Today is the birthday of the great science fiction pioneer Jules Verne (1828-1905), a favorite of my youth (in translation) as he no doubt was of yours. And if you are one of those impediments to human progress who don’t read books, you’ve no doubt at least seen some of the movie versions of his works, which is of course what we’ll focus on here.
Verne is often paired with H.G. Wells as one of the founders of science fiction, and in more recent times, the subgenre of steampunk. His own influences included Victor Hugo (Notre Dame de Paris in particular), Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, and Dumas pere, among others (he was to become good friends with Dumas fils. His period of productivity extended from just before The Second Empire well into La Belle Époque. At his wealthy father’s insistence he was trained in the law and practiced it for a time, but his head was very much in the clouds, as the expression goes. That phrase was much truer of him than it was for other people!
Most of Verne’s earlier literary efforts in the 1850s were stage plays, essays and short stories. With the support and encouragement of publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, starting in 1863 he undertook a series of fantastical novels that came to be called the the Voyages extraordinaires. Most of them concern voyages by scientifically minded explorers in hot air balloons, submarines, rocket ships and other contraptions (including a steam powered elephant), chronicling the strange sights they see on their journeys. It was absolutely in tune with the public taste at that time (and, come to that, has never actually gone out of style).
Verne continued to crank these works out for a period of over 40 years, some of them coning our posthumously. At least one film adaptation was produced during life, and it’s a special one. Georges Méliès adapted From the Earth to the Moon into what remains one of his best known and loves movies, A Trip to the Moon (1902)
Here then some of his principal works and their screen adaptations. Most of them are period pieces set at the time the books were written.
Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863-65) was made into a 1962 film by Irwin Allen as a follow up to his 1960 adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, both of them following the screen formula of Journey to the Center of the Earth (below). The all-star cast included Red Buttons, Fabian, Barbara Eden, Cedric Hardwicke, Peter Lorre, Richard Haydn, BarBara Luna, Billy Gilbert, Herbert Marshall, Reginald Owen, Henry Daniell, Mike Mazurki, and Chester the Chimp.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864-67) was a big hit in 1959; it starred James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, and Diane Baker. There was an entirely forgettable remake in 2008 with Brendan Fraser of The Mummy and Seth Meyers. But the good one from 1958 was no doubt inspired by:
From the Earth to the Moon (1865-68), which was made into a film in 1958 starring Joseph Cotten, George Sanders, Debra Paget, Henry Daniell, and Melville Cooper. Nearly a decade later this was a comical take on it; Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon a.k.a Those Fantastic Flying Fools (1967) with Burl Ives as P.T. Barnum, Troy Donahue, Hermione Gingold, Lionel Jeffries, and Terry-Thomas.
In Search of the Castaways (1865-68) A Walt Disney production was made in 1962 starring Hayley Mills, Maurice Chevalier, George Sanders, Wilfred Hyde-White, and Michael Anderson.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1869-71) And all of the above were no doubt inspired by the popularity of the 1954 Disney version of this classic, arguably his best live action film, with James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Paul Lukas and Peter Lorre. Michael Anderson remade it for television in 1997 with Richard Crenna, Ben Cross, e al.
Around the World in 80 Days (1872-73) : this one has its own post! Read it here.
The Mysterious Island (1874-75). Though the title of this one is not as memorable as most of the others, it seems to have been remade the most. A 1929 strip technicolor version starred Lionel Barrymore, Montague Love, Snitz Edwards, Harry Gribbon, et al. In 1951 Columbia released a serial version. In 1961 there was another adaption clearly designed to take advantage of then contemporary vogue for Verne, with Michael Craig, Herbert Lom, Gary Merrill et al. In 2012 there was yet another version designed as a follow up to the 2008 Journey to the Center of the Earth, with The Rock, Michael Caine, and Luis Guzmán.
Master of the World (1904) I wrote about the entertaining 1961 film version starring Vincent Price here.
The Lighthouse at the End of the World (1905), was made into the 1971 movie The Light at the Edge of the World. The last in the cycle that had begun in 1954 with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It’s got Yul Brynner, Kirk Douglas, Samantha Eggar, and Fernando Rey.