The Disastrous Production of Howard Hughes’ 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Disney’s 1954 production of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues by Richard Fleischer has long been the definitive cinematic version of the story. But it was not the first to enter production. In 1946, famous billionaire Howard Hughes attempted to make the film, following “The Outlaw” which would become his final completed film as director. The production would become one of Hollywood’s greatest disasters, taking the lives of over 90 actors and crew, costing nearly half a billion dollars (adjusted for inflation), destroying an entire island, and almost causing a third world war.
As the second world war drew to a close, Hughes was setting his sights on what he intended to be his magnum opus. Verne’s book had long been an inspiration to Hughes, in part inspiring his ventures into nautical enterprises, including the construction of the “Mahogany Mackerel,” one of the largest ships ever to sail. A party was held to mark the start of production at one of Hughes’ seaside homes outside of San Francisco (the mansion is now the home of director David Fincher), and was sadly marred when a drunken Hughes began shooting into the air with his crossbow and killed an albatross, which fell into the punch bowl.
The party featured the intended stars of the film, actors Gene Kelly, Gregory Peck, and Orson Welles who would portray Captain Nemo. It was an early blow to the film when all three actors departed the production on its first day due to infighting over an unsuccessful orgy the prior week. This caused a massive production delay during which Hughes bought up over 50 warehouses (including the world’s largest building at the time) to hold the sets and specially built water tanks until casting was replenished.
Two of these warehouses burned down (including the world’s largest building fire at the time), destroying the sets which then had to be rebuilt. By the time Hughes decided to cast unknown actors in the lead roles, ten more major set pieces had rotted away delaying the production further. Finally in October of 1948 the new sets and all actors were in place on the luxurious island of Bikini Atoll. The crew was to arrive at the shooting location on October 26th but was delayed by weather. This turned out to be a good thing as the United States conducted an unannounced nuclear test on October 27th, annihilating the island and the sets completely. The island is still not inhabitable to this day, and Howard Hughes, who owned the island, was compensated only $212 (adjusted for inflation) for his losses by the government.
Undeterred, Hughes began again with fresh sets, and new actors as the previous group had long since departed by 1950. This time, production finally began and footage was shot. It was never developed however because despite the expenditure of $800,000 (adjusted for inflation) on pyrotechnics for the first scenes shot, nobody had thought to temperature-protect the film canisters, which were opened at the lab and found to have melted completely into what amounted to large plastic hockey pucks. Hughes filmed the scene again, at the same cost, and then a third time when he was not satisfied with a background extra’s hair. This new footage too was lost when it was captured by rebellious 1950s teenagers who held it for ransom. They asked only $50 (adjusted for inflation) but Hughes refused to pay on principle.
The actors and crew were even more upset than Hughes that their work had been for nothing and so began the “Leagues Riots” of 1951. What sets remained were once more burned down, this time in protest. The lead actors were rehearsing in the sets at the time and all died of smoke inhalation. Hughes was also injured in an unrelated accident on the same day when he flew an experimental plane on its first test flight. He managed to steer the wayward jet back to his own property but missed the runway and instead crashed into another set, which had already been rigged for pyrotechnics the previous night, resulting in the loss of the set, pyro, plane, Hughes left pinky toe, and over 30 million dollars in production costs (adjusted for inflation).
Then the real problems began.
Hughes replaced the lead actor with Sam Normanjensen, once thought to be an great star on the rise. Unfortunately he was also a serial killer known then as the Sherman Oaks Ripper. He had killed 17 actors before he was cast, and filmed for only two weeks before he slaughtered and ate the spleen of one of his co-stars. Hughes was exonerated of any negligence but only after 50 million dollars (adjusted for inflation) in court fees and settlements with the actors family, one member of which visited the set on a later filming day to fire his pistol randomly at the remaining cast in anger, killing two more, wounding Hughes who lost his right testicle, and destroying a filming balloon that was the largest air vehicle ever built at the time (adjusted for inflation).
It was then that the Verne family withdrew their rights from the plagued production. Another legal battle cost in the millions, and by the time it was over in 1952, the sets had once again rotted away and had to be rebuilt. By that time, the Disney production was under way and Hughes spent millions more to spy on and sabotage the rival production. Several Disney employees fell victims to car bombs, others to arsenic poisoning, and one to auto-erotic asphyxiation, but Hughes was not considered responsible for that particular event. Walt Disney, of course, declared war.
