Hollywood Presents Jules Verne
The Father of Science Fiction on Screen
Screen Classics Series
Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015
Hardcover. 358 pages. ISBN 978-0813161139. $40
Jules Verne is probably one of, if not the best known of science fiction writers, whose longevity, as this book skilfully explains, can be allied closely to the ongoing interaction between his literary source materials and the various adaptations for the screen. Brian Taves is a most suitable author to explore the various adaptations of Verne's work due to his almost life-long fascination with it, which began as a ten-year-old boy in 1969 watching Master of the World on television . Taves's knowledge and understanding of Verne's oeuvre as it has been depicted on screen over a long period of time provides the reader with a wealth of information, set out in a very accessible manner.
The book is organised chronologically which helps the reader to follow the trajectory of the various filmic and televisual manifestations of Verne's work. Comprising an Introduction, thirteen chapters and an Epilogue, the structure of the book takes the reader through the highs and lows of adaptations of Verne's stories on to the screen. The chronological approach assists the reader to appreciate how Verne’s literary outputs and science fiction filmmaking and television programmes have gone hand in hand.
In the Introduction Taves points out that, 'More than simply an author, Verne is a phenomenon of the scientific age: in him we see both a reflection of our advances and the perils they have engendered' . Living through a period of great scientific advancement (1828-1905), Verne’s literary work both celebrated those advances whilst, at the same time, demonstrating an acute awareness of the problems these changes might entail. In his personal life Verne was conservative and reactionary, disdaining Rousseau's philosophy, opposing the Paris Commune and being both anti-feminist and anti-Dreyfus to boot . His paradoxical relationship to change is evident in the way the United States fascinated him as the most advanced nation at the time but he also saw it 'as full of cranks, frauds, and schemers' .
Throughout the history of filmmaking there have been a number of key figures who have adapted Verne's stories on to the screen, and certain works which have repeatedly been remade, thus maintaining his profile for changing audiences over time. In the silent period George Méliès's fantastic responses to the work rightfully earned him the reputation of 'the Jules Verne of the cinema' . Key Verne works, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, The Mysterious Island and Around the World in Eighty Days, have reappeared on the screen over the years with varying degrees of success.
The relationship between Verne's science fiction and technologies for depicting this genre on screen are closely interlinked, as Taves successfully brings to the fore throughout the book. The use of underwater photography in the 1916 silent version of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea helped to provide a suitable spectacle for contemporary audiences, as did widescreen CinemaScope in the 1954 Disney version of the film. Indeed, Taves argues that Disney's version 'is undoubtedly the most influential Verne movie ever made, achieving a level of critical, commercial, and artistic success that launched a seventeen-year cycle of live action depictions of Verne's work' . Also, beyond the screen, Taves makes the point that a Verne exhibit in Disneyland when it opened in 1955 helped to keep an awareness of his name and work in the wider public consciousness.
Taves demonstrates how the various cycles of Verne's work fluctuated in quality, but he suggests that the 1956 version of Around the World in Eighty Days is 'a nearly definitive rendering of the novel, more faithful to its source than all but a few Verne movies' . The years from 1960 to 1962 are singled out as marking 'a golden age in Verne filmmaking' , when many adaptations were produced, of varying levels of quality, over a three-year period. By the end of the 1960s Verne adaptations had shifted in appeal from youngsters to adults, based on 'publications that altered Verne's reputation' . Yet within a few years that new status faded, and Verne's popularity was paradoxically affected in a deleterious way by the explosion of interest in science fiction generally which followed in the wake of Star Wars (1977) whilst Verne productions generally did not 'rise above the level of mediocrity' . However, television came to the rescue with a sequence of telefilms and miniseries in quick succession in the period from 1997-1999. Coupled with this, the revival of interest in Verne scholarship in the preceding period from 1993-1996 helped to keep his name at the forefront of the science fiction genre. The growing number of pastiches around the turn of the millennium also demonstrated a nostalgic fondness for Verne, in which filmmakers could playfully acknowledge his influence upon the science fiction genre.
Taves argues that the period from 2004-2008 marked 'a quick succession of weak rehashes'  but this period was followed by a new formation from 2008 to the present, with more of Verne's titles made available in English, and the use of innovative forms of cinematic technology in Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D, along with videogames based on Verne's stories, helping to enrich the repertoire. So it is argued that 'Verne stories continue to offer a fertile field for the film industry' . But to produce a successful version now, Taves suggests that it is important that the filmmaker is as knowledgeable about both the previous filmic and televisual adaptations of the work to date as they are about the original literary source material.
This book provides a detailed account of how Jules Verne's name as a key authorial signifier of the science fiction genre has been at the forefront of adaptations for the screen since the origin of film, and how these various filmic and television manifestations have fluctuated in popularity and success. Through reading this book one comes to a realisation that Verne and the screen are inextricably interlinked in the public consciousness, and how and why Verne continues to be of interest and relevance for filmmakers and audiences alike.
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