20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

Directed by Stuart Paton, this was the first attempt at ever filming Jules Verne’s novel. It also includes elements of his story The Mysterious Island. It was also the first motion picture filmed underwater, which was the role of the Williamson Submarine Film Corporation in the Bahamas. While they did not use actual underwater cameras, they instead made a system of watertight tubes and mirrors that shot reflected images of underwater scenes that they staged in shallow waters that were brightly it by the sun. It’s a pretty amazing magic trick.

Adding to the history of this movie, it was made by The Universal Film Manufacturing Company, which eventually became Universal Pictures. While they weren’t a major player yet, they still raised the money for the movie’s special effects, on-location shooting, huge sets, exotic costumes, fully-built ships and a life-size staging of the surfaced Nautilus. In all, this took two years to make and cost the studio $500,000 (which would today be about $19 million dollars). That cost — which kept the film from making any money — kept studios from making another Verne film for more than a decade.

38 years later, when Disney remade this movie, they came to the exact spot in the Bahamas. That’s because the water was so clear that it made for a perfect shooting location.

If you’d like to own this piece of history, it’s just been released by Kino Lorber on blu ray. It also has commentary by film historian Anthony Slide. I loved every minute and I have a feeling that you will, too.

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