The Fabulous World of Jules Verne
(Vynález Zkázy) (1958)
Directed by Karel Zeman

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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Professor Roche (Arnost Navrátil), a brilliant scientist attempting to develop a powerful explosive, and his young friend Simon Hart (Lubor Tokos) are kidnapped by a criminal mastermind, Count Artigas (Miroslav Holub), who is using a hijacked submarine to plunder the merchant vessels of the world. Having been taken to Artigas' hidden base in the crater of an extinct volcano on an island somewhere in the middle of the ocean, Professor Roche is tricked into continuing his work on his explosive while Simon is kept prisoner in a dilapidated hut, from which he strives to let the outside world know of his captor's evil plans.

Karel Zeman's The Fabulous World of Jules Verne is a visually stunning if narratively unimpressive film. While the images with which it is filled are not nearly as enchanting as are those in the director's Baron Prásil, the movie is still such a delight to look at that it has to be acknowledged as an important achievement.

The film's narrative is generally entertaining, but it is neither inspired nor even especially different from the stories told in numerous other movies made at roughly the same time it was. The director relates a simple tale of adventure, which he never infuses with any particularly profound emotions nor realizes with any great sensitivity. Whatever the narrative's shortcomings, however, it is never dull. Zeman does keep the viewer engaged throughout and even enables him to enjoy a rousing feeling of excitement. He may not raise this sense to any great height, but he does not bore the viewer either.

Even though Zeman's story is never so enthralling that it transports the viewer to some other world, the movie's consistently beautiful images are, by themselves, more than capable of arousing potent feelings of awe and wonder. The Fabulous World of Jules Verne is truly amazing visually. The director places his actors in front of painted backdrops and two-dimensional etchings, before and beside flat painted props and animated cut-outs, and surrounds them with paintings, cut-outs, and puppets of such things as outlandish fish, a giant octopus, and various fabulous machines, all of which are moved by means of stop motion animation. This bewitching world the director conjures up is made even more captivating by his countless charming visions of such things as strange, impossible aircraft flying through the skies, bizarre animated machines, a gargantuan cannon, articulated drawings of fish, and even British soldiers riding roller skating camels. Thanks to the plethora of such details, the film is absolutely entrancing to see. I can think of very few other movies that are so wonderfully inventive.

Zeman might not have created a true masterpiece in The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, but he has made a genuinely fun film that is so visually distinctive that the viewer cannot help but be thrilled by the experience of watching it.

Review by Keith Allen

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