Fabulous World of Jules Verne, The (1958)

“The heart is always full of desire to fly sky-high.”

Fabulous World Jules Verne Poster

Synopsis:
A world-renowned scientist (Arnost Navratil) and his assistant (Lubor Tokos) are kidnapped by a band of marauding pirates in a submarine and taken to an underwater kingdom run by Count Artigas (Miroslav Holub), who hopes Navratil will unwittingly help him perfect an atomic weapon of mass destruction.

Genres:

I’d like to begin this review by saying hello to my fellow CMBA bloggers who may be stopping by for the first time. I’m publishing this post as part of the Classic Movie Bloggers Association “Fabulous Films of the Fifties” blogathon (my first ever!) and am honored to participate. If you’re curious to read a bit more about this site in general, please click here.

If you’d like to leave a comment — and I’d love to hear from you! — please send me an email at filmfanatic.org@gmail.com and I’ll sign you up as a user.

Now — on to the review!

Review:
Numerous novels and stories by science fiction author Jules Verne have been adapted for the big screen over the years — indeed, an entire book (Thomas Renzi’s Jules Verne on Film, 1998) has been written on the topic — but it’s safe to say that none begins to approach the visual innovation of this animated feature by Czechoslovakian director Karel Zeman. Based on a relatively obscure Verne novel entitled Facing the Flag (1896), it tells the simple tale of a brilliant but naive scientist (Navratil) who’s been kidnapped for nefarious purposes, and his assistant’s (Tokos’) attempts to alert the world above-sea that destructive havoc is about to be wrought. Romantic interest appears briefly in the form of a beautiful young woman (Jana Zatloukalova) who’s escaped from a ship destroyed by the pirates’ submarine, but she and all other characters are ultimately rather thinly delineated.

Thankfully, it’s not the screenplay one is concerned with when watching this film — it’s the stunning visuals, through and through. Intended to pay homage to the original lithographic illustrations in the 54 novels that comprise Verne’s collective Voyages Extraordinaires, Zeman’s steampunk sets and animation style suit the subject matter and time period perfectly. Each frame — as intended by Zeman — looks as though it belongs in one of Verne’s books, with the added bonus of live actors bringing the images to life. For an overview of the dizzying combination of animation techniques being employed, I humbly refer to a recent (2010) article by Alex Barrett in Experimental Conversations, cited in Wikipedia’s entry on the movie:

“… [The] film combines all manner of tricks and effects — double exposures, painted animation, cut-out animation, stop-motion animation, puppets, miniatures, models, stylised matte-paintings, and who knows what else — with its live-action footage to create a seamless blend of startling, crisp, black-and-white material. The process was dubbed ‘Mystimation’ [for the later US release], a name which seems perfectly apt for something which really does need to be seen to be believed.”

Other than this title, Zeman’s best-known film is The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1961), a wonderfully fantastical adventure tale possessing a more complex storyline, heightened surreality, and a differently distinctive animation style; it’s a personal favorite, and one I would likely return to more easily than …Jules Verne. With that said, this earlier outing — which remains Zeman’s most popular title — is far too clever, impressive, and visually innovative to ignore. It’s won numerous awards, was voted in 2010 as the most successful Czech film to date, and is indisputably worth a look by all film fanatics.

Note: As pointed out earlier, Zeman’s animation style is ultimately best understood by actually seeing it in action. Click here to watch a ~3 minute video (entitled “Why Zeman Made the Film”) which includes both short clips and an illuminating interview with Zeman’s daughter. Or, check out the overwrought American trailer here.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments (click on thumbnails for bigger images):

  • Marvelously creative animation (often combined with live action)
    FWJV Animation1
    FWJV Animation2
    FWJV Animation3
    FWJV Animation4
  • Innovative Victorian-era sets
    FWJV Sets1
    FWJV Sets2
    FWJV Sets3
  • Zdenek Liska’s harpsichord-infused score

Must See?
Yes, as a most unusual animated classic and foreign gem.

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3 Responses to “Fabulous World of Jules Verne, The (1958)”

  1. I am fascinated by the look of this film and the adventure in store.

    Congratulations on your first CMBA blogathon! The first of many.

  2. Jules Verne is probably one of the most creative writers ever. Without the internet and modern technology, his thinking was light years ahead of everyone else’s and I think that’s why so many of his stories were made into films.

    Glad to see a new contributor to the CMBA’s blogathons.

  3. First viewing – must-see!

    I’m rather in agreement with the assessment (which covers the film’s numerous impressive achievements) so I’ve nothing really to add.

    As well, I also prefer Zeman’s follow-up (‘Munchausen’) but, on its own terms, ‘Jules Verne’ is equal in its ingenuity. A quite enjoyable and unique cinema experience, which no film fanatic should really pass up.

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