If you want to see a great film adaptation of Jules Verne's novel, Around the World in 80 Days, check out the 1956 version* starring David Niven as Phileas Fogg. If you want to see an awful adaptation of Verne's classic novel, go to your local theater and watch this 2004 version. But don't say I didn't warn you.
80 Days, directed by Frank Coraci, clocks in at an excruciating 120 minutes. For those two hours, I followed Phileas Fogg (British comedian Steve Coogan), Passepartout (martial arts master Jackie Chan), and Monique La Roche (Hollywood newcomer Cecile De France) through title card after title card of cities (Paris, China, San Francisco) all the while wishing that Jules Verne hadn't included such a lengthy itinerary in his novel.
To be fair, 80 Days is not an easy story to film. Verne wrote a novel in which the story and characters traversed several continents and met a wealth of diverse people in a wealth of odd situations. Verne also incorporated his fascination with science by writing of Fogg's great inventions and ideas—things that would be difficult to put to film convincingly, even in our high–tech world of Computer Generated Images (CGI).
However, this film version does maintain the book's basic premise in that members of an elite English club challenge Fogg to travel around the world in, you guessed it, 80 days. Fogg accepts the challenge with the understanding that, if he wins, he can assume the title of Minister of Science within England's Royal Academy. If he loses, he must forfeit his right to invent and he must steer clear of the Academy. Note here the first of many departures from the original story. In the novel, Fogg's wager is 20,000 pounds, not necessarily his reputation and lifestyle as an inventor.
The second, and more glaring, departure from Verne's novel is Jackie Chan as Passepartout, Fogg's "French" valet (the 1956 version featured a memorable performance from Mexico native Cantinflas as the quirky sidekick). Chan's Passepartout has stolen the Jade Buddha from the Bank of England and must return the Buddha to his small Chinese village in order to save his people. As Passepartout runs from the police, he conveniently meets up with Fogg, who takes Passepartout under his wing as his personal valet. The two then begin their adventure 'round the world.
And what an exhausting adventure it is. 80 Days forces you to live in a world of extremes. It would seem that each of the film's actors resolved to create one dimensional, over–the–top caricatures. Coogan channels Robin Williams' Flubber performance for inspiration for his distracted and idiot savant Fogg. Chan overreacts to every stimulus in the film, usually resulting in a choreographed fight scene (OK, I admit the fight scenes were pretty cool, but honestly, just go rent Rumble in the Bronx). And, De France puts on her best damsel in distress/cheerleader face to complicate matters and encourage the gang, respectively.
It's precisely because I spent the entire time at the movie's frothy surface that I found I didn't care what happened to the characters. When a movie fails to acknowledge human relationships (and I'd like a bit more than La Roche's "We care because we're friends" quips), the movie fails to engage the audience. 80 Days proves that 2 hours of chaos and "eye–popping special effects" do not entertain the masses.
Essentially, 80 Days is a vehicle for Chan's creative fight powers. So, Chan fans might like this movie—especially the battle between the Ten Tigers and the Black Scorpions; that scene stirred me from my 80 Days haze long enough to get me through the rest of the movie.
I was amazed at how little actually happens for a movie with so much action. Sadly, the fast pace and ridiculousness of the film prevented numerous opportunities for more redemptive plotlines. I would have liked to see serious (or even normal) exchanges between Fogg and Passepartout as well as between Fogg and La Roche. Verne's material is adventurous and witty, but it also holds great capacity for character development, and that's exactly what this film avoided.
* The 1956 version includes Georges Melies' fascinating 1902 film, Le Voyage dans la Lune (The Voyage to the Moon). This short is worth the cost of the rental/purchase alone.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- Did you enjoy this adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel? Have you read the novel? How might you have adapted the story? Is Hollywood "obligated" to stick to the original story?
- Passepartout lied to Fogg in order to get the Jade Buddha back to his village and save his people. Was that deception acceptable? Why or why not? Does the end ever justify the means?
- Fogg places a great importance on traveling, saying he's seen great things and learned much. Do you believe that traveling is important? What are the benefits to learning about other cultures?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Around the World in 80 Days is rated PG for "action violence, some crude humor and mild language." Jackie Chan's choreographed fight scenes account for most of the action violence, much like other Chan films. There are several sexual undertones, including the flirting between Fogg and La Roche (at one point, Fogg stares at La Roche's legs) and Passepartout losing his pants. A boat captain shows how a shark bit off both of his "nipples." There's a running gag of Fogg wearing women's clothing.
Photos © Copyright Walt Disney Pictures
What Other Critics Are Sayingcompiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 06/24/04
Jackie Chan's fight scenes are once again winning cheers this week as director Frank Coraci's adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days comes to the big screen. But only a few of those critics are willing to give their approval to the movie as a whole.
Fans of the Jules Verne novel of the same name may be bewildered by the movie's lack of resemblance to it. British comedian Steve Coogan (Coffee and Cigarettes, 24 Hour Party People) plays a nutty inventor who teams up with a kung–fu–fighting sidekick to travel the world in a flying machine in order to win a wager. The film features numerous celebrity cameos, including the last big screen performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger before his metamorphosis into the governor of California.
But in spite of its all–star cast, as Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) notes in his review, there are some distracting holes in this version of the plot: "Without a doubt, the best thing about [the film] is the fight scenes … the best fight scenes in any Jackie Chan Hollywood buddy movie to date. They're actually so good, it's a shame there had to be that annoying filler about a race to circumnavigate the globe." He concludes, "The final act, in particular, is one of the most aggressively stupid things I've seen in a long time. Around the World is lamer as a movie than any of Jackie's previous U.S. films, even The Tuxedo."
Mary Lasse (Christianity Today Movies) says, "If you want to see a great film adaptation of Jules Verne's novel, Around the World in 80 Days, check out the 1956 version starring David Niven as Phileas Fogg. If you want to see an awful adaptation of Verne's classic novel, go to your local theater and watch this 2004 version. But don't say I didn't warn you. 80 Days proves that two hours of chaos and 'eye–popping special effects' do not entertain the masses."
Bob Waliszewski (Plugged In) writes, "It had the potential to be one of the year's foremost films for the whole family. But it didn't use it fully, or faithfully. It's funny, chockfull of action, clever and engaging for all ages. It's also sprinkled with enough problematic content to prompt me to wave a yellow flag in front of families considering making the journey."
Brett Willis (Christian Spotlight) criticizes it for "making fun of historical figures. Legally, you can say almost anything you want about a deceased person. But that doesn't mean it's appropriate." He concludes, however, that this movie is "probably one of the 'least bad' choices of the summer for a family outing."
A couple of critics gave the film higher marks. Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) says, "Unlike its predecessor, this film won't garner any awards, and adults aren't likely to be impressed. But, with a few exceptions, it is decent entertainment for the family."
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says it's "an enjoyable and fanciful family film. The film is well paced and certainly entertaining in a family friendly sort of way."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) calls it "an entertaining, continent–hopping spectacle that is both campy and clever—and, as an added attraction—quite fun."
Mainstream critics find it frivolous and full of hot air.
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