I give this movie 9 out of 10. Enjoy!!
The Deadly Invention (1958)
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I give this movie 9 out of 10. Enjoy!!
The visuals are absolutely beautiful, and they are apparently achieved by a clever combination of animated drawings combined with live actors, stop-motion animation and sets that are painted so that they look much like from an animated movie. Combined by Jules Verne's own unique versions of airplanes and submarines and Karel Zeman's good directing results in a very well done and convincing visual style that manages to effectively hold one's attention until the end of the movie.
There are some problems as well, one of the underwater scenes at the end takes maybe needlessly lot of time for example, as the story in the first part of the movie is rushed through quite quickly. None of this matters much though since the movie is always highly enjoyable. A gem that deserves to be more well known for today's audiences as well. A recommended movie for the whole family.
Although it borrows from other novels of Verne's the basis for this film is an 1896 novel, which in English is titled FACING THE FLAG. The only edition of the novel that has appeared in recent years was published by ACE books back in the late 1970s, under the editorship of Verne scholar I.O.E. Evans, and retitled FOR THE FLAG. Evans explains that the novel was influenced by Verne's knowledge of a controvertial French scientist named Turpin who got into legal problems when he could not sell an explosive to the French Government, and then tried to sell it abroad. The anti-hero in the novel, Thomas Roche, has gone mad when his proposed weapon, called "the Fulgarator" is rejected (and he is laughed at) by the French authorities. He is being watched by a government agent, as the government slowly reevaluates it's position. But Roche and the agent are kidnapped by one of the last pirates on the globe (Count Artigas in the story). The Count helps Roche build a working model of the weapon (which is a type of missile, that flies off a track after a rocket fuel is added). The Count intends to use it to blackmail governments around the globe. The crisis at the end of the novel is whether the bitter and mad Roche will be willing to use his weapon against the ships of his homeland, France.
It is not a major Verne tale, but it is readable (not all of his novels are still readable). And the basic plot is followed in this film version. It is a wonderful movie to watch - and one hopes one day to see it on television, video, or DVD again.
I was fortunate to catch this gem in reruns on local TV in the late 70s: it enhanced my enjoyment of Verne's fiction and of cinema.
10 out of 10 for Karel Zeman, under-appreciated master of imagination.
The animation technique of this film is touted as "Mysti-mation," which is probably a bit of hype on the part of its American distributors and PR people. No animation technique Zeman used was unknown; in fact, probably every physical effect he employed was used on 19th century stages, and all of his photographic effects were known to and put to work by Georges Méliès and early stop-motion animators like Winsor Mackay. But in this film, Zeman combines all the effects in novel and unexpected ways, and literally nothing is off-limits when he needs to create some striking scenario. From the look of some of his sets, it is evident that Zeman was a prime influence on Terry Gilliam, and possibly Jan Svankmajer as well.
Zeman has a wry sense of humor, which frequently goes straight over the heads of most of his critics. For instance, when they complain about the wooden quality of the acting in the film, they're completely missing the point: the performers deliberately use the techniques of farce and burlesque, the "bits of business" familiar to the audiences of one hundred years ago, long before the evolution of the personality cult in acting. The gag, its set-up, and its execution are far more important than the individual actors or their "feelings." Deep involvement between characters is secondary to the plot (a rarity in contemporary films). Which isn't to say that there's no focus on individuals: witness Simon Hart's distress before falling unconscious on the ocean floor, or Professor Roch's guilt-stricken state near the end of the movie. But the main point is still the story and its advancement.
In short, it's a film well worth seeing, if you are willing consciously to suspend your sense of disbelief and lose yourself in the narrative.
I was a graduate of Occidental College in LA...Terry Gilliam proceeded me by some 12 years......Why do I comment on this? - Well, if you watch this film it has Gilliam's shtick written all over it....I only wish I'd had the chance to question him at the college bicentennial in 1986.....I have little doubt that he'd deny that Zeman's films had had any influence on him, but it's a obvious as the nose on your face! Anyone notice that?
I love the Professor Serke, the Count's number one quiz kid. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that he was a character right out of the much later "Wild Wild West"...Couldn't you see him as yet another evil genius out to take over the world?. Victorian gadgets galore!
This film makes me feel as thought I'm part of that era, it makes all of it seem so alive!
