An evil millionaire genius plans to conquer the world using an super-explosive device. He kidnaps a famous scientist to aid him in his wicked design and takes him to his secret base in an island volcano.
Whilst travelling the badlands and backroads of forgotten cinema, an enthusiast comes across a lot that is strange and unusual. Most of it is pretty inept for one reason or another as lack of money and/or talent derail artistic and commercial ambition. It’s probably justified that a lot of what you see has been consigned to the trash bin of cultural history. But, every now and again, you come across something else… Something that deserves to be remembered and celebrated. Something like ‘The Fabulous World of Jules Verne’ (1958).
This is a truly ingenious mixture of live action and various animation techniques from Czech director Karel Zeman. It has a wonderfully vintage silent movie feel which enhances the Victorian setting and serves the story perfectly. Utilising various craft from several of Verne’s ‘Magnificent Journeys, this is a visual feast for the imagination. The design and techniques on display were intended to evoke the woodcut illustrations that accompanied the release of the original Verne novels and it gives the proceedings a unique style and signature of their own.The story drags a little in the final third but, after all, this is a Verne adaptation and his novels aren’t exactly noted for their cinematic qualities. But the visuals are endlessly inventive, audacious and superbly realised. It would have been a truly stupendous experience in colour but perhaps the black and white photography was necessary to enable the seamless matching of the different film techniques.
The props and physical sets are beautifully made to both interact with the actors and fit with the animated backgrounds and, although the cast is somewhat anonymous amidst all this splendour, they deliver capable enough performances.
Perhaps the film never regains the heights of the opening train montage, which is outstanding, but it’s still a movie experience that’s ripe for rediscovery. Apparently, it is well known by animators and enthusiasts but it’s a work that cries out for wider acceptance. And you could make an easy argument for its influence on Terry Gilliam, among others. A surprising gem.