By opening with a quirky silent film about adventuring to the moon and meeting it’s exotic inhabitants, director Michael Anderson not only sets up a vital spirit of adventure and discovery, he foregrounds the advances in film technology which make this indelible piece of cinema possible. For some reason I have always looked at this film and assumed it must be a total bore, but nothing could be further from the truth. Around The World In Eighty Days is as exciting today as I’m sure it was in the 1950’s.
The film is about a man named Phineas Fogg making good on a bet that he can circumnavigate the globe in eighty days or less. The film quickly becomes a vessel for one entertaining spectacle after another, as Fogg and his servant encounter all sorts of people, places and events.
Travelling sequences are given a sizeable portion of screen time. There are huge segments where we are invited to simply observe a train travelling or a balloon flying and to take in the magnificent sights which accompany it. With new camera technology cinemascope, the primacy of the screen image becomes intrinsic to the film, and with it’s lush musical score replete in voluminous brass and glittering strings, these long sequences quickly become the most unguilty of pleasures.
Fogg travels to numerous lands – Spain, Hong Kong, India – and given a) the period setting (late 1800s) and b) that the film is made in the 1950’s, there is a distinct lack of racial intolerance; that is to say, the film celebrates a love of cultures and people. Aside from some questionable representations of American Indians, the film embraces this meeting of people and places. Admittedly this meeting is always conducted from the view of ‘the other’, but this is clearly marked and doesn’t make me feel embarrased or awkward. It’s nice to see film beginning to move beyond typical representations of race and ethnicity.
With various cameos and twists at every turn, this lengthy film is a great watch. Around The World In Eighty Days is entertainment of the highest degree, full of interesting characters, music, dancing, bull-fighting, battles and pictures….So many pictures to look at. Watch this film with friends or family and have a blast. It’s what cinema is for.