It would seem to be difficult to go further downhill than the 2004 movie of Around the World in 80 Days or the 2005 telefilm Mysterious Island, but 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea succeeds in achieving this lamentable goal. As a 2007 direct-to-video release from, appropriately, The Asylum, 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea begins with the unpromising notion of updating Verne's classic, trying to cross Verne with Tom Clancy. Certainly Verne has been updated before, and the results were not promising; The Amazing Captain Nemo comes most prominently to mind. Yet, as bad as that predecessor was, it was a masterpiece by comparison to 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
As in The Amazing Captain Nemo, 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea begins with the idea of having Nemo interact with modern naval technology. Some characters remain; there is a scientist, Aronnax, and Conceil (sic), now his ex-wife and military superior. There is even Nemo--but none of these individuals have any resonance with those in the novel, nor do any of the other supporting characters. Indeed, Conceil is pronounced, not as a French name, but as if it were a type of seal.
Aronnax and his crew are dispatched by Commander Farragut from the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in a special deep-sea diving sub into the Marianas Trench, where another, larger submarine was lost, apparently caught in the grip of a giant squid. Making contact, the rescuers somehow wake up aboard the Nautilus. Nemo introduces himself as a jolly eccentric billionaire who plans to release his captives shortly and is on the friendliest of terms with Farragut. Already the disjunctures typical of the unfolding plot are evident.
The Nautilus itself has vastly more in common with the Seaview of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea than anything of Verne's imagining. Nemo regards himself as an idealist, determined to save the deep and create a deep-sea utopia since humankind is "defecating" (the word is used twice) on the surface world. His crew seems to contain all types; the Nautilus is more of a city than submarine. There's even a nightclub on board and apparently prostitutes ply their trade with approval. Certainly the language and morality of a Jules Verne film has changed in the 21st century; gone are the days when Verne implied family entertainment, or the civic idealism of Captain Nemo and the Underwater City, in which Nemo was formulated as a Lyndon Johnson-style figure trying to formulate a Great Society in the deep.
30,000 Leagues Under the Sea director Gabriel Bologna claims to be a fan of Verne, he even says that he's named his son after the author; however the adaptation by him with Eric Forsberg's screenplay has more reverses and nonsensical twists than a movie serial, while none of the genre's charm. 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea constantly returns to plot points to recycle shots and sets. The end has Nemo pursuing the escaping Aronnax to retrieve the "oxygenator" that Aronnax had invented and Nemo needs to resurrect Atlantis.
Only two motifs beyond character names are to be found in the book: the sunken land of Atlantis, and the giant squid (several of them, and under Nemo's control). Nemo himself spins steadily further from Verne's conception and even the weakest other previous filmic impersonations. Sean Lawlor's Irish brogue and the naval tour-of-duty pins on Nemo's tunic are entirely out of place. Nemo proves steadily more monomaniacal in trying to capture Aronnax. He turns nuclear torpedoes on Aronnax and his crew, who has arranged a booby trap that destroys the Nautilus. As Nemo's own followers haplessly declare "Abandon ship!" leaving their captain to weep uncontrollably, the Nautilus crashes into the remains of Atlantis. Surely no film has ever offered so pitiable an etching of Verne's hero of the deep.
Not that Lorenzo Lamas offers more as Aronnax, or Natalie Stone as Conceil. The actors have little opportunity here, however, given the script and Gabriel Bologna's direction, which does little more than alternate between close-ups and extreme close-ups. While at least the 2004 Around the World in 80 Days or the 2005 Mysterious Island had offered a few points of interest or discussion, 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea has, lamentably, no virtues whatsoever.
Review by briantaves from the Internet Movie Database.