Invention for Destruction [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (7th December 2018).
The Film

Born into an era of great technological innovation from the steam-driven trains and carriages to the flying Albatross and the submarine, engineer Simon Hart (Witchhammer's Lubor Tokos) has the privilege of working under Professor Roch (Arnost Navrátil) whose latest experiments are to discover the secret of all matter. The work has been taxing and he has been recuperating at a seaside sanitarium. The same night Simon arrives to visit Roch, they are both spirited away to the ship of pirate Captain Spade (The Fabulous Baron Munchausen's Frantisek Slégr) for his patron Count Artigas (Miroslav Holub) whom Hart discovers was behind the apparent sinking and disappearance of the submarine which he has utilized to make the ocean his undersea kingdom from which he loots sunken ships of their treasure. While holding Hart captive, Artigas has convinced too-trusting Roch that he merely wants to sponsor Roch's work with the resources available at his island in an extinct volcano (the belching black smoke of which actually comes from the factories he has built there). While Roch toils away – with the assistance of Jana (Jana Zatloukalová), the castaway survivor of the latest merchant ship Spade and Artigas sank – imprisoned Hart refuses to help Artigas' court scientist Serko (Václav Kyzlink) to develop the flying machine that he has surmised Artigas wants to use to dominate the sky with the threat of Roch's atom encapsulated into the form of a bomb. Adapted from Jules Verne's novel "Facing the Flag" by animator Karel Zemen, Invention for Destruction (released in the UK as The Deadly Invention and the United States as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne) has its rough edges demonstrates Zemen's mastery of melding live action, animation, and in-camera mattes and miniatures advancing over his previous effort A Journey to the Beginning of Time and what he would further refine to flawless degrees in The Fabulous Baron Munchausen and A Jester's Tale. Political and social commentary are not entirely absent – with autocrat Artigas exploiting the inventions of Roch who is only too trusting that others will use his discoveries for the good of mankind – but it is Zemen's visuals that provide a constant source of amazement, impressing even with their blatant artiface from sets extended by cardboard and cloth positioned in the background and foreground or underwater jaunts that include a battle with a giant octopus… or is it a squid. Zemen's visual inspiration from the original illustrations accompanying publication of Verne's novels extends to the horizontal lines that replicate the hatch marking of the printing presses used to replicate the illustrations, and that may be the reason for the choice of black and white as well since he had already utilized color in his stop-motion animated shorts. While "Facing the Flag" may not be as well-known a work by Jules Verne, Invention for Destruction is essential Karel Zemen.


Released theatrically in the United States in an English-dubbed version by Warner Bros. as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, Invention for Destruction was hard to see outside of poor-quality copies of this version in which the blooming whites and murky blacks made it difficult to appreciate Zemen's artistry. The film was previously released on English-friendly DVD and 1080i50 Blu-ray in the Czech Republic – followed by a 2014 German Blu-ray – but Second Run's Blu-ray was able to utilize a recent 4K restoration composited from the best of materials from various film archives. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen image is clean with deep blacks and unclipped highlights while the fine vertical and horizontal lines in the sets, décor, and the effects