Around The World In 80 Days (USA 1989)

You should know the plot and shame on you if that’s not the case. A 3 part TV miniseries rendition with an all-star cast. There are many cameos and bit parts by so many top actors from back in the day. (Darren McGavin as Mudge was the most pleasing surprise for me) There are some scenes that are not in the book, but they didn’t bother me as they were just as entertaining as the ones that were. Filming on location in Germany, England, Yugoslavia, Macau, and Thailand, adds a lot of grandeur to the series that it otherwise would have lacked.

While the costume design and art direction are superb, the script and the series could benefited from some judicious editing. Many scenes seemed to be included solely for padding the run-time to allow it to be a three part series. If it had been cut down to two parts, I would have enjoyed it quite a bit more. Pierce Brosnan is not really my idea of Phileas Fogg but he will do (my ideal actor to play this role would have been Englishman Charles Gray, most well known for playing Mycroft Holmes). I feel Brosnan is not quite mature enough in years to carry it off but that is a mere quibble in a big production like this one. His Fogg is full of affectations that teeter dangerously close to being hammy but he manages to pull it off.

Peter Ustinov is a delight, as always, as the long suffering, always one-step-behind Detective Fix. Ustinov always makes me laugh even when he doesn’t have any dialogue. Whether it’s a facial expression or his trademark mutterings and grunts between lines, he makes his small role shine and was a big part of why I liked the series. Eric Idle is also fun to watch but he was never really allowed much to do. He had a funny scene in a bar but I wish he would have been allowed to do more. Eric Idle tackles the character of Jean Passepartout, the servant who is willing to put up with Fogg’s idiosyncrasies and even accompany him on the demanding around-the-world trip that has grown out of a gentlemanly bet made at London’s exclusive Reform Club. The Monty Python star’s French accent is a bit silly of course, but he fulfills the hyperactive nature of the character that comes to life in Jules Verne’s novel.

As for the Indian princess, the one Fogg saves from death in a suttee cremation ritual, Aouda is depicted here by Julia Nickson (”Noble House”). Far from being a caricature in the style of Shirley MacLaine’s ludicrous effort in 1956 – this Aouda is as thoughtful and intelligent as she is beautiful. In Hong Kong, she wonders aloud to Fogg about ”the English practice of invading and occupying countries other than their own.” With her own strange melancholy, she is the perfect object of Mr Fogg’s accelerating affections, making all the nearly-kissing, nearly-declaring-one’s-love scenes perfectly acceptable. What still holds this romance together is not the plot, which is riddled with improbable twists. It’s the character of Phileas Fogg himself, always pushing forward no matter the obstacles and finally realizing that his life has been a total waste, that he has become little more than a punctual machine.

Some sequences that you’ll only see in this version; In Dover the Channel steamer is being held up by Sarah Bernhardt, who is attracted to Fogg; In Paris, they are hampered by the French Revolution in progress, and the only transport they can find is an experimental balloon-lifted carriage to take them across the Alps to Rome; There is also hilarious scene with a pushy prostitute and her violent pimp; They encounter Jesse James (a very feisty Stephen Nicols) and some very angry Indians on the rail trip across the States. Some viewers may be put off by the breaks for the ads, but I ignore stuff like that. A mini-series from the 80s is going to have that type of thing. The dvd picture quality is not that good though. Its a bit soft and blurry. That is a drawback. The musical soundtrack is very uplifting, so that’s another plus. Overall, this is probably the best version yet of Around The World In 80 Days.

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