“Around the World in 80 Days” Review – The Hollywood Reporter
I understand why it can be difficult for contemporary audiences to identify with Jules Verne’s 1873 novel Around the world in 80 days, a saga of wealthy individuals so isolated from the realities of their time that they come up with travel challenges that benefit only themselves at a price that could cure world hunger, expecting every humanity kneels.
One thing I recognize about the efforts of Jeff Bezos, Rupert Murdoch, Scrooge McDuck, and Elon Musk is that at some point our technological advancements stopped looking outward. We have all the knowledge in the world about thin plates in our pockets, but we stopped going to the moon 50 years ago. We had planes that went from New York to London in 3.5 hours, but we stopped using them. We’re joking about a California bullet train instead of building a California bullet train. Even before the added stresses of COVID security (to say nothing of post 9/11 security), we had made fast, comfortable and accessible trips as fantastic as traveling to the center of the earth or to the depths of the Earth. ocean.
Around the world in 80 days
The bottom line
Not enough fun to justify the whole trip.
As I said, whatever modern reader to identify with in Around the world in 80 days?
The new eight-episode adaptation, produced through an alliance of European TV entities and airing in the US on PBS under the Masterpiece banner, captures some of the bittersweet undercurrents of Phileas’ life and quest. Fogg. Creators Ashley Pharoah and Caleb Ranson, as well as director Steve Barron, sometimes come up with ideas for getting the context of the book – a familiar title probably best known to current audiences from previous adaptations rather than the book itself. – feels relevant, but they have lost all sense of what should be a narrative with propelling momentum. It’s a story with a literal clock ticking in the title and yet this adaptation is largely devoid of adventure or fun and doesn’t work well enough as a serious drama to make up for.
For those who, in fact, don’t remember the plot of Around the world in 80 days from previous adaptations, it’s the story of Phileas Fogg (David Tennant), an austere elitist with no sense of the purpose of life. Every day at 10 am sharp, Fogg goes to the calcified Reform Club and discusses the day’s news with his fellow aristocrats; every day he eats the same calcified breakfast of boiled beef and brown Windsor soup; and every day he returns to his cave house and calcified butler and the cycle repeats.
Like the British Empire itself, Fogg is in a rut, so when he reads a newspaper article suggesting that, thanks to the opening of a railway line across India, it is now theoretically possible to go around the world in 80 days, that stings something in his British reserve.
Fogg’s interest in history and the simple concept of this increasingly connected world have led his even more snootier pal Bellamy (Peter Sullivan) to come up with a bet than Fogg, so ingrained in his habits that he comes to worth leaving London, will not be the only one to make this trip. The terms of the bet rise to 20,000 pounds and Fogg leaves, accompanied by a mysterious new valet in Passepartout of Ibrahim Koma and Abigail Fix (Leonie Benesch), the author of the original report who hopes to make a name on letters about the trip.
Already, Verne readers will notice some key changes. Passepartout became a black Frenchman with a shady past and barely substantiated reasons for joining Fogg. Fix, a detective and the main obstacle to Fogg’s progress in the book, has become an underrated woman trying to carve out her place in a sexist but changing world.
Some of the places the trio visit along the way – Hong Kong, a monolithic “India”, an equally monolithic “American border” – remain untouched, but almost none of the escapades to those places remain the same. Much for the best, in fact, since Verne’s judgments are often a colonialist nightmare seen through the eyes of today. Yes, Fogg learns valuable lessons as he goes, but the first representations of the different populations he meets are, to put it mildly, from their time.
In this account, these escapades to Hong Kong and India become comments on the British occupation presence in both countries. Fogg’s travels across the United States now completely wipe out Native Americans and focus on post-Civil War rupture. The opening episode in Paris is part Wretched and gone Jackal’s Day. I don’t think any of the updates are particularly enlightened in their revised reflection on circa 1870-something globalism, but reducing the amount of avoidable racism and xenophobia is ideal.
The problem is, these individual vignettes are rarely propulsive on their own. There is an episode where the characters are stranded on a desert island and argue. In another, they sit on a train for almost an hour facing a haughty Italian. In the Hong Kong episode, they go to an outdoor party. Even the much-vaunted hot-air balloon ride that is probably the defining image of the story is pretty but strangely boring.
It’s very hard to understand, to get into Around the world in 80 days, why this fine wire was fitted for eight hours – and it’s even harder to see why after looking. It’s only at the end, rushing to resolve the bet and possibly setting up a sequel based on another Verne tome, that things get exciting. At the very least an adaptation of Around the world in 80 days should be beautiful to look at, but there’s a particular claustrophobia in the mix of generic locations and CG backgrounds here.
What kept me mostly going was Fogg’s interpretation of Tennant as a sad man characterized by his ongoing sadness. The character’s eccentricities have been handled in different ways over the years, and in this one he’s likely a long-term depressive, a man reduced by personal trauma to a steadily shrinking world, despite his wealth and hiding place. cultural. Tennant does get to play out episodes of insanity when Fogg is drunk or accidentally high, but his main frame is one of confused melancholy; if you still don’t understand why Fogg indulges in this game, I’m not sure he does either.
Renovating Fix’s character as proto-Nelly Bly (the real Nelly Bly toured the world in 72 days in 1889, which frankly should have been turned into a TV series instead) was a good choice and Benesch has a brave charm, however no real chemistry with Koma in their slow-developing, but totally inevitable romance. Koma is generally good, although Passepartout, a handy device on the page – he knows many languages and has an assortment of Swiss Army Knife skills – is an inconsistently expanded character.
Ultimately I would recommend this Around the world in 80 days mostly for Tennant’s mustache and his take on the central character, and I doubt “The Saddest Fogg Ever!” is likely to get cheated on me.