Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne

image(Vynález zkázy*)(1958)

Directed by Karel Zeman
Written by Frantisek Hrubín and Karel Zeman; dialog by Milan Vácha; based on the writing of Jules Verne
Starring  Lubor Tokos, Arnost Navrátil, Miroslav Holub, Frantisek Slégr, Václav Kyzlink,
IMDB Entry

For me, movies are about plot and character.  But, occasionally, there is a movie that stands out in terms of style and visual imagination. Days of Heaven, with its beautiful cinematography, stands out, as does Medium Cool, with its cinema verite mixture of story and actual events.  And though I don't care much for the film, it's clear that the visuals in The Matrix were groundbreaking.

But few films have ever topped The Fabulous World of Jules Verne.

The film was created by Czech director Karel Zeman.  Zeman had a fascinating idea:  make a movie from the works of Jules Verne, but in the style of the illustrations of the time. The result is an amazing combination of live action and animation, with sets that are often drawings, filled with details and crosshatching.  It's all done in a crisp black and white cinematography that makes it seem like line drawings come to life.



The story is high adventure about a mad scientist who lives in a volcano and who is developing a super bomb. It's just the type of film that would stick in the mind of young boy, and, though I haven't seen it for 50 years until I started writing up this blog entry, some of the images in the film are as memorable to me as though I had seen them yesterday.

The film's style, of course, is what would not be labeled steampunk. Steampunk owes a lot to Verne and H.G. Welles, and, of course, the illustrations of the time. While I have no way of knowing, I do note that the authors who first developed the steampunk movement were all about my age.  I wonder if this movie somehow influenced them.

Zeman was already a major talent in Czech cinema, and, after the success of The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, he made several other Verne adaptations.  Alas, they seem to have been a casualty of the Cold War and didn't make it to the US in wide release**.  He does seem to be worthy of rediscovery.  A visual imagination like his should not be forgotten.


*Literal translation:  A Deadly Weapon
**Perhaps Fabulous World didn't do well enough to warrant it.

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