The “War Between The Sets” began in 1953 as Hughes forces were driven off by Disney’s hired guns, the Mouseketeers which in those days were a fully armed paramilitary force. This skirmish took seven lives, but it was only the beginning. Hughes used his government contracts to secure two bombers and arms weighing in excess of 500 tons, all of which were dropped on Disney owned installations. Disney’s retaliation was severe. Hughes hotels burned days after, there were so many fires that Vegas and LA were both lit as bright as daylight even at midnight from the blazes. Hughes responded with bombings and drone strikes, with “drone strikes” in 1953 referring to dropping bees on ones enemy. One such strike which killed Disney’s allergic son, Walt Disney III (There was no Walt Disney II as Walt felt that talent skipped a generation). The conflict at one point threatened to spill over into Russia’s Southern American interests, leading the president to demand Hughes back down before turning the cold war into a nuclear conflict.
By the time a truce was called, Disney’s film was in theaters and Hughes was ready to call it a loss. He became reclusive and wasn’t seen much in public from that time on. Disney continued to be one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, and remains the producer of the most definitive adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
The book has not been adapted since, but David Fincher’s new version begins filming next week on a budget over 200 million dollars. Sadly, the production has already seen its first fatality, when fireworks during the production party at Fincher’s San Francisco home went astray and killed an albatross.
We at FIJMU wish Fincher the best of luck on his upcoming production. He’s going to need it.
Scroll no further unless you want Labyrinth to be ruined for you!
Okay fam! Labyrinth is one of my favourite films of all time and have watched it endlessly for nearly 15 years and I’ve just noticed something so insignificant yet so important.
At the end of the film, the goblin king as an owl flies towards the moon- there are no stars.
Jim Henson and his attention to detail did not put stars in the sky!
Doesn’t seem significant but let’s remember, Jim Henson found it important to show us that our disneyified view of mythology is wrong- look at Sarah and her innocence towards fairies and the idea that goblins are malicious rather than Childish and trickster like. Henson very clearly wants to explain that real mythological creatures are dangerous.
The Goblin King is very clearly based one the Erl Köng and the Green Man. In European legend, this creature seduces young women, offering them fruits and sexual favours. After nights of summoning them back to the forest, he manages to imprison these women and keep them as song birds in gilded cages. This is seen in the ballroom scene, all these beautiful people fawning and begging for the attention of the immortal Erl Köng. Sarah is able to see beyond this facade and is able to apparently free herself from this cage.
She’s still trapped in the Labyrinth.
She solves the Labyrinth, that was the only term that was set by the Goblin King. But as Hoggle says at the beginning, “even if you reach the castle, you’ll never be able to get out again”.
The Goblin King never said that both Toby and Sarah could leave, it was only an exchange of persons.
She ate the peach, the Goblin fruit, and now she is apart of the kingdom, therefore can never leave.
Fast forward to the end when Sarah is escorted back to her home by the Goblin King, Toby is lying in his crib as if nothing has changed.
That’s because nothing has changed for Toby, time has reordered itself so that the changeling was never there.
Sarah closes the door to Toby’s room- the reality where we are. The whole goblin Kingdom and it’s power are only shown when in Toby’s room, the thoughout way from the underground to the aboveground.
Sarah doesn’t say goodbye to her friends in the mirror, she joins them in their realm. The camera pans from the mirror to the bed, almost like we are now in the reflection.
Sarah says her goodbyes to her father and brother (visually to her brother and verbally to her father, who actually questions where she is and never responds to Sarah after her saying she was there)- the goblin kings true gift and is now stuck underground living out her fantasy.
There are no stars underground nor moon, the moon is now the new door way to the mortal plane that the Goblin King uses.
Sarah has been outmanuvered and is now stuck in her gilded golden bird cage.
I was lucky enough to attend the Pacific Rim: Uprising NYCC panel at Madison Square Garden (and sat in the first row ayyy~~) and took a bunch of notes lol. The panel included the director Steven S. DeKnight, and a few members of the main cast including John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Scott Eastwood, and Burn Gorman. Here’s my recap:
General Worldbuilding Tidbits
Pacific Rim: Uprising is set 10 years in the future after the last film. DeKnight said that they wanted to show a “new generation of Jaeger pilots who have known nothing but chaos.”
