Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Amazing Captain Nemo (1978) Surfaces

I reviewed The Amazing Captain Nemo (a mini-series from 1978) under the title The Return of Captain Nemo last year, but regardless of the title, it looks like the rare Irwin Allen production is headed to DVD on April 6.

Now you can see the Space:1999 Eagles-turned-into-submarines for yourself! If you dare...

Here's a snippet of my review from April of last year:

On March 8, 1978, CBS begain airing in prime-time the latest science-fiction TV series from the master of disaster Irwin Allen (The Towering Inferno, The Swarm, etc.)

This new venture -- which represented Allen's final attempt at series work -- was an unholy hodgepodge of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968) mixed with a little Jules Verne, and with a huge helping of Star Wars, which was still playing in theaters and had become nothing less than a national craze. The extremely short-lived series was called The Return of Captain Nemo, though some viewers may remember it by its foreign, theatrical title, The Amazing Captain Nemo.

Only three hour-long episodes of The Return of Captain Nemo ("Deadly Black Mail," "Duel in The Deep" and "Atlantis Dead Ahead") were produced and aired, and the obscure, extremely rare series has mostly been seen since in an abbreviated compilation movie format. This strange broadcast and distribution history has resulted in some apparent confusion about whether or not the original production was a mini-series, a made-for-TV movie or simply a series. All the evidence suggests the latter, since the three 45-minute segments feature individual titles and writer/director/guest star credits. The series aired in prime time, drew terrible ratings, was unceremoniously canceled, and then exhumed from its watery grave as the theatrical or TV-movie that many nostalgic folk of my generation remember.

The first episode of The Return of Captain Nemo, "Deadly Blackmail" commences as a diabolical mad scientist, Dr. Waldo Cunningham (Burgess Meredith) blackmails Washington D.C. for the princely sum of one billion dollars from his perch in the command center of his highly-advanced submarine, the Raven.

Unless the President pays up in one week's time, Cunningham will fire a nuclear "doomsday" missile at the city. To prove his intent is serious, Cunningham destroys a nearby island with a laser called "a delta ray." The creature in charge of firing this weapon is a frog-faced golden robot in a silver suit and gloves. Every time the delta ray is fired (over the three episodes...), we cut back to identical footage of this strange frog robot activating the deadly device.

This introductory scene sets the breathless tone and pace for much of the brief series, proving immediately and distinctly reminiscent of George Lucas's Star Wars. Specifically, Cunningham's right-hand man in the command center is a giant, baritone-voiced robot/man called "Tor." This villain -- when not speaking directly into a communications device that resembles a high-tech bong -- looks and sounds like the cheapest Darth Vader knock-off you can imagine, right down to the rip-off James Earl Jones voice.

Tor even boasts psychic abilities not unlike the power of the Force. When intruders steal aboard the Raven, for instance, Tor can psychically senses their presence there; just as Vader could sense the presence of Obi-Wan aboard the Death Star. Yes, I know Darth Vader isn't actually a robot and his power wasn't actually psychic, but this is the kind of distinction that escaped the creators of
The Return of Captain Nemo.

And speaking of The Death Star, Cunningham -- who essentially plays Governor Tarkin to Tor's Lord Vader -- the submarine Raven's deadly delta ray looks an awful lot like the primary weapon of that destructive imperial space station. Much more troubling, however, is the fact that the Raven, Cunningham's powerful submarine, is actually a just barely re-dressed Space:1999 eagle spaceship, replete with the four rear-mounted rocket engines, the dorsal lattice-work spine, the modular body, and the front, bottle nose capsule. Yep, it's all there. Many of the underwater sequences in The Return of Captain Nemo are incredibly murky and feature superimposed bubbles and dust in the foreground (probably to hide how bad the miniatures look...), but I've attempted to post a few photographs of the Raven here, so you can see for yourself that, yep, Cunningham's ship is an underwater Moonbase Alpha eagle transporter.


  1. Anonymous8:53 AM

    Ha! I wasn't hallucinating! I have only vague memories of the plots (no, let's be real, I have NO memories of this forgettable show's plots), but I DO recall the underwater Eagles. I have never been able to find another living soul who could verify my recollections. Thank you for assuring me I'm not gong batty !

  2. Anonymous: You're definitely not going batty! I suffered the same way you did: wondering where on Earth I had seen those submarine Eagle transports! Glad to relieve your suffering :)


  3. Wow. I would LOVE to see this again. I was one of the half dozen or so of us who actually watched the series. I wish I remembered more about it, but this will be so fun to revisit. Although, of course, I fear it will be horrible. Ah, the misty beauty of memory, that blurs away the garbage and leaves only precious wonder in its place.

  4. Hey That Neil Guy!

    I had high hopes for it too. I tracked it down last year, and went to some lengths to find a copy of the series. I've always loved the Captain Nemo character, and I remember watching the show as it aired in the late-seventies.

    But yes, be prepared to lose that sense of precious wonder! Which doesn't mean you shouldn't see it...just brace yourself!


  5. And speaking of losing my sense of wonder, I tracked down my most precious memory of all, Man From Atlantis, a year or two back. I'm still too scared to watch it for fear of completely trashing my nostalgic love of the show.

  6. I've been straight out and missed all of the fun Eagles references. I'm definitely intrigued to check it out.

    I missed this Irwin Allen riff. I'm intrigued enough just to see the theft of the Eagle. Thank you John.