Alternate Title: Vynález zkázy (original title)
Review Date: 8/24/15
Director: Karel Zeman
A stylish and quirky adaptation of "Facing The Flag" by Jules Verne, with some elements from "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" thrown in for good measure. In fact, the two stories are remarkably similar. In Verne's Victorian steampunk world, a power-mad villain named Count Artigas kidnaps the brilliant Dr. Roch and cleverly coerces him into creating a weapon of mass destruction. The doctor's assistant, Simon Hart, is also kidnapped, but his captors keep him locked away until a time when they may need him to continue Roch's work. Simon eventually manages to escape and sends news of the Count's evil doings to the leaders of the free world. They attack the Count's island fortress in full force, which causes Roch to see the true horror of his creation, and in an act of repentance he turns the weapon on himself and blows up the entire island.
Shot in black and white, the film attempts to evoke the look and feel of the original engraved illustrations in Verne's book. Most of the visual effects (if not all of them) were created in camera, utilizing puppetry, cel animation, stop-motion animation, miniatures, matte paintings, multiple exposure techniques, forced perspective, and various other tricks. In this way, it's highly reminiscent of Georges Méliès's work, and the film seems like a product of the 1920's or 1930's rather than the late 1950's. It's interesting to compare the film to Walt Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" (1954) which came out four years earlier, as the two films are worlds apart in terms of tone, style, and execution.
While the film is technically impressive and visually dazzling, the dialog is sparse and the pacing is tedious and sluggish. Despite the dark subject matter, it maintains a family friendly tone and often drifts into awkward moments of slapstick. Perhaps the strangest and silliest moment is when the armies of the world are mobilizing to attack the Count, which includes a shot of camels on roller skates. I honestly have no idea what that was about. So, if you're a visual effects buff, the film is fascinating from a technical and historical perspective, but the slow pacing and weak narrative may drag you down.