Previous characters slated to return, as seen by the trailer, include Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), and Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day).
The new main “trio” seems to consists of the main lead, Jake Pentecost, and the late son of Stacker Pentecost (John Boyega), Jake’s best friend and Jaeger pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), and tech-savvy Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny).
10 years later, the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) has come together to work as an international fighting force, with all of humanity working together - i.e. Jaegers are no longer coded by specific country, like the Russian Jaegers, Australian Jaegers, etc.
This also allowed the opportunity to build Jaegers from the ground up, since they were all previously destroyed in the first film. It was jokingly claimed, “we cancelled the apocalypse and then un-cancelled it to make this movie.”
DeKnight discussed how Del Toro originally set the table with Pacific Rim as a “fantastic visual feast,” so the goal with the sequel was to honor the original, but also expand the universe at the same time.
John Boyega claimed that they weren’t trying to “rewrite what Guillermo Del Toro did, but rather to build upon and expand this universe, and where the humans are at now.”
Boyega also talked about how he came onto work behind-the-scenes creatively on the film as a producer. He described Pacific Rim as one of the only franchises he’s come across where the fans are hopeful and “sacred science fiction ground."
Going in, Boyega felt like he had the same creative passion as DeKnight. When they met in LA for the first time, they went over the specific Jaegers and basically what Boyega wanted to see after Pacific Rim. He claimed that "I believe this is everything you want Pacific Rim to be."
One of the goals of Pacific Rim: Uprising is to explain exactly what happened 10 years after the first film, but not necessarily be a complete detachment to the origin story. It was highlighted that there are a lot of young teenage characters in the cast and hopefully that’ll be something that new viewers can relate to.
According to DeKnight, one of the overarching themes of Pacific Rim is: "It doesn’t matter who your parents are, the color of your skin, your religion, or sexual orientation, you can make a difference and be a hero. It’s the human inside the Jaegers that makes you super."
Pacific Rim: Uprising was filmed both in Australia and China. The cast pretty much agreed that as a director, DeKnight runs a "relaxed” and “creative” set - it was a tough schedule, but the actors all felt that they could still have creative input.
DeKnight called them all “badass,” with Gipysy Avenger leading the charge.
Gipsy Avenger: Has a lot of upgrades, including a Gravity Sling which allows the Jaeger to reach out and grab buildings, cars, etc. and hurl them directly at the Kaiju.
Bracer Phoenix: This is the brute force Jaeger. One of its special abilities, above many, is the fact that it’s a three-pilot machine. Therefore, the third pilot can drop into the chamber and operate a pair of massive guns called the Vortex Cannon.
Saber Athena: This is the most advanced Jaeger in the fleet that uses Plasma swords. Also described as a “little experimental,” and “incredibly swift.”
Titan Redeemer: Has a special weapon called the “ball of death,” which is attached to the end of his arm. According to DeKnight, this was “pretty damn cool."
Guardian Bravo: Is another brute force Jaeger that has a special weapon called the "graphine arc whip."
Scrapper:Described as a "little guy,” that’s been slapped together. Since in the future, there are a lot of people pilfering and stealing PPCD technology to make their own Jaegers.
During the Q&A, an audience member asked if all the new Jeagers run on analog. DeKnight claimed one Jaeger is built on sticks (lmao), but the general idea is that no EM-powered Kaijus will be able to take down the Jaegers in this film.
Jake Pentecost (John Boyega)
Boyega stated that he “loved the first movie and one of the reasons was Idris Elba.” So, he understood the big shoes that he had to fill. Boyega claimed he understood this responsibility, but "we [the cast] all worked as a unit, and Jake Pentecost doesn’t exist without the other characters. This is also a great ensemble piece.“
When the moderator asked if Jake is trying to live up to Sacker’s legacy, Boyega jokingly claimed: "Hell no!” He went to explain that “the greatest heroes don’t accept legendary status. It takes a tussle and a turn and for Jake’s position. Where we find Jake in the beginning of the film is in very different circumstances from his Dad.”