Oh yeah, the film would not have had nearly the impact that it's had on me were if not for Lisko's fabulous musical score...It emotes the charm of the Victorian era in a manner I've not seen before or since. It's also interesting that his music has certain synthesizer-Esq qualities as used for sound effects.
Has anyone ever noticed the obvious similarities in the small reconnaissance submarine to Professor Fates' craft in the much later "The Great Race"?.......I doubt it!
Captain Spade........Were he and Bluto twin brothers separated at birth?
The story is loosely based on Jules Verne's novel FACING THE FLAG, but also draws inspiration from his other works, the film is groundbreaking at its time, simply for its horizontal widening novelty, Zeman and his team flourish with line engraving, cutout animation, stop-motion technique miniatures effects, matte paintings, stock shots and various other sleight-of-hand, to depict the adventure of Simon Hart (Tokos), a young scientist who is kidnapped with Professor Roch (Navrátil) by Count Artigas (Holub) and pirate Captain Spade (Slégr), he is imprisoned in Artigas' headquarter inside a volcano, where Professor Roch is inveigled to invent a super weapon, which the evil Artigas could use to conquer the world. So it is up to Simon to warn the rest of the world, with the help of a young girl Jana (Zatloukalová), and Roch's last-minute awakening to his mother wit, Artigas' plan is heroically forestalled.
According to Godard's maxim - film is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie, a major but innate defect of this arduously-produced labour-of-love, is that, the combination of live-action with animation constantly reminds viewers that what they see is not real, of course, we are aware of that beforehand, but one of the most alluring trick of cinema is that, it conjures up a special realm with meticulous recreation which can deceptively hypnotise its audience to forget about that and immerse oneself to the world of deliberately manufactured verisimilitude and vicissitude. Yet, what we see scenes to scenes here, from the paper-made tableaux vivants, the pristinely edited action pieces (using a submarine like a torpedo to sink other vessels is something just beyond one's imagination), to the bland acting, all exert exactly the opposite force, what we see is just a make-believe of a Sci-Fi burlesque, there is no immediacy for emotional investment, just to be amazed by the calibre of its craftsmanship. It is something so inherent that mars its currency to new audience, and to no one's fault too, just time changes taste and perception, we must admit.
One abiding element of this heritage-worthy picture is Zdenek Liska's invasive score, makes wonder out of harpsichord, and tellingly attests that there is a winner between the immortality of music and film.
View on the film:
Inspired by the sight of woodcut illustrations in the original publication of Jules Verne's novels, co-writer/(with Frantisek Hrubin and Milan Vácha) directing auteur Karel Zeman continues his seamless blending of live action,in-camera tricks and quirky animation. Backed by composer Zdenek Liska's early dip into a electronic and classical blended score, Zeman boils up a decades ahead of its time Steam Punk atmosphere with a "mysti-mation" method of animation, which give the drawn backdrops a almost handmade Victorian era touch, by them creating a eye-catching depth of field on the submarine and the volcano. Travelling from Verne's lesser-known novel Facing the Flag, the writers continue to superbly explore the line between magic and live action that runs across Zeman's work, via Artigas idea to use a super-explosive device slyly flying close to the threat of nukes in the Cold War, which is perfectly balanced with the Fantasy Steam Punk delight of Artigas's proto-007 volcanic lair and displaying Professor Roche (played by a fantastic Ernest Navara) array of Victorian inventions which sparkle as attempts are made to stop the deadly invention.
The plot sees a gang of pirates kidnapping a professor so they can get their hands on his new invention. Said invention being a powerful new weapon combined with special liquid which they want to use for their piracy. The pirates manage to kidnap the professor and one of his assistants and take them to their hidden base (inside a large remote hollow island). There the pirates provide everything the professor needs to build his weapon. In the meantime the assistant manages to get word to the outside world eventually leading to a British fleet arriving to deal with the pirates.
The combination of live action and various forms of animation and effects were the way Zeman created his vision. Although this was not the first time he had taken this approach for his work. Zeman's 1955 film 'Journey to the Beginning of Time' also used a combination of live action, animation and hand drawn elements. The animation and effects in question for this film were stop motion animation, matte painting, miniatures, three-dimensional props and texture superimposition.
