At some point in 1961, a double feature aimed at children was being distributed in selected U.S. regions. If you saw the titles on a theatre marquee, you might think they were Walt Disney releases - BIMBO THE GREAT and THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE. But anyone who ventured inside the theatre immediately realized that these films were NOT made in Hollywood. And in the case of THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE, it didn't even look like the film was made in this century!

" /> At some point in 1961, a double feature aimed at children was being distributed in selected U.S. regions. If you saw the titles on a theatre marquee, you might think they were Walt Disney releases - BIMBO THE GREAT and THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE. But anyone who ventured inside the theatre immediately realized that these films were NOT made in Hollywood. And in the case of THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE, it didn't even look like the film was made in this century!

" /> At some point in 1961, a double feature aimed at children was being distributed in selected U.S. regions. If you saw the titles on a theatre marquee, you might think they were Walt Disney releases - BIMBO THE GREAT and THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE. But anyone who ventured inside the theatre immediately realized that these films were NOT made in Hollywood. And in the case of THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE, it didn't even look like the film was made in this century!

" />

A STRANGE INTRODUCTION TO KAREL ZEMAN – THE CZECH VISIONARY

film stillAt some point in 1961, a double feature aimed at children was being distributed in selected U.S. regions. If you saw the titles on a theatre marquee, you might think they were Walt Disney releases – BIMBO THE GREAT and THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE. But anyone who ventured inside the theatre immediately realized that these films were NOT made in Hollywood. And in the case of THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE, it didn’t even look like the film was made in this century!

But first let’s get BIMBO THE GREAT out of the way. poster

This was actually the poorly dubbed English language version of Rivalen der Manege which was originally released in Germany in 1958. It was a circus film but despite the title Bimbo was not an elephant or some other animal star attraction. He was a trapeze artist whose wife/partner is killed in a rigged accident intended for Bimbo by his jealous half brother. Bimbo becomes an alcoholic, loses custody of his young daughter and….except for a climatic fire and the garish Eastmancolor, this was not something to hold the interest of a pre-teen audience.

But the companion feature was something else entirely. THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE, also known as The Deadly Invention, was from Czechoslovakia and also originally released in 1958 under its original title of Vynalez Zhazy. The American release version was English dubbed of course but also the credits were Americanized and an unnecessary introduction by TV announcer Hugh Downs was added. The posters also touted it as “The first Motion Picture Produced in the Magic-Image Miracle of Mystimation.” poster

Directed by Karel Zeman, a former window dresser and poster designer, this movie looked like it had arrived from another world…well, Czech cinema WAS another world compared to the Hollywood product we’d been fed. Here was live action combined with 19th century wood engravings, miniatures, glass paintings, animated paper cut-outs and odd bric-a-brac – all of it occasionally intermingling at the same time causing your eyeballs to pop out of your skull. Obviously the visual look of the movie would have had great resonance for European audiences raised on Jules Verne. For me, whose familiarity with Verne was based on Classics Illustrated comics, Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the Pat Boone fantasy-adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth, this was WEIRD, but in a good way. Zeman’s art direction had a 3-D feel to it with various types of animation occuring in the foreground against incredibly detailed and layered backgrounds and vice versa. The plot had something to do with a professor and his assistant kidnapped by pirates and held captive in a laboratory inside a volcano. What I remember most about the film were the underwater scenes, particularly a shark attack and a fantastic looking submarine. There was also an escape in a giant hot air balloon. The film was supposedly based on Verne’s “Face au Drapeau” but was more of a visual recreation of his fantasy world which was like an Old World storybook come to life. submarine

THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE was distributed by Joseph E. Levine who had previously made a pile of money bringing HERCULES starring Steve Reeves to the U.S. but he didn’t have the same luck here because this was too much of a bizarre art object. Yet it started me on a lifetime search for more movies by Zeman. Unfortunately it was nearly impossible to see any of Zeman’s work here unless you happened to live in a major city like New York where his movies might show at a repertory cinema or museum. Audio Brandon, a now extinct 16mm distributor, carried two of his films – THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1962) and WAR OF THE FOOLS (1964) but it wasn’t until the early 90s when I finally saw another Zeman feature – ON THE COMET based on Jules Verne’s sci-fi novel. Facets Multimedia rented it on VHS to members. That’s how I also got to see Zeman’s BARON MUNCHAUSEN. Of course now I can clearly see the influence of Georges Melies (Le Voyage dans la lune, 1902) on Zeman’s work and in turn he obviously influenced Terry Gilliam. The real pity of it all is that Zeman’s films have yet to receive a Criterion like presentation on DVD…unless I’m mistaken. I long to return to THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE and see if the remarkable imagery is as wonderful as I remember it.

