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

There was a board game! Before the movies!
In Jules Vernes' book, Phileas Fogg pays little attention to his surroundings. Yes, he is going around the world but not in order to SEE the world. He is going around the world to prove the advent and importance of modernity. Consequently, he never sight-sees and remains consistently indifferent to the various cultures through which he passes.

Both Foggs (of the 1956 movie and the 1989 miniseries) retain this perspective--to a point. It's part of the joke that neither one cares much WHERE they are, so much as WHEN. Even in the latter case, Fogg remains relatively indifferent to set-backs; it is his companions who get frustrated by delays. The only time Fogg gets irked is when he bops Detective Fix on the nose for arresting him (and the 1956 Fogg doesn't even do this!).

In his tongue-in-cheek book How to Talk About Places You've Never Been, Pierre Bayard argues that Fogg's detachment actually makes him a more objective and reliable witness. In the end, he'll be able to deliver the big picture while his companions will be stuck with their subjective experiences.

The problem with this wink wink nudge nudge approach, at least from a film perspective, is that viewers find it hard to invest in a story whose main characters are not invested.

In a book, the investment can be solved through an omniscient narrator; in a movie, viewers need to care about something or someone and if that something or someone is going to travel around the world, it would be nice if it, he, or she cared a little.

In the 1956 movie, this person is Passpartout (as he is in the book to an extent). Like the reader and viewer, Passpartout becomes invested in Fogg's success (despite knowing the ending, I found it almost painful to watch the end of both productions: Oh my gosh, is he going to make it?!). Passpartout is also the one who wanders through the cities in which he and Fogg dock. He eats the food, takes on work, gets lost, meets people . . . In addition, he is largely responsible for acting on Fogg's plans; it is Passpartout who rescues the princess and Passpartout who saves the train.

In the 1989 series, Fogg becomes more invested as the journey evolves. Almost against his will, he is forced to participate in increasingly complex (and many non-book-related) adventures. He is forced to care, to problem solve and physically act. At the end, he is as devastated as the viewer is to believe that he has failed (though he hides his emotional upheaval better). Most touchingly, he and his companions finally arriving at the Reform Club, he almost turns back when they stop at the doors. He has come so far with them, he expects to keep going with them.

"Go on," they cry, and he goes on.

Nellie Bly went around the world in
72 days in 1889. Verne met her at the
the start of her journey and sent
her congratulations after.
Although this view of Fogg is not in keeping with Verne's vision, it is easy to understand why a scriptwriter--faced with an ostensible hero (the man who made the bet) and an action hero (the servant who does the heavy lifting)--would be puzzled at how to proceed.

After all, the Finch-Reese dynamic hadn't yet been invented--though one could argue that Steampunk-beloved Verne foresaw it. The man who wins the bet and the girl is the geek, the guy who knows his modern world so well, he knows that it can be circumnavigated in less than 80 days (the extra days are there in case).*

*Verne was right. Before the turn of the century, a number of people went around the world in 72 or fewer days!

No comments: