Around the World in 80 Days: 1956 v. 1989, Part I

I recently read Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. To celebrate, I watched the 1989 miniseries, starring Pierce Brosnan, Eric Idle, Peter Ustinov, and Julia Nickson after which I rewatched the 1956 version, starring David Niven, Cantinflas, and a WHOLE bunch of other people.

This series of posts will focus on the differences and similarities between the versions.

First up: the Phileas Foggs.

Both David Niven and Pierce Brosnan do respectable jobs conveying Fogg's personality, including his discipline, kindliness, and sangfroid. Brosnan is slightly more relatable for several reasons, most of which come down to the following:

The miniseries presents Fogg in a way that Verne himself did not--as a young man who is altered slightly by his experience. 

The whole hilarious point of Verne's book (and the 1956 movie) is that Fogg doesn't change after going around the world. He falls in love: that's all. But his cool-headed worship of timetables . . . one gets the impression that Mrs. Fogg will still be expected to get to the breakfast table on time, and if she doesn't, she'll get a mild-mannered yet cool rebuke. (The 1989 Aouda Fogg, played by Julia Nickson, would bop her Phileas over the head for being so ridiculous.)

David Niven gives us this unchanged Phileas. This makes sense since one suspects David Niven would--in real life--go right on expecting, say, the same level of hotel service during an earthquake as during a non-earthquake.

1989 Aouda
1989 Fogg, while not losing his quintessential reserve, subtly alters his views and life goals during his journey. He even (occasionally) gets emotional. For instance, a great deal more attention is paid in the miniseries to the romance between Phileas and Aouda; the Aouda of the miniseries is also far more outspoken and plays a far greater role in the group's adventures.

Brosnan's Fogg is also younger than Niven's. Brosnan was 36 when he did the miniseries (and looked younger) while Niven was 46 when he did the movie. Consequently, when Brosnan's Phileas pulls out a card deck on the train across America and insists on teaching strangers whist, it's completely hilarious, precisely because it is so incongruous. When Niven does it, well, it seems kind of normal. I mean, I would do that (says the woman in her 40s). The older one gets, the more one realizes that reading and playing cards are excellent ways to get through troubling (and/or boring) times, from a train trip to an earthquake.

Likewise, when Brosnan's Phileas arrives at the Reform Club at the end of miniseries, there is about him a kind of suppressed exhilaration. Despite greeting his fellow club members coolly, he is practically shaking with excitement, which makes him utterly adorable.

It's sort of hard to find David Niven adorable. Great actor! Totally personable! But adorable . . . ?

While Niven's Fogg's character is already set (and solidifying), Brosnan's Fogg, on the other hand, is at the mercy of his own youth: how much of his rigidity has been a pose? Believed in--but a pose nonetheless? (Brosnan's Fogg reminds me of Dana Andrews' cop character in Laura; he comes across as laid-back but resorts to playing a boy's game when under stress so he can keep his cool.)

All this is not to say that Niven's interpretation is wrong or uninteresting. It is more to say (1) the two films have different agendas (more on this later); (2) the 1956 film is more Passpartout's while the miniseries is more Fogg's.

To be continued . . .

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