Picture-book wonders parade throughout this don’t-miss 1958 live action — meets-animation Czech lulu: Relish the airships, shipwrecks, shark attacks, seahorses, undersea bicycles, and gentleman balloonists of director Karel Zeman’s adaptation/mash-up of Jules Verne novels. The handmade dazzlements still dazzle today, especially the jellyfish, each a shimmering nightgown, the agitated octopus, and the way the mad grinding of gears and pistons in a submarine are intercut with the piratical crew sharpening its knives. The film often succeeds in its ambition to bring to life the illustrations in an old Verne hardcover — a beguilingly stiff illustration of men in some impossible conveyance will cut to actors done up just like the illo, on a set that looks as if it’s inked on paper. The story concerns an underwater city, a new form of energy, and a superweapon that might destroy mankind, but the thrill — which rarely lets up — is in the imaginative technique, the process shots, the pleasure of seeing the seams in artifice that doesn’t quite trick you but certainly invites you to dream along. Could it be that old special effects, dependent upon camera tricks and theatrical invention, stir something sympathetic in us that glossy pixels do not, inviting us not just to dream along with the fantasy but also the painstaking creation thereof? The Fabulous World of Jules Verne screens as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s exemplary Strange Lands: International Sci-Fi series (Aug. 22 — 28), itself a parade of wonders.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 20, 2014