Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Final Best Picture In My Project: Around The World In 80 Days

The Good: Great cinematography, Funny, Decent acting, Generally good characters, Amazing DVD bonus features.
The Bad: A little lighter on character development than is ideal.
The Basics: A race around the world takes two men - and an investigator dogging them - on a trip through the northern hemisphere on every means of conveyance!

Two years ago, fairly early in the year, I began a project whereby I would watch every film that won the Best Picture Oscar and while a few sticky wheels prevented me from getting it done before the end of that year, I did accomplish my goal. And when the time came, I awoke and watched the final film the project demanded of me, the 1956 film Around The World In 80 Days. By this point, I am used to epics as many of the Best Picture Winners are over three hours in length, but my wife is not so enthusiastic about cinema as I and was not eager to watch yet another sprawling film. The irony here is that she spent her childhood reading many of the classics from classic authors, including Around The World In 80 Days by Jules Verne. I, to date, have not. As a result, this is a rather pure viewing of the film, unprejudiced by any comparison to the novel.

Given the depth of character development and commentary on London society, I suspect that Around The World In 80 Days is a fairly true adaptation of the novel, though. If it were a film being made today, it probably would have opened with far less social commentary and featured more in the way of special effects. But rather smartly, director Michael Anderson and writers James Poe, John Farrow, and S.J. Perelman take the time to comment on society as well as establish a sense of humor. This makes Around The World In 80 Days instantly accessible and invests the audience in the principle characters of Mr. Fogg and Passepartout from the start. I, personally, enjoy the claim on the DVD box that Around The World In 80 Days as the most star-studded film of all time, which might have been true when it was first released. I, however, was only able to immediately identify Shirley MacLaine. I suppose the times truly do change!

In 1872 in London, a bank robbery and the taking on of a new gentleman's gentlemen act as the preamble for a bet between members of the Reform Club as to whether or not the educated and erudite Mr. Fogg may make a trip around the world in eighty days. When the train they intend to begin their journey on is waylaid by an avalanche, they head out from England in a hot air balloon which takes them to Spain. From there, they catch a fast boat to France - after Passepartout proves himself in a bullfight - and take a steamer to Bombay. Making record time on the boat, they transfer to a train which takes them to the coast.

As Fogg and Passepartout make their way around the world, they are hounded by the Scotland Yard inspector Mr. Fix, who is absolutely convinced that Fogg is the one who robbed the Bank of London. As they are conveyed upon elephants, trains, horses and ships, Fodd and Passepartout work to outwit the inspector.

Around The World In 80 Days is a very classic adventure which is surprisingly funny and one need be a historical scholar to catch much of the deeper humor in the social satire of much of the dialogue at the Reform Club. In addition to irony and social commentary, Around The World In 80 Days employs quite a bit of physical humor. Most of the physical humor comes from Passepartout, who is funny and is involved in a number of pratfalls and scenarios where he is required to look shocked.

Passepartout is played by Cantinflas, whose knack for physical comedy is exceptional. He had great control over his body and facial muscles and gives a rousing performance, from moments when he is running and active to the few deeper moments, where he must play as depressed with a sagging of his shoulders. Improbably cast is Shirley MacLaine as Princess Aouda, whose life is saved by Fogg and Passepartout early in the journey. Despite being an Indian princess, she plays the role well as more than just a simple potential love interest for Phileas Fogg.

But the journey around the world would be without purpose for the viewer if the protagonists were not likable. While Passepartout is a decent sidekick, Fogg is an eminently likable protagonist as the time-obsessed aristocrat. David Niven plays Fogg and he is appropriately stuffy and erudite, but he has moments where he softens and illustrates loyalty that makes him more kind than he initially appears. Niven is realistically smart to pull everything off and Fogg makes for a great cinematic protagonist.

Director Michael Anderson has an excellent sense of cinematography and this, ultimately, is what pushes Around The World In 80 Days up into above average territory. The humor replays well, I suspect, and what makes this a classic worth owning on DVD are the sheer number and quality of bonus features on the DVD presentation. The two-disc version features full-length commentary tracks and theatrical trailers for the movie. As well, the second disc features featurettes like "Around The World In 90 Minutes" and a detailed featurette on the Mike Todd. What fans of cinematic history are likely to appreciate as well is the fact that the two-disc version also has the Oscar presentation from 1957 when the film won its awards.

Around The World In 80 Days essentially is a bet story and the question is, will Fogg make the deadline he has set for himself or not? If he doesn't, he'll lose a small fortune. If he does, he makes a tidy sum. The film would fail if it weren't for the viewer's interest in Fogg and Passepartout, but fortunately between the beautiful landscape shots, Anderson takes the time to give the two main protagonists enough depth to make the viewer care about their fates. This makes the film a winner and anyone who likes a decent adventure story with a little bit of humor will find something to enjoy in Around The World In 80 Days!

[As a winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this film is part of W.L.'s Best Picture Project, available here! Please check it out!]

For other film journeys, please check out my reviews of:
The Lord Of The Rings
Alice In Wonderland
The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission

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