Boyega described Jake as a “stealer, a hustler, and lives in half a mansion. He’s really a guy that doesn’t want to live up to the Pentecost name.”
Jake is bought back into the PPCD in a very unique way through his connection to Cailee Spaeny’s character Amara. So, Jake is bought into this adventure and decides that he’s gotta “step up,” after realizing that the “Pentecost name still means something to people."
During the Q&A, an audience member asked Boyega what’s the most rewarding part of being a sci-fi icon. He claimed that he doesn’t feel like one, but working on both Pacific: Rim Uprising has been exciting, since it’s allowed him to jump into various elements of sci-fi that he loved growing up.
Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood)
Eastwood described him as a Jaeger pilot who’s one of the best out there. Yet, he’s still "the tip of the spear,” and really nothing without his best friend Jake.
Jake and Nate still have issues in this movie to work out from the past, so Eastwood felt that coming back around and dealing with a lost time with these characters was something cool to explore as an actor.
Eastwood also emphasized that while yes, there is plenty of action in the film, it “has a great story first and foremost.”
Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny)
This was Spaeny’s first film that she was ever cast for. So, she was definitely intimidated and a bit terrified, but knew that fans were so supportive of the first film.
Spaeny didn’t actually watch Pacific Rim until she got the audition for the sequel, and really took it upon herself to dive into the universe in order to understand and respect the original film.
In terms of Spaeny’s film experience, there was also diving into tons of stunts and action and lots of skills that she to catch onto , since she was participating in a whole world that’s already been created.
But Spaeny felt that both DeKnight and the cast were very supportive and helpful, whenever she had questions, so it was really easy for her to dive into Cailee’s character. She also bonded with DeKnight since this was the first feature-length, theatrical film that he ever directed.
Spaeny described Amara as very “independent,” and super “badass.” She’s also a tech-savvy person.
For Amara’s backstory, her entire family was killed in the first wave of Kaiju attacks. So, Amara really “takes it upon herself to dive into Jaeger tech and make sure that when Kaiju do come back, she’ll be ready to fight and protect herself."
While Amara’s past is very different from Jake’s, Spaeny claimed that both of them still see a lot of things in similar ways.
Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman)
Gorman said he was very excited to be back in the sequel, which felt like "being back in the playground.” He also joked, "I’ve been lucky enough with this face that God gave me to play a few jerks on screen,” when an audience member briefly highlighted his past roles on Torchwood, Revenge, Game of Thrones, and The Dark Knight Rises.
Gottlieb still has problems with personal hygiene. Gorman claimed, “let’s just say that he hasn’t changed his socks since the last film."
In comparison to Charlie Day’s character (Dr. Newt Geiszler) who has moved onto the private sector, Gottlieb chose to stay behind with the PPCD and arguably their most important scientist at the highest level at this point. So, Gorman joked that Gottlieb now, in effect, has a "really great budget,” to work with now.
However, DeKnight makes it clear that where we find Gottlieb is: “as a man still very much affected in what happened in the previous film in terms of his drift and communication with the Kaiju.
There was a brief Q&A and the last question really stuck out to me, where an audience member asked each cast member to sum up their Pacific: Rim Uprising experience in one word:
Tehching Hsieh jumped from the second floor window of his house, recording his leap on Super 8 film and through a series of photographs. Hsieh dropped approximately fifteen feet onto a concrete floor, breaking both of his ankles. He subsequently destroyed the film of this singular, unrepeatable act, but its serial photographs remain. At the time, Hsieh was unaware of Bas Jan Ader’s now widely known Fall performances (1970-1971) and Yves Klein’s infamous photomontage Leap into the Void (1960). Klein’s manipulated photograph was a theatrical evocation of momentary freedom. In contrast, Hsieh’s fall is not imbued with the ecstatic possibilities of flight or transcendence, but traumatically resonates – through his life and ours – with the brutal facts of gravity, concrete and splintered bones.
the fact that Gal Gadot did the reshoots for Wonder Woman at 5 months pregnant and it had literally no bearing on the quality of the film basically destroys any argument that a woman can’t be hired or cast because she’s a woman and ‘might get pregnant’. and on top of that she gave birth two months ago and threw her back out during the press tour and still did all of the interviews etc further reinforces my point. plus she’s a literal wonder woman