film poster

12 Responses A STRANGE INTRODUCTION TO KAREL ZEMAN – THE CZECH VISIONARY
Posted By Maddy : March 24, 2007 10:34 am

I saw this in a history of animation film class on 16mm and it blew everyone away. There are techniques used in this film which couldn't be duplicated by cgi and look as artistic and beautiful as they do here…and I'm a fan of cgi. "The Fabulous World of Jules Verne" needs to be restored to its original Czech version, remastered and made available again. It is truly inspirational for the aspiring animator.  Here is a link to a more in-depth critique of ithttp://locusmag.com/2004/Reviews/10_WaldropPerson_Verne.html

Posted By Maddy : March 24, 2007 10:34 am

I saw this in a history of animation film class on 16mm and it blew everyone away. There are techniques used in this film which couldn't be duplicated by cgi and look as artistic and beautiful as they do here…and I'm a fan of cgi. "The Fabulous World of Jules Verne" needs to be restored to its original Czech version, remastered and made available again. It is truly inspirational for the aspiring animator.  Here is a link to a more in-depth critique of ithttp://locusmag.com/2004/Reviews/10_WaldropPerson_Verne.html

Posted By Mike T. : March 24, 2007 11:31 pm

Joseph E. Levine was usually a pretty shrewd distributor when it came to picking European films that would do well in the U.S., either at the box office or at the art house cinemas and consequently at the Oscars.  I mean, look at his track record: GODZILLA, HERCULES, TWO WOMEN, CONTEMPT, ZULU, MARRIAGE-ITALIAN STYLE, DARLING, THEY CALL ME TRINITY, etc.  And a lot of his American films were huge hits – THE CARPETBAGGERS, THE GRADUATE, THE PRODUCERS, THE LION IN WINTER, CARNAL KNOWLEDGE…so why did he think BIMBO THE GREAT would do anything? And THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE must have been a personal favorite because it is simply too "alien" to American culture in terms of its look and feel. But thank god he brought it here even if he added a prologue, dubbed it in English and whatever…because it is a thing of beauty and maybe someone will rescue it from obscurity again someday!

Posted By Mike T. : March 24, 2007 11:31 pm

Joseph E. Levine was usually a pretty shrewd distributor when it came to picking European films that would do well in the U.S., either at the box office or at the art house cinemas and consequently at the Oscars.  I mean, look at his track record: GODZILLA, HERCULES, TWO WOMEN, CONTEMPT, ZULU, MARRIAGE-ITALIAN STYLE, DARLING, THEY CALL ME TRINITY, etc.  And a lot of his American films were huge hits – THE CARPETBAGGERS, THE GRADUATE, THE PRODUCERS, THE LION IN WINTER, CARNAL KNOWLEDGE…so why did he think BIMBO THE GREAT would do anything? And THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE must have been a personal favorite because it is simply too "alien" to American culture in terms of its look and feel. But thank god he brought it here even if he added a prologue, dubbed it in English and whatever…because it is a thing of beauty and maybe someone will rescue it from obscurity again someday!

Posted By Brockmeyer’s Girl : March 25, 2007 12:57 am

I used to watch The Fabulous World of Jules Verne when it came on television every now and then… and it was crazy and weird and like nothing I had ever seen before, but in a good way.  I loved it!  I always wanted one of those underwater bicycles!

Posted By Brockmeyer’s Girl : March 25, 2007 12:57 am

I used to watch The Fabulous World of Jules Verne when it came on television every now and then… and it was crazy and weird and like nothing I had ever seen before, but in a good way.  I loved it!  I always wanted one of those underwater bicycles!

Posted By Richard Ekstedt : April 7, 2007 2:09 pm

Saw them both. I have JULES VERNE on vhs and I still enjoy it

Posted By Richard Ekstedt : April 7, 2007 2:09 pm

Saw them both. I have JULES VERNE on vhs and I still enjoy it

Posted By Hellboy : January 11, 2010 1:22 pm

Karel Zeman also heavily influenced Coppolas Dracula, there are shots, that look exactly like from his movies. One of the best is movie called “Cesta do praveku” (search imdb for US name) which is something like Jurrasic Park of the sixties and is more real, without the ald Verne engraving look. Highly recommended.

Posted By Hellboy : January 11, 2010 1:22 pm

Karel Zeman also heavily influenced Coppolas Dracula, there are shots, that look exactly like from his movies. One of the best is movie called “Cesta do praveku” (search imdb for US name) which is something like Jurrasic Park of the sixties and is more real, without the ald Verne engraving look. Highly recommended.

Posted By Ergo Phizmiz : September 29, 2011 5:55 am

Hi – I’m working on a radio piece about Zeman at the moment – I have quite a lot of Zeman (including The Fabulous World of Jules Verne) as AVI files and will happily pass them on via WeTransfer or similar.

Posted By Ergo Phizmiz : September 29, 2011 5:55 am

Hi – I’m working on a radio piece about Zeman at the moment – I have quite a lot of Zeman (including The Fabulous World of Jules Verne) as AVI files and will happily pass them on via WeTransfer or similar.

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