The Return of Captain Nemo
|The Return of Captain Nemo|
A poster bearing the film's theatrical title: The Amazing Captain Nemo
|Directed by||Alex March
|Produced by||Irwin Allen
|Written by||Jules Verne(novel)
Robert C. Dennis
|Music by||Richard LaSalle|
The Return of Captain Nemo (a.k.a. The Amazing Captain Nemo) was a 1978 science fiction TV mini-series directed by Alex March and Paul Stader(the latter directed the underwater sequences), and loosely based on characters and settings from Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. It was written by six writers including Robert Bloch. It has been considered an attempt by producer Irwin Allen to duplicate the success of his Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. 
During naval exercises in 1978 Captain Nemo (played by José Ferrer) is found in suspended animation aboard his submarine Nautilus beneath the Pacific Ocean. Revived by members of a modern day US Government agency, Nemo is persuaded to rescue United States interests and in so doing battles Professor Cunningham, a typical mad scientist played by Burgess Meredith.
Not originally aired as a movie, it was broken into three parts, expanded somewhat with about 45 minutes of additional footage over the three episodes to become a very brief action series. Sometimes described as a "miniseries", it was intended to be the first story-arc in an ongoing serial. Ratings were dismal, and the series never materialized.
Instead this proved to be Irwin Allen's final foray into weekly science fiction television.
Robert Bloch makes no mention of the series in his autobiography (Once Around the Bloch) but commented on it in an interview: "I did an episode for a show about five years ago which was an abortive attempt at a science-fiction series (Editor’s note: The Return of Captain Nemo). The network gave the go-ahead on it, and they were going to do a four-part story. They assigned each individual episode to a different writer. You had four writers working, neither one of them knew what the other ones were doing, and they had a three-week deadline! And it went off the air after those first four weeks."  Bloch's segment (co-written with Larry Alexander) was titled "Atlantis: Dead Ahead"  although in the theatrical release there are no titles for individual segments of the story.
|José Ferrer||Captain Nemo|
|Burgess Meredith||Prof. Waldo Cunningham|
|Mel Ferrer||Dr. Robert Cook|
|Horst Buchholz||King Tibor of Atlantis|
|Tom Hallick||Tom Franklin|
|Burr DeBenning||Jim Porter|
|Lynda Day George||Kate|
|Med Flory||Tor (silver android)|
|Anthony McHugh||Radio Operator|
|Richard Angarola||Trog (leader of Atlantis Great Council)|
|Anthony Geary||Bork (an Atlantean)|
|Yale Summers||Sirak (an Atlantean)|
The story opens with a transmission received by the White House from the renegade Professor Cunningham, who threatens Washington DC with nuclear destruction from a missile fired from his submarine Raven. His extortion demand is one billion dollars in gold bullion. To demonstrate his capability he blows up small island with the Raven's 'Delta beam'. Cunningham, bespectacled and cardigan-clad, is assisted by various androids including a large silver-headed one known as Tor.
Meanwhile, during US Naval exercises, two Navy officers, Porter and Franklin, while detached from their scuba reconnaissance team happen upon the submerged Nautilus, trapped under a reef since a seismic event dating back to 1877. Once on board they find an intact but inactive vessel, and the cryogenically preserved Captain Nemo, the sole survivor of the original crew.
Subsequent events prompt the newly revived Nemo to offer his services in exchange for repairs to his ship, including the pursuit and defeat of Cunningham's Raven and its crew of mechanised androids. The plot trades heavily on the concept of Nautilus being constructed years ahead of its time, even possessing laser weaponry, defensive force fields and a Nuclear Reactor constructed 127 years before the events of the story take place. Nemo, whose submarine is protected from the Delta beam by an electric force field, manages to intercept and destroy Raven's missile fired at Washington, with only second to spare, thus saving Washington and earning the repairs to his ship.
