Jackie Chan Meets Jules Verne
My husband promised me a spaghetti dinner after Around the World in 80 Days. That's my favorite dish, so all I could think about was pasta when we started watching the film. But as soon as this highly entertaining movie got underway, I became hooked -- and I forgot completely about our dinner plans. Because of the movie’s fast-paced action, clever comedy and imaginative adventures, as experienced by characters I cared a great deal about, I found this remake to be one of the most enjoyable films so far this year.
Jules Verne’s famous story about an Englishman of the late 1800s who wagers he can travel around the world in eighty days certainly lends itself to cinematic treatment. The popular 1956 version won the Oscar for Best Picture that year. Although this 2004 adaptation isn’t destined to achieve such an honor, it’s a treat for the entire family.
Most youngsters will enjoy the wild inventions on display, and adults should appreciate the film’s creative references to nineteenth century luminaries like Rodin, Monet, Van Gogh, the Statue of Liberty and Queen Victoria. They’re also likely to chuckle at cameos by such stars as the Wilson brothers (Owen and Luke), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathy Bates, Sammo Hung, John Cleese, Mark Addy and Rob Schneider as well as at the movie’s witty dialogue. Jim Broadbent (Iris), who plays the pompous villain with great relish, shouts my favorite line. “This is the Royal Academy of Science; we don’t have to prove anything,” he insists. Kudos to three screenwriters named David (Ticher, Benullo and Goldstein).
Jackie Chan (Shanghai Knights) throws himself enthusiastically into the role of Passepartout, a valet who’s involved in more than serving his master, and Steve Coogan’s (24 Hour Party People) impeccable comic timing pays off handsomely as the eccentric London inventor, Phileas Fogg.
In describing the film’s objectives, director Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer; The Waterboy) said, “Our overall goal was to make an epic with a sense of humor; a fun movie that brings audiences to new places.”
Chan, who demonstrates his signature comic-action style in several well-choreographed encounters, welcomed the opportunity to work with Coraci. “Frank was very open to all the ideas I had for the action scenes,” he explained.
Who wouldn’t be open to Chan’s ideas for action scenes? His special blending of comedy and martial arts has resulted in some of filmdom’s most exciting and dynamic action sequences. In Around the World in 80 Days, Chan’s colorful fight during a visit to an art gallery in Paris is one of his best.
While at the gallery in question, Passepartout and Fogg meet Monique, a struggling artist played delightfully by French actress Cecile de France, who makes her debut in an English language Hollywood film here. Joining our heroes in their journey, Monique teaches the scientific-minded Fogg about the value of art and romance.
Adding to the fun are appearances by Karen Joy Morris, a singer/actress who’s a household name in Asia, as the menacing General Fang and Ewen Bremmer (Trainspotting) as Inspector Fix, the film’s hapless punching bag. Also, I would be remiss not to mention production designer Perry Blake’s (Little Nicky) contribution to the wonderful look of this film. “We liked the 50s because they were the years when people tried to project what the future would be like,” Blake declared. “You saw flying saucers and rocket ships and those kinds of things. We tried to integrate that into a movie that took place in the 1880s. It was ‘future retro’.”
Future retro worked for me. And, in case you’re wondering, our spaghetti dinner was very good, too.
Available for home entertainment on November 2 (2004), the Around the World in 80 Days DVD boasts a number of entertaining bonus features, although none to compare with the fun of seeing the actual movie. There are nine very short deleted scenes and a second version of the film with an alternate opening introduced by director Coraci as well as the traditional behind-the-scenes feature and a look at Jackie Chan's amazing stunt choreography. I tend to agree with Coraci's observation here that "no one works as hard as Jackie Chan." Also included is a lively music video, "Everybody All Over the World," filmed in a Monty Python-like wacky style and performed by Dave Stewart and the Sylvia School Children's Choir.
(Released by Walt Disney Home Entertainment via Buena Vista Home Entertainment and rated “PG” for action violence, some crude humor and mild language. Bonus materials unrated.)