In their second volume, Eureka present a collection of three silent films from Universals early slate. Two of these films are restored in 4k and one in 2k, meaning that they are the best they have ever looked, especially as this is the first time they’ve been available on home video in the UK. The three films are presented across two discs and accompanied by a sparse but good quality collection of bonus features.
Silent films are of course a bit of a niche market and have to be examined with a somewhat forgiving eye. There is a lot of what you’d expect from films that are around a hundred years old here. Black-face, racism and sexism will make the films a hard sell for a huge number of viewers. As such, these films are mostly worth viewing for curiosity’s sake, and to examine the filming techniques used at the time. As film was a relatively new medium, we can see some things that worked and others that didn’t, and which things filmmakers still do compared to others that have been relegated to cinematic history.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)
Stuart Paton directs this adaptation, which combines two works by author Jules Verne. Combining plots from ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ but also its sequel ‘Mysterious Island’, we are told the story of Captain Nemo (Allen Holubar), an Indian prince (played by a white man in black face) who commands a submarine that is responsible for ramming ships. A lot of the nuance of Verne’s original novel is lost, however the images are what sells this film. There is some stunning (for the time) underwater cinematography, which emphasises the films intention of spectacle over storytelling. We see the pioneers of this underwater photography at the beginning of the film, and a huge amount of the runtime is taken up by long shots of coral reefs. There is this feeling that if James Cameron was making films in 1916, this is what he would have made, with 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea making its name with the promises of new technology and previously unseen images.
The Calgary Stampede (1925)
Perhaps the hardest watch of the box, The Calgary Stampede is a melodrama that tells the story of a man wrongly accused of murder. It feels overlong, incredibly racist and ultimately has little to offer to modern audiences beyond some of the impressive location shooting at the Calgary races and stunt work.
What Happened to Jones? (1926)
The most fun film in this set, William A. Seiter’s What Happened to Jones? is a charming and quirky comedy based on the play by George Broadhurst. Of course, there are some vast differences to the (not very good apparently) play, as unlike the stage version the story is told visually. Tom Jones (Reginald Denny) is a bachelor drawn into an illegal poker game the night before his wedding. They are raided by the police, and the rest of the runtime is spent with him adopting various disguises and getting dragged into assorted hijinks to hopefully get back in time to get married. The visual comedy works well, and it’s obvious how it has influenced what came after it.
The Bonus Features are as explained a bit sparse. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is accompanied by an appreciation video by Kim Newman. He thankfully fills in some gaps on the making of, especially the technical details of how the underwater footage was achieved. The other two films have commentaries, with David Kalat’s commentary of What Happened to Jones? being a great listen. So although there isn’t much here, what is there adds some brilliant observation and interest to the films.
Overall, this set is definitely one for the most keen of film collectors, worthy in its approach and necessary in its existence. However, it certainly isn’t for casual film fans.
- Limited Edition O-Card slipcase [2000 copies]
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from restorations undertaken by Universal Pictures (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and What Happened to Jones? restored in 4K, The Calgary Stampede restored in 2K)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – score by Orlando Perez Rosso
- The Calgary Stampede – score by Chris Tin
- What Happened to Jones? – score by Anthony Willis
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – New video appreciation by author / critic Kim Newman
- The Calgary Stampede – Brand new audio commentary by professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney
- What Happened to Jones? – New audio commentary by film historian and writer David Kalat
- A collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films included in this set
- * All extras subject to change
The Early Universal Vol. 2 Box Set from Eureka! is released on the 25th of October.