[Film Review] The Deadly Invention (1958)

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne poster

Englis Title: The Deadly Invention
Original title: Vynález zkázy
Year: 1958
Country: Czechoslovakia
Language: Czech
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Director: Karel Zeman
Karel Zeman
Frantisek Hrubín
Milan Vácha
based on the novel of Jules Verne
Music: Zdenek Liska
Antonín Horák
Bohuslav Pikhart
Jirí Tarantík
Lubor Tokos
Arnost Navrátil
Miroslav Holub
Frantisek Slégr
Václav Kyzlink
Jana Zatloukalová
Rating: 6.5/10

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne 1958

Excuse my blasphemy and for being the devil’s advocate, this cutting-edge adventurer made in 1958 by Czech animator, artisan and filmmaker Karel Zeman, often dubbed as the “Czech Méliès” or more aptly, Méliès’s successor, is without any doubt technically innovative, which unfortunately doesn’t make up for its jejune watchability of its hybrid nature for audience in the digital era.

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 labor-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 over-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.

Oscar 1958  The Fabulous World of Jules Verne

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