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Written titles appear intermittently throughout the film, which state the date and place of the subsequent sequence and the age of "Charles Darwin" at that time. A large percentage of the film presents footage of animals and insects in the wild. As noted in the Films and Filming review, sequences depicting Darwin's moments of inspiration are intercut with nature and animal footage, shots of courting birds are crosscut into the sequence of Darwin's clumsy proposal to "Emma," and brief shots of baby monkeys clinging to their mothers are shown during the sequence about Darwins' first child. Later, footage of Darwin and his family watching chimpanzees at the fair is interspersed with scenes from the final debate sequence. Although a 1971 copyright statement by Palomar Pictures International Ltd. appears on the title card, the film was not registered for copyright. Most reviews listed the running time of the film as 91 minutes, which was the duration of the viewed copy, but the Hollywood Reporter review mistakenly listed the duration as 148 minutes.
As depicted in the film, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) made the five-year voyage with Captain Robert FitzRoy (spelled Fitzroy onscreen) on the H.M.S. Beagle, an experience that led Darwin to develop his theories about natural selection. Details in the film, such as the disappointment of Darwin's father in his son's academic accomplishments, the Reverend John Stephens Henslow's influence on Darwin's career as a naturalist, Darwin's marriage to his cousin, Emma Wedgwood (of the English pottery family and whose name was spelled Wedgewood in the film's credits), and Darwin's illness while on board the Beagle, were based on real incidents. The famous debate dramatized in the film was a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held on June 30, 1860 and presided over by Henslow. The meeting began with a talk by Professor William Draper, who is shown briefly in the film, about the influence of Darwinian theory on social progress, and was followed by a lengthy rebuttal by Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford. Thomas Huxley and Joseph Hooker, a friend of Darwin who is shown briefly in the film, responded to Wilberforce's comments and FitzRoy did make a comment in favor of the literalness of the Bible. As was depicted in the film, Darwin was too ill to attend the meeting.
Although the origin of the concept of evolution had preceded Darwin, he was the first to document his research for the scientific community, which then became accessible to the general public. As is made clear in the film, the theory of evolution was shocking to his contemporaries and, despite its general acceptance, has remained controversial to the present day.
According to the Box Office review, The Darwin Adventure was shot over a two-year period. A December 1968 Daily Variety news item, which announced that the nature sequences of the film would begin shooting that week, also reported that casting would not occur until after the second unit photography was completed. A January 1969 Variety news item reported that producer Joseph Strick and director Jack Couffer, who had made the 1969 feature film Ring of Bright Water (see below), had recently begun shooting wildlife footage for the The Darwin Adventure. Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety production charts reported that shooting for the film occurred between February 10, 1969 and late August 1969, and listed the Galapagos Islands as the shooting site. Although February-August 1969 Hollywood Reporter production charts listed the production company as Ulysses Film Productions, the film's end credits list Brightwater Film Production, Ltd. During second unit photography, a March 1969 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Strick hoped to cast Don Murray in the title role.
As noted by an acknowledgment in the opening credits, nature photography took place with the assistance of The Darwin Research Group, U.N.E.S.C.O. of Galapagos Islands, Ecuador; Smithsonian Tropical Research Station, Barro Colorado Island, Panama; and the Monkey Jungle, Miami, Florida. Filmfacts and the Motion Picture Herald review add the following locations to the list of shooting sites: Africa, Australasia, United States and Great Britain. Daily Variety, Box Office and Hollywood Reporter news items dated between December 1968 and March 1969 reported that the crew also planned to film in Spain, as well as the following areas: Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, the Amazon Delta, Nairobi, Catalina (which May have been a misspelling of Catalonia) and London.
A January 15, 1969 Variety news item reported that the filmmakers had plans to change the title of the film to Voyage of the Beagle, pending outcome of arbitration. According to the news item and the Los Angeles Times review, producer Robert Radnitz, who had previously commissioned Alan Moorehead to write the book, Darwin and the Beagle, as a basis for a different film project, had announced as early as September 1967 that he would film under the title The Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle. When Edgar J. Scherick announced his intention to produce The Darwin Adventure, a March 9, 1971 Hollywood Reporter news item confirmed that Radnitz previously had a deal with Cinema Center to make The Voyage of the Beagle, but that the lack of a suitable script prompted the studio eventually to drop the project.
According to an April 1972 Box Office news item, the first public preview of the film was held March 26, 1972 for the Association of California School Administrators convention.
Another film in which the theory of evolution is debated is the 1960 United Artists production Inherit the Wind, which was produced and directed by Stanley Kramer and starred Spencer Tracy (see below). Other productions concerning the life of Charles Darwin include the 1998 documentary Charles Darwin: Evolution's Voice, which aired on television on the A&E cable channel as part of the Biography International series; and the UK television production The Voyage of Charles Darwin, which was directed by Martyn Friend and starred Malcolm Stoddard as Darwin. As of spring 2007, two British projects about Darwin were in development: the Catch 23 Entertainment feature film Mrs. Darwin, about Darwin as seen through the eyes of his wife, to be directed by Mike Newell; and an untitled project based on the Darwin biography Annie's Box, written by the scientist's great-great grandson, Randal Keynes, to be produced by Recorded Picture Company and directed by Jon Amiel.