Indeed the visuals in this film are quite astounding to say the least. I reckon most would be amazed to know this film was made back in 1958 as it could easily be a modern movie. Its not too hard to imagine Tim Burton being the director behind this feature with its steampunk imagery. Yes that's right I did say steampunk, this film could well be the first introduction of the popular Victorian steampunk/Gothic subgenre (inspired by 19th century industrialism). If you take the visuals from Disney's 1954 movie '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea', put them in black and white, and then add the artistic style of using parallel lines (almost like cross-hatching with ink) across all props and sets, you have an idea if what to expect here.
The stark parallel line imagery was in fact Zeman's attempt at recreating the old Victorian line engravings that were featured in the original Verne novels. This style actually works wonders in giving everything a very detailed and used appearance. The whole world we see in the film looks worn and weather beaten, as opposed to looking shiny and new. A technique we all know has been used effectively by a few directors and their movies in years since. The technique also gives the imagery depth and a grand old fashioned vibe which admittedly predominantly comes from when the film was made. Altogether it makes the whole affair look like a living comicbook or moving picture book.
To be honest the film does come across as more of a living comicbook than a movie really. All you get is basically one scene after another showcasing a piece of machinery, or a vehicle, or a landscape etc...Its literally like watching panels in a comicbook one after another. There is very little dialog, sometimes narration, and sometimes nothing other than the moving imagery and the noise it makes. At times its almost like a silent picture but with fantastic visuals. I really can't stress enough how stunning this film looks at times. Sure some of the shots look a bit shaky, some look almost too much like an illustration, and in some the stop motion is pretty jerky. On the flip side some shots with live action elements are remarkable because you can't see the joins! The blend of the actors against moving three-dimensional props and background/foreground mattes, or drawings, is flawless. Overall considering the age of this movie what they achieved is incredible.
Of course being a film based on Jules Verne you can't not have underwater sequences with the inevitable attacking giant squid. Its these sequences which mainly make up the most impressive and fantastical visual elements of the film. The imagination shown in these sequences is spectacular and have clearly helped inspire other filmmakers. Watching the various oddly shaped submarines (some with flipper-like paddles) and personal underwater pedal bike things, which the deep sea divers use, is glorious. I could feel my mind being cracked open...letting my imagination escape and run free. Apart from the slightly dated stop motion animation these sequences also highlighted some little errors which were amusing. Such as the divers moving perfectly normally underwater using their weapons normally. Also one sequence where a sub manages to find and pick up the hero from the seabed seemed a bit fortuitous and ludicrous. All in all its still impressive how they managed to convey the deep sea with mere sets, hand drawn props and a slightly wavy blur effect across the whole image.
With a story based around pirates, mysterious islands, nautical swashbuckling, Nemo-like machinery and dashing Victorians in uniform, what more could anyone want? Beautifully lavish visuals that have clearly been given tonnes of attention; Zeman seems to have been a perfectionist for sure. The final results are clear to see. The plot may be thin on the ground but for anyone who appreciates the art form of stop motion animation along with ingenious high fantasy imagery, then this is for you.
As mentioned in the title, this is required viewing for animation addicts; for pure enjoyment I'd recommend Zeman's later stuff, like "The Stolen Airship" which came nearly 10 years later and has colours (handcrafted, of course) as well a a more easygoing flow of story.
But lack of color is not the only drawback in this Czech version of family entertainment. I disagree with just about all the other contributors and felt that this was a dull, boring movie based on the work of a very exciting storyteller. Perhaps I have been spoiled over the years and was expecting too much. I had seen "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" when it first came out in 1954, and then "Around The World In 80 Days" in 1956, and was familiar with Verne's unique storytelling ability. This picture falls far short of those two masterpieces in all major categories.
I appreciated the animation, later borrowed, as everyone has mentioned, by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame, but the story lacked the aforementioned excitement of a Jules Verne tale as well as the cohesion and continuity. It was like watching someone making oatmeal. The actors were unattractive and the print I watched needed to be restored, as it was dull and scratchy. A poor production from start to finish.
"The Fabulous World Of Jules Verne" was shown at MOMA, NYC, and it was a rip-off, probably for the museum as well as myself. Several people at the show I attended got up and left at various points in time. Not having better sense, I stayed until the end.