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Jules Verne and cinema: an old story

From the moment when filmmakers like Georges Méliès showed that animated images could go beyond the simple reproduction of real images, it was clear that the universes imagined by the great authors of fantastic literature were becoming conducive to screen adaptations. Among them, Jules Verne (1828-1905), a French novelist, poet and playwright, was undoubtedly the first to inspire cinema.

For a long time at the beginning of the moving images, Jules Verne was not credited by directors and script writers using his very visual stories as an inspiration. An interesting case is provided by a Pathé production from 1907 entitled Le Petit Jules Verne. In this film, a child, before going to bed, immerses himself in reading a novel by Jules Verne. Tired, he falls asleep and begins to dream that he becomes the hero of the famous writer's novels. We see successively, in the space of a few minutes, “Around the World in 80 Days”, “From the Earth to the Moon”, “Five Weeks in a Balloon” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”.

Regarding the official adaptations, it is quite significant to note that it is American production companies which openly display their intentions. Indeed, since the beginnings of cinema, the United States has multiplied adaptations of Jules Verne's novels. As early as 1905, the year of the Verne’s death, the Biograph company produced a version of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” under the title 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, directed by Wallace McCutcheon. But the existence of this film has never been confirmed. 

As the notion of feature films became established, large-scale productions began to emerge, which is confirmed by “Round the World in 80 Days” by Ralph Ince (1914), based on “Le Tour du monde in 80 days". As early as 1914, the novel “Michel Strogoff” finally found an adaptation worthy of the name by the director Lloyd B. Carleton, just like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, directed by Stuart Paton (1916), which benefited from authentic underwater views.

Somehow it was natural that Jules Verne and Walt Disney meet, both “explorers of the imagination” as the documentary goes. Periodic interest in Jules Verne’s novels has often been sparked by film adaptations. One of the most famous of these is the 1954 Disney film of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. During the 1950s and 60s lots of American film adaptations of his novels made Verne a household word, a name equated with the adventure of science and its uncanny progress over the last century. If Jules Verne's novels have frequently been adapted for cinema and television, it is mainly because of their spectacular narrative particularly suited to Hollywood productions. The same is true of comics. His characters are icons of the popular imagination (such as Phileas Fogg, Captain Nemo or Michel Strogoff). 

With more than three hundred film and television adaptations produced around the world, including around a hundred in Hollywood, Jules Verne is the fourth most screened author, after Shakespeare, Dickens, Conan Doyle and HG Wells. In 2015, the influence of Jules Verne would still be felt, according to the American Verne academic Brian Taves in productions such as Ex Machina, Avengers: Age of Ultron and especially Tomorrowland, which “testifies to the spirit of Jules Verne, mainly exploration and idealism that permeate the author’s universe.”


Loosely adapted from Mutoscope, Panorama du cinéma muet à travers le monde, and Wikipedia

Photo credit:

Public domain

Walt Disney

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