At Pearl Harbor, the Nautilus takes on board Kate, who is both a nuclear physicist and a strong feminist. She may be able to provide advice regarding the radiation cylinders. Raven, meanwhile, is running low on fuel. Cunningham heads for the Mindanao Trench where there are radiation canisters he can 'fish' for and use to re-power the Raven. Nemo intends to sail for Atlantis, but is persuaded to delay until he can stave off the danger posed by Cunningham once again. Nautilus pursues Raven, but Cunningham leads it off course and through an underwater minefield. There is a fight between Nemo and Dr Cook; Cook is killed. Nemo gets through the mines and then creates a clone of Nautilus via 'kinetic projection'. He sends the clone into the Mindanao Trench to fool Cunningham. Cunningham destroys the clone and thinks the Nautilus destroyed momentarily but then detects signs of life still aboard the real Nautilus.
The Nautilus now heads for Atlantis. They discover its wondrous underwater ruins. Someone greets them and boards the Nautilus. This proves to be Tibor, King of Atlantis, who wears a short girdled tunic and headband. He understands English and explain that the ruins are the old Atlantis. The new city has been moved to underneath the ocean floor due to the prevalence of earthquakes. Nemo and Tibor swim out to Atlantis, while the rest of Nautilus's crew watch on viewscreens. In a columned hall, Nemo meets the Atlantean Great Council, led by the antagonistic Trog. Nemo uses his energy weapon to destroy half a column, demonstrating his superior firepower. Tibor says that he trusts Nemo. Tibor and Nemo, with Sirak and Bork (two of the Atlantean Council) return to the Nautilus only to find the crew 'frozen' motionless; this later proves to be due to Cunningham's 'Z ray' device.
The Nautilus itself is now under outside control from Cunningham. Nemo manually activates the afterburners but they are returned to the Raven. It is revealed that Cunningham had previously captured many Atlanteans, which is why the Great Council hates humans. Tom is already aboard the Raven and is controlled by Cunninghma via a special headband. Nemo is strapped to a table. Cunningham plans to take all his knowledge, including that of how the Nautilus nuclear reactor works, become the foremost intellect in the world, and devastate all the world's capital cities. He plans to do this via twenty destructive orbs he calls 'crozar-elements'. Nemo projects vision of the US Navy Head reminding Tom of their mission, and Tom manages to remove his controlling headband. He immediately 'freezes' Cunningham and his crew with the Z-ray gun and frees Nemo. Nemo and Tom now free King Tibor, who had been locked up.
Tibor and his two fellow Atlanteans take the minisub back to Atlantis. The android Tor unfreezes Cunningham and his crew but Nemo and Tom escape the Raven in scuba gear and head for the Nautilus, chased by members of Cunningham's crew armed with underwater lasers. Nemo and Tom overpower one scuba diver and take his flare, which explodes, killing the rest of Cunningham's agents underwater. Back on Nautilus, they unfreeze their own crew (including Kate). Raven now fires its Delta beam at Nautilus. Nautilus fires back, destroying the Raven at last. In Atlantis, King Tibor bids them farewell. Nemo promises not to return to Atlantis - it should "remain untouched by our progress."
Sadly the quality of the script did not match the calibre of the actors; in order to fit the story into the specified serial timeframe (including commercial breaks), the plot had been pared down to the bare bones. This resulted in a two dimensional comic strip that compared poorly with contemporary science fiction based on the character of Nemo. The basic plot of Nuclear Extortion suffered from being both heavily edited and resolved in the first episode; indeed the same combat scene of a shootout on board the Raven appeared twice in the series. The final production for theatre release was condensed into 102 minutes and marketed as The Amazing Captain Nemo, and only served to highlight the inherent defects. Despite this the production was nominated for several awards.
In 1978 the movie received two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Any Area of Creative Technical Crafts. These were for Frank Van der Veer (optical effects) and L.B. Abbott (special photographic effects).
- Wingrove, David. Science Fiction Film Source Book (Longman Group Limited, 1985)
- Michael Weldon. The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. London: Plexus, 1983, p. 10.
- Don Harden and Tim Farley. "An Interview with Robert Bloch and David Gerrold". Sensor Readings 1 (April 1984). Online at: 
- Randall Larson. Robert Bloch Starmont Reader's Guide 37.Mercer Island,WA: Starmont House, 1986), p. 139
- "Advanced Primetime Awards Search". The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.