I still remember the first time I saw Around the World in 80 Days. It was on television, and my mother allowed me, a mere lad of 8 or 9, to stay up way past my bedtime to see the end. She told me that I would be asleep before it was over, but she was wrong. The farther they traveled the more excited I became. Though I was distinctly disappointed that they never went to Africa, the film piqued my imagination. Here werescenes from all over the world, adventure and suspense all rolled into one. What a great movie.
At the time, I didn't realize how celebrated it was. I didn't know that it had won five Oscars or that it did good business at the box office. I just know that I wanted to see what was going to happen next. Now Warner Brothers has released this critically acclaimed and popular film in a two disc special edition. How does the movie stand up after all these years?
Based on a novel by Jules Verne, the movie is set in 1872 and features Phileas Fogg (David Niven) as a rich, eccentric, British gentleman who lives his life by the clock. He has his breakfast at precisely 8:24 every morning and he always eats the same menu. He expects things to always be on his exacting schedule, and consequently goes through valets as quickly as the agency can send them over. Having lost his last aide, the office sends over a new man, the jack-of-all-trades; Passepartout (wonderfully played by the Mexican comedian Cantinflas.)
Fogg's favorite pastime is to play Whist at his club. In the middle of a game one evening, someone remarks that it would be impossible to circumnavigate the globe in three months. Fogg states that it not only would be possible, but that a determined man could do it in less. One needs only a mere eighty-days to complete the task. When the members scoff at such a ludicrous idea, Fogg puts his money where his mouth is and wagers the gentlemen the ?20,000 he has on deposit at the Bank of London. Accepting the wager and setting the terms, Fogg agrees to start the clock running immediately. Then promptly sits down to finish the card game. Returning home a short while later, Phileas informs his new valet that they will leave for an around the world trip in ten minutes. He then takes piles of cash from a wall safe, deposits it in a carpetbag, and the pair catch the night boat to Paris.
Thus begins their journey. Over the course of their trip, the two run into all sorts of problems and inconveniences. From little things like trains running late, to larger problems like Indian attacks and being stranded in the jungle. One other wrinkle is that the Bank of England was robbed days before Fogg's departure. His leaving London at a moments notice raises the brows of a detective, Mr. Fix (Robert Newton,) who takes it upon himself to follow after Fogg and arrest him. Constantly trying to slow down Fogg's travels so he can get an arrest warrant, Fix throws quite a few wrenches into Phileas' travel plans.
This movie is fun to watch, but it's more of a travelogue with a little bit of adventure thrown in than anything else. There are many long, beautiful shots of the scenery from around the world while Victor Young's wonderful music plays. And the places Phileas visit play as much of a part in the movie as the actors do.
But while this is an enjoyable movie that I still like, it is far from prefect. There really isn't any character development in the film at all. Fogg starts out punctual and inscrutable, and he ends up that way too. You never really get to know the people or what drives them. Everyone one who appears is a two-dimensional character, and most of them are not that interesting. Shirley MacLaine's role as Princess Aouda basically called for her to dress up in different colorful outfits and stand in front of the camera. I would have liked a few more details about the people that I was watching, and what made them tick. But none were coming.
The film will appear a little dated to today's audiences. While the quickly changing scenery and locations were astounding to me as a young boy over a quarter of a century ago, I'm afraid that today's audiences will not be as easily impressed. The action scenes are often very short, (with the exception of the bull fight scene that went on too long,) and the plot is very simple. Just get from place to place.
The tension doesn't work very well either. The scenes that are supposed to be nail biting fall a little flat. The director is never able to ratchet the suspense up enough to create more than mild interest.
Don't get the impression that the movie is bad, because it isn't. David Niven played the ever so proper British gentleman to a tee. Never getting flustered no matter what the situation. His unflappable calm turned into something akin to a running gag. Seeing his calm exterior in every situation was great fun. Shirley MacLaine wasn't the best choice for the role of the Indian Princess Aouda. She doesn't look anything like a native of India. But she does an adequate job of looking attractive in various costumes, though her character didn't really have much of a part.
The best part of this movie may be all the guest stars that make appearances. There are a huge number of movie personalities who have cameo roles in the film, and it is great fun trying to see how many of them you can spot. Since the movie was filmed almost 50 years ago, many of the popular stars of the time have faded from memory, and the rest look much younger than I remembered them. If you look you can see such stars as Red Buttons, Buster Keaton, Cesar Romero, Charles Boyer, Charles Coburn, Frank Sinatra, George Raft, Gilbert Roland, Glynis Johns, Joe E. Brown, John Carradine, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Peter Lorre, Red Skelton, Reginald Denny, Ronald Colman, Sir John Gielgud, and Trevor Howard, just to name a few. The commentary track does a good job of pointing out people you may have missed. I consider myself a film buff, and I was surprised by how many I let slip by.
The cinematography was breathtaking to behold. Lionel Lindon's camerawork made the film; it would have been a dull and lifeless wreck otherwise. The sharp and colorful images of elephants walking beside a train track, a buffalo stampede, and majestic mountains made the adventure seem real. The movie is worth watching just for his amazing work.
