Saturday, 9 January 2010


Taking its cue primarily from Jules Verne’s Face au Drapeau, but also borrowing from his other novels, this energetic fantasy story follows inventor Thomas Roch as he attempts to get approval for his new invention, an intensely violent explosive called the Fulgarator. Lacking governmental support, he is suddenly kidnapped by the dastardly Artigas who helps him create a working model of the weapon. Of course, Artigas has an ulterior motive as he plans to use it in his conquest of the world, and Roch is brought into a crisis of conscience when Artigas reveals where he plans to use it next.

Karel Zeman’s multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional animation never fails to impress, and here it is absolutely enthralling, even in the absence of colour. Sets are streaked with thick black lines in mimesis of the woodcut illustrations in Verne’s original books. Though the animation of the machinery and the weapons are superb considering the time, the film is at its best during the underwater scenes – jellyfish and seahorses dance alongside the ship, deep sea divers duel for treasure, a basking shark circles the water predatorily. The story is one of Verne’s lesser works, and if you’re not with the film at the beginning, it’s likely you’ll never get into it, as many of the characters are somewhat interchangeable. Nonetheless, there’s entertainment for all ages to be had from this adventure, and few viewers will go wanting. If Méliès were still alive in the fifties, this might just have been his swan song.

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