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observation notes: 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Another stand-alone sci-fi thriller from The Asylum, this one a re-imagining of Jules Verne's classic sea-faring tale, the big change being that now the Nautilus is both mechanical marvel and monster, able to launch robot squids to inflict its altruistic terrorism on military, capitalistic and environmentally offensive targets (also, it takes places 10 leagues deeper than the novel, so, you know, it's more extreme).

When one of these targets - a US nuclear submarine - gets off a rescue buoy before going down in the Marianas Trench, the authorities are alerted to the fact that something fishy's going on (rimshot)(couldn't help myself), and enlist the services of Lieutenant Michael Aronnaux (Lorenzo Lamas), a Navy recovery specialist, and his team to recover, naturally, the missing sub's crew, if alive, and its nuclear stores, no matter what. What makes this team so adept at such a deep water recovery? you might be asking, if such aspects of marine technology interest you. Well, friends, it's something The Asylum whipped up called an "oxygenator," basically the opposite of the goo in The Abyss, some thing or another with the alchemical powers to transform sea water into breathable oxygen. Handy device, that.

Anywho, further complications arise when it turns out it won't be Lorenzo leading the recovery mission, though he's the most seasoned man on board. The key word here is "man." The mission will instead be lead by Lt. Cmdr. Lucille Conciel (Natalie Stone), a British woman inexplicably high-ranking in the US Navy, and, coincidentally, unless it's an Asylum film, Lorenzo's ex-wife.

Long story short, the recovery mission descends and is captured by Nemo, a brilliant but lunatic scientist who's built a submarine city deep below the surface and who's intent on stealing the oxygenator to help him resurrect and restore...wait for it...fucking Atlantis!!! Huzzah!!!

(oh, and he wants the warheads too, something about annihilating the surface world and all us filthy land-lubbers before he brings his precious utopia back to life. whatevs.)

The rest is spoilers.

Overall, 30K holds to the original conceit of the novel - one brilliant man pushed too far attempting to remedy an irredeemable society - while successfully giving it a palpable dose of 21st century fanaticism. The result is a suspenseful, thrilling, inventive sci-fi drama that lives up to it's legacy. Jules Verne would have been intrigued. Despite its hard, technical exterior, the film is driven by it's soft, character-oriented heart, a nice change from some similar Asylum films where explanation can dominate characterization. Not to say the technical aspects are lacking - especially the visual effects, robo-squids specifically, courtesy once again of the wizards at Tiny Juggernaut - but the true strength here lies in the strong, deft, well-paced script by Asylum staple Eric Forsberg (Mega Piranha, Snakes on a Train), and an array of solid performances.

Lorenzo Lamas (Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus) plays it suave and slick, boasting a stern yet restrained aggression, more "Falcon Crest" than "Renegade," i.e. a little phoned-in, but hey, what were you expecting? His ex-wife is played with harsh, taut and chilled vulnerability, like a dominatrix with her own safe word, by Ms. Stone (Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls), whose lips aren't nearly as inflated and thus not nearly as distracting as in the parenthetical film.

Sean Lawlor (MSvGO), the ninth man to play Captain Nemo onscreen, does so with bravado, whimsy and resolved, stoic insanity. He's believable believing his radical plans as practical and pragmatic solutions to a decaying civilization, and while his intelligence is never called into question, his sanity is never called out. Other Asylum regulars round out the cast, including Michael Tower (Invasion of the Pod People, Surpercroc, Dracula's Curse), Damien Puckler (Death Racers, 666: The Beast, Journey to the Center of the Earth), and Kim Little (Countdown: Jerusalem, The Apocalypse, The 9/11 Commission Report), who displays youthful exuberance as Lorenzo's doting technician.

Jules Verne is a Phillip K. Dick figure in sci-fi (it's the other way around, truthfully, but for my purposes i'm ordering it as such) in that nearly every idea the man ever had has been mined and re-mined and will be inevitably mined more in the future than it's been even to date. However, this one is nowhere near as hackneyed or contrived, or even derivative, as many of the other entries. 30K is, as I said, inventive, pertinent and fantastic, everything Verne himself wanted the story to be.

Another undisputed success, here, as far as this inmate's concerned.

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