and even more impressively, his glee in trying to suck all of Nemo’s knowledge from his brain with his patented Z Ray! That Nemo is able to escape yet again somewhat tempers those high marks though.
As predictably and delightfully cruddy as any sci-fi/fantasy TV movie made to immediately cash in on Star Wars would be expected to be (the giant guy in the gold mask is kind of Vader-like, there are models of ships chasing each other through the ocean instead of space, and there are laser blaster shoot outs both on the sub and even in the water!), The Amazing Captain Nemo is disappointing not for its indifferent acting (Ferrer), overacting (Meredith), shoddy acting (everyone else), its recycled ships from Space:1999 and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, its entirely juvenile story, or even its near constant criminal abuse of science (such as when in an effort to stop a radiation leak, Nemo dons a radiation suit complete with thick gloves, but no helmet!), but because it was plainly a pilot for a TV series that never got picked up! Can you imagine the sorts of bargain bin, poorly thought out adventures Nemo would have gotten into, if he had to do this 20 more times per year?
The coolest part of the entire affair though was the opening credits which were pure 70s adventure TV show gold! Everything else? A radioactive deep sea mine that can’t go off fast enough.
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