The lovely and talented Else, proprietress of Latent Twist Spatterdashery, introduced me to a most enchanting film a few nights ago: Vynález zkázy, a.k.a The Deadly Invention, a.k.a. The Fabulous World of Jules Verne.
Now I'm no stranger to Czech animation; given my love of puppets, stop-motion, and surrealism, it's unsurprising that Jan Švankmajer is among my favorite filmmakers, and I've seen my fair share of others, from Jiří Trnka to Jiří Barta. But I'm sad to admit I had never heard of Karel Zeman, who is considered to be one of the fathers of the genre.
This film, released in 1958, was absolutely spellbinding. Zeman artfully blends live actors with sets painted to look like Victorian woodcut engravings, stop-motion animation, miniatures, and special effects to create a whimsical world like none I've ever seen. Indeed, the posters for the American release sell it as "The First Motion Picture Produced in the Magic-Image Miracle of Mysti-mation!"
The resulting hybrid of real actors adventuring in a two-dimensional world is just incredible. And as if the visual effects and textures alone weren't magic enough, the story is filled with fantastical mechanical wonders: pedal-powered blimps piloted through the skies, four-legged mechanical underwater fighting machines, a steam-powered villain's lair inside a volcano, and hand-crank picture-wheel projectors.
Apparently this film was shown frequently on television in the sixties, along with another of Zeman's features, on Baron Munchausen (!) ~ and its influence is clear. Terry Gilliam's early animations come to mind immediately, and I am also reminded of the recent Ramona Falls video that I so adored. But I truly can't begin to describe the wonders to be seen in this film, I simply urge you to find and watch it.
It can be found in parts on YouTube, and indeed, one can even buy it on DVD, although it doesn't appear to be getting the Criterion-Collection-treatment it so richly deserves. You can even track down a making-of documentary about Zeman's special effects. As for me, I'm off to track down every other film Karel Zeman made, to devour them with relish.