David Fincher Talks About Why His 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Never Surfaced

Director David Fincher looks back on how close he came to adapting Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea...before it sank.

David Fincher

If you’ve read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, then you know that as with all Jules Verne novels (save perhaps, Journey to the Center of the Earth) that the author was mostly dead right in predicting the extension of man’s 20th century grasp. A writer with limitless imagination, Verne made 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea a template for countless science fiction adventure stories to come.

So, as terrific as the Walt Disney version of that story is, which starred James Mason as the charismatic Captain Nemo in 1954, it is fair to say that there could be a modern cinematic attempt at this timeless classic. In fact, acclaimed director David Fincher (Zodiac, The Social Network) came immensely close only a few years ago to helming such a venture for Disney…but much like his sequel to the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it never materialized. Now, Fincher is opening up as to why it never quite came together, as the Gone Girl director talked candidly about the aborted project to Little White Lies earlier this week.

As brought to the attention of Brad Pitt Online, the interview discussed a project for which Fincher originally had his frequent leading man, as seen in Seven and Fight Club, pegged for a starring role. Some suspect that it was tough-as-nails sailor Land, but given Fincher’s off-kilter casting choices, I’d lean toward guessing that Pitt was intended to be Nemo, a figure just as seductive as Pitt’s last Fincher character, Tyler Durden. However, despite having already scouted locations with a tax break in Australia, the production sank as soon as Pitt couldn’t commit (nor Channing Tatum who likely would have been up for the role of Land).

“You get over $200 million — all motion picture companies have corporate culture and corporate anxieties,” Fincher said. “Once we got past the list of people we could cast as the different characters in the film, once we got past one or two names which made them very comfortable, making a movie at that price, it became this bizarre endeavor to find which three names you could rub together to make platinum.”

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Fincher went on to add about the ordeal: “I think that when you’re trying to put together a handful of people to deliver all those facets of humanity and who work well together, it has to be in service of the narrative and not in service of the balance sheet. It became very hard to appease the anxieties of Disney’s corporate culture with the list of names that allowed everyone to sleep at night. I just wanted to make sure I had the skill-sets I could turn the movie over to. Not worrying about whether they’re big in Japan.”

We may never see David Fincher’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and after he failed to launch an R-rated adult franchise for Sony with a $100 million Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, perhaps Disney’s trepidation is not totally unfounded. Yet, this is a wonderful story that deserves another shot for modern audiences before the umpteenth caped reboot that is undoubtedly brewing in some committee room, as we speak.

Special thanks to Blastr for bringing this story to our attention.

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