Likewise the music, which plays a large part in the movie, was excellent. Victor Young's score, for which he won an Academy Award, was very full and strong. His music set the tone for a lot of the movie, and was a perfect accompaniment to the many travelogue like scenes that appear in the movie. Like all good movie soundtracks, Young's composition manages to enhance the visuals while not distracting from them.
Though the movie may be dated somewhat, it is still a wonderfully fun
romp around the globe. Sure there isn't a lot of plot of character
development, but that's not what this movie is about. It is a spectacle;
a grand colorful movie that provides three hours worth of entertainment.
On that level, it still succeeds.
Unlike many two-disc special editions this movie is split over the two discs. They properly split the movie at the intermission.
The remastered audio sounds very good. They used the full soundstage in the 5.1 mix, sending a lot of the background music to the rear speakers. This surrounded the viewer with sound and really made the music come alive. The dialog was limited to the front speakers but good use was still made of the left, right and center channels. There were many times when people were speaking from off camera and their voice would come from the left front speaker, only to emerge from the front speaker when the person was on camera.
The sound quality was also excellent. The brass section of the orchestra was powerful yet crisp. You could distinguish the different instruments easily and all of them from the tubas to the piccolos sounded clear. There were a few occasions when I felt that the music was mixed too loudly. It usually occurred when there was no dialog right after a scene transition. The music would be blaring. Aside from that single quibble, it was a very good sounding set. There are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. and also a 2.0 French language track.
The anamorphic widescreen image was excellent, though not perfect. There were occasional dirt and spots on the print that wasn't removed, and there was a very light moiré effect that was only noticeable in large fields of a single color. In these instances, there would be vertical bands where the shade changed slightly. This was subtle and not distracting, but it was present. Aside from that, the picture was breathtaking. The Technicolor image was amazing, with brilliant colors that were bright, vivid and accurate. The blacks were solid black, and there was good detail even in the shadows. The lines were sharp and the contrast was excellent. A superb picture only marred by slight defects.
Introduction by Robert Osborne: Turner Classic Movie's host Robert Osborne give an introduction to the film, and also to each of the special features on the discs. His comments, like the ones he gives on TCM, serve to set up the bonus material and give a little background. They are optional.
Commentary by Brain Sibley: BBC Radio's Brian Sibley provides a very good commentary to the movie. He talks about the way the film was shot and mentions some of the difficulties that were encountered. The most useful and interesting aspect of his commentary was when he pointed out all of the guest stars that make cameos. Not only did he point them out, but he also gave a brief synopsis of their careers and what they were famous for. The delivery was a little stilted and wooden, as if he was reading his comments from a script, but he provided a lot of information about the movie. This is an interesting and insightful commentary.
A Trip to the Moon (1902): This Georges Méliès film was the first time that a Jules Verne novel was made into a film. An excerpt is shown in the prologue to the feature film, and the entire 13-minute film is presented here. Narration and a string section accompany this silent movie. The former gets a little irritating since the narrator just describes what is happening on the screen, but it doesn't ruin the picture totally and he does explain some things that modern viewers might not understand.
Outtakes: Over fifteen minutes worth of footage that didn't make it into the film. These eleven scenes are silent with music from the movie soundtrack to accompany them.
Stills Gallery: An eleven-minute reel of production stills.
Theatrical Trailers: Trailers for the 1956 original release and the 1983 re-release of the film.
Commentary by Brain Sibley continues.
Around the World of Mike Todd:
This is a 1968 biography of Mr. Todd written by his son Michael Todd Jr.
and hosted by Orson Welles. Many of his colleagues reminisce about
his life as Welles relates his past. This is a nice show, and I was
especially glad to hear Elizabeth Taylor relate how she and Todd got together.
She shows off the engagement ring he gave her with its 29 7/8-carat diamond.
"Because" as Todd told her, "30 would have been vulgar."
Highlights from the 1957 Academy Awards Ceremony: Around the World in 80 Days won five awards out of the eight that it was nominated for including Best Picture. This is the after the ceremony press Q & A session where Michael Todd and his wife Elizabeth Taylor talk about how it felt to win the awards.
Highlights for the Playhouse 90 production of Around the World in 90 Minutes: This is a 45-minute segment from the famous television show. Walter Cronkite hosts the 1800 people party that Michael Todd threw to celebrate the first anniversary of the opening of Around the World in 80 Days. This live event in Madison Square Garden was quite a spectacle. With had palomino horses, elephants, clowns, and marching bands it was more of a circus than a party. The interviews with the stars and coverage of the party were interspersed with staged comedy bits illustrating how the movie was filmed and some of the problems Todd encountered. I actually didn't care for this that much. It was spectacle without any reason behind it. Watching a lot of people watching a marching band just isn't that exciting.
Spain Greets a Lonely Envoy: A 30 second newsreel covering Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Todd when they arrive on Madrid while on a European tour.
While Around the World in Eighty Days may not be a great movie,
it is a good movie, and a great spectacle. The color and sound
on this DVD set are both excellent, and the extras are icing on the cake.