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263 12 Dismal Reiterations, 2004–2008 Despite the achievements in developing new ways to present Vernian ideas, from pastiche to television, in both adult and children’s versions of his novels and plays, an astonishing slide was about to occur early in the twenty-first century. From documentary to telefilm to big-budget theatrical adaptation, the urge to remake according to the latest notions led to a quick succession of weak rehashes. Of Verne’s most famous novels, from its first translation Around the World in Eighty Days had been the least problematic in English. Both Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas had appeared in English several years after their first French publication, but Around the World in Eighty Days had been an instant global sensation from its first publication in 1873, a success echoed almost immediately on the stage.1 In 2004, a new, more accurate translation of this volume became the first to appear as a Verne movie book tie-in: the rendering by Michael Glencross for Penguin. Otherwise, that year’s new screen version proved to have little interest in its source, and its main marketing promotion would be a video game by Game Boy Advance. Just as Nemo had become a martial arts champ in the 2003 film LXG, the sidekick Passepartout karate-chops his way to the spotlight in the 2004 version of Around the World in 80 Days, reconceived as a star vehicle for Jackie Chan. Chan had not read the book, incorrectly believing it had not been translated into Chinese.2 Perhaps he saw Cantinflas in the 1956 movie and imagined he could undertake a similar 264 Hollywood Presents Jules Verne ethnically tinged performance, but he neglected to note that the previous movie was not built around the supporting character. Moving the plot to the end of the nineteenth century, the film inverts the Verne source from the opening shot: the man masquerading as Passepartout is the robber of the bank of England and accepts the dangerous job of Fogg’s valet to hide from the police. Some politically sensitive critics labeled the movie racist for casting Chan (the executive producer) ostensibly as Fogg’s servant, when in truth Fogg has been made imbecilic and Passepartout the hero. The racism instead comes in through the use of Chan’s martial arts stunt teams to invoke all the most hoary Asian villainy to justify his casting. The filmmakers of the Chan version would have been well advised instead to consult Verne’s own 1874 adaptation of his play for the stage, which enhanced the Far Eastern incidents and characters; Verne’s stage variation would have also solved the desire for fresh incidents that had faced the 1989 miniseries, while still retaining the author as a source.3 Whereas in 1956 Cantinflas simply played a Frenchman as Latin, in 2004 Chan’s accent and appearance are explained as the result of a French father and Chinese mother. Adding Chan also tilted the novel’s ethnic makeup; with one of the three central characters already Asian, Aouda was replaced by a new love interest, Monique (Cécile De France), encountered at the first stop in France. As a result, instead of colonial opposites attracting, a man of England and a woman of India, the traditional British and French enemies are united. The filmmakers regarded their wholesale changes as updates and improvements—simultaneously closer to Verne, despite the obvious contradiction. Director Frank Coraci said that he had only fleeting memories of the 1956 movie before he went back to research the material for his update. “I went to the book first and re-read it, since I read it as a kid, and I remembered some of the scenes.”4 He wanted to change the main character to make him more accessible to viewers today. In the book and the 1956 “movie, Phileas Fogg was a very secure, confident person, and he . . . didn’t really change enough for me to make the story worth telling for now.”5 So, Coraci explained, “in this version he’s an inventor. That was inspired by the idea that Jules Verne was way ahead of his time, and so our Phileas Fogg is a man way Dismal Reiterations 265 ahead of his time, living in a Victorian era when people didn’t want to accept big change. They were very stodgy and trying to hold onto their old ways, and the bet stems...


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