Ceskoslovensky Statni Filmexport/Warner Brothers (U.S. release)
Directed by Karel Zeman
Produced by Zdenek Novak
Written by Karle Zeman, Frantisek Hrubin, Jiri Brdecka and Milan Vacha
Based on “Facing The Flag” by Jules Verne
God bless the Internet is all I have to say. Sure, it’s got a lot of bad things we could sit around and bitch about for a couple of hours. And we all spend way too much time Googling all sorts of useless trivia and Skyping away until Blip A.M. But thanks to the Internet I’ve been able to reconnect with a lot of stuff I watched on TV during the 1970’s and 1980’s I thought I’d never be able to see again. And the marvelous 1958 Steampunk adventure THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE is one of these.
Of course, when I watched it all those years ago, the term Steampunk wasn’t used. The movie was simply labeled as Science Fiction but Steampunk is what it is and a marvelously imaginative visual example of the genre at that. THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE was usually aired on NY’s Channel 9 on Saturdays, sandwiched in between Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion fantasies and Italian muscleman sword-and-sandal epics. Somebody at that station must have been in love with the movie’s visual style as much as I was because it seemed to air every three or four months. Now you have to understand that a movie being shown that often in such a relatively short time period was truly something special back then. This was before even pre-VCR days which meant that at the time and day your favorite TV show or movie was airing, you either stayed home to watch it or you didn’t watch it all. Which meant you had to wait months for it to be rerun. If it ever was.
Some of you who just read that last two sentences now have looks of utter horror on your face, I know it for a fact.
Engineer Simon Hart (Lubor Tokos) is thrilled and excited to be living in an age of scientific wonder where new modes of transportation such as the locomotive, transatlantic ocean liners, airships and submarines, all powered by steam are revolutionizing travel. Simon is the assistant of the brilliant Professor Roch (Arnost Navratil) who is working on a powerful new explosive. The term ‘atom bomb’ is never mentioned but since Professor Roch says later on he needs heavy water for his explosive I’m going to guess that’s what he’s working on.
Professor Roch and Simon are kidnapped by Captain Spade (Frantisek Slegr) the leader of a band of ruthless cutthroats who have hijacked a submarine for their nefarious trade. Captain Spade works for the diabolical Count Artigas (Miloslav Holub) who wants the professor’s explosive for his own diabolical purposes. They are then taken to the pirates’ secret lair hidden inside a dormant volcano on Back Cup Island. Can Simon escape the clutches of the pirates and Count Artigas to warn the unsuspecting nations of the world before the trusting Professor Roch creates the most terrible explosive known to man?
I’m not familiar with the original Jules Verne novel, ‘Facing The Flag’ this movie is based on and I gather from what little I’ve read about it, it’s a pretty obscure work of his. But it’s a pretty good story we’re presented here. And the movie moves along at a really good pace which it has to, given its short running time The acting is nothing to brag about but it serves the needs of the story and I’m happy with that me. But what you want to watch THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE for isn’t the acting; it’s the utterly amazing visual style of the movie that’s the real star.
Director Karel Zeman wanted to reproduce the look and texture of woodcut illustrations and line engravings on film and the result is a movie that looks utterly and totally unique. The special effects are a mix of animation and stop motion, double exposures, miniatures and matte paintings combined in such a way that is simply amazing. There’s no other way to say it. THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE is like a 83 minute showcase of all the special effect techniques available to filmmakers at that time because they’re all used here and used wonderfully. The result is a movie that looks marvelously surrealistic. But here, I’ll let the trailer make my point for me:
You used to be able to see the movie on YouTube but sadly it was taken down. It is available on DVD through Amazon, though. Give it a try. I think you’ll like it.