I remember the last time the Disney name appeared over a live-action adaptation of a classic novel - the lamentable 1993 version of The Three Musketeers. Thus, I did not have high hopes for this version of the Jules Verne novel.
After all, Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan) is now a bumbling but good-hearted steampunk inventor, his French valet is now a Chinese martial artist - Jackie Chan - who comes to England to steal back a mystic relic taken from his village by a scheming warlord; and the wager that results in the titular journey is now a blow struck against a repressive and corrupt scientific establishment. And, oh yes, there's a liberated French hottie (Cecile de France) along for the ride.
In all, if the filmmakers had intended to set themselves quite apart from the outlandishly expensive 1956 Michael Todd version, they succeeded, although in a "maybe the cans of film were in the same room as the book at one time" sort of way.
If one is not hopelessly disenchanted with the idea of a movie that takes extreme and wanton liberties with a book - which is, let's face it, the norm in Hollywood - this is an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours. The cameos range from embarrassing (Arnold Schwarzenegger as a randy Turkish prince) to sublime (a surprise appearance by Sammo Hung as Wong Fei-hung). It may be classic literature reduced to cotton candy, but sometimes cotton candy is what you crave. It's likely this is Jackie Chan's swan song for western filmmaking, and it's good that he ends this chapter of his career on a high note, rather than muck like The Tuxedo or The Medallion.
The compression of time between a movie's play in a cinema and its appearance on DVD is getting dizzying. The transfer on this was doubtless done before the film ever saw a sprocket on a projector, and is pleasingly flawless.
There are two featurettes included on the disc: Discovering Around the World in 80 Days is a pretty standard making-of; those disappointed by the lack of Jackie Chan outtakes under the closing credits can find their clips of Chan hurting himself in this section, though not in Around the World of Jackie Chan, which showcases Chan working on the stunts and slapstick setpieces.
There are also nine deleted scenes, none of which were missed, a music video for Everybody All Over the World featuring ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart and a bunch of cut-out animation, and previews for National Treasure, America's Heart & Soul, The Princess Diaries 2, Where the Red Fern Grows, and The Young Black Stallion.
The audio commentary track by director Frank Coraci and star Steve Coogan doesn't bring much to the party except admiration for the art design and Jackie Chan. It is available only on the version of the film with the original opening sequence, a bizarre dream by Fogg introducing his obsession with flying and chickens.
Dr. Freex, 11/10/2004