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13 1 The Silents To early filmmakers, Jules Verne was not only a legend but also a contemporary author of international repute, and his global reputation was still at its peak. One or two new books had been published annually since 1863, and even after his death in 1905 his works continued to appear regularly, with the last original book published in 1919. Verne’s tales were already regarded as classics that appealed to every audience and geographical locale; there was scarcely a language into which his works had not been translated. Short films inspired by his ideas and predictions abounded in Europe and America, and countless movies during the first decades of science fiction filmmaking incorporated one or more Vernian concepts. Typical notions shown were aerial and space flight, submarines, diamond manufacturing, underwater tunnels, wireless communication, pseudoscientific organizations, comets colliding with Earth, polar expeditions, invisibility, and technically advanced cities. However, only a few films tried to adapt Verne’s stories. The most influential that did do so were the lively creations by Georges Méliès, who earned a reputation as “the Jules Verne of the cinema .”1 Others of the time also drew on Verne for inspiration, such as Segundo de Chomon, again using the aesthetic of trick films. As liveaction features began to emerge in 1913, among those setting the pattern was the author’s son, Michel Verne. During the latter years of his father’s life, Michel was a trusted collaborator who saw many of Jules’s last works through to posthumous publication between 1905 and 1914, 14 Hollywood Presents Jules Verne although altering them in both minor and major ways. He simultaneously turned his attention to “Les Films Jules‑Verne,” supervising the first production, Les Enfants du Capitaine Grant, which was imported into the United States as In Search of the Castaways (1914). Michel wrote and directed four adaptations before serving as a producer on the 1920 nine-part French serial of Mathias Sandorf, which was also released in a feature version, shown in the United States as The Isle of Zorda in 1921.2 Jules Verne’s own stage versions of Around the World in Eighty Days, The Children of Captain Grant (1868), and Michael Strogoff (1876) had been immediately translated for the English-language theater, and Around the World in 80 Days and Michael Strogoff ran for decades throughout the United States and Europe.3 Meanwhile, an assortment of other playwrights composed their own unauthorized versions. Hence, Verne was an author familiar to both readers and theater-going audiences , and the first films made from his stories drew heavily on their respective stage background. The first Hollywood Verne films were not science fiction; they exemplified the genre to which more than half of his novels belong: adventure. He was indebted to the classical forms of his predecessors Daniel Defoe, Sir Walter Scott, and Alexandre Dumas père, and their formulas allowed Verne to keep up his astonishing output of one or two novels annually. The adventure tradition celebrated the era’s rise of individual freedom and self-determination, usually in a nationalistic context, and heralded exploration and the establishment of overseas empires—an inherently contradictory mix that facilitated portraying European encounters with peoples of distant lands. Unlike most adventure writers of the day, however , Verne had sympathy with colonial struggles for liberation, and his viewpoint was far in advance of the predominating “white man’s burden ” ideology. Adventure themes would also influence Verne’s science fiction; for instance, in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, Captain Nemo both explores the earth’s remote regions and uses his science against a colonial oppressor. For Verne, Michael Strogoff (1876) was his supreme adventure novel. All of his most notable previous works involved science in one way or another; even Around the World in Eighty Days relied on vari- The Silents 15 ous mechanical forms of transportation to take the hero on his journey. By contrast, Strogoff has nothing but his own physical resources as he begins an epic journey from Moscow to Irkutsk to deliver a vital message from the czar to the grand duke. Along the way, Strogoff falls in love with Nadia, is captured by rebelling Tartars, and is apparently blinded with a hot sword placed before his eyes—although it turns out that his vision is saved by the tears he was shedding at that very moment for his mother, Marfa, and he survives to save Russia by killing the traitor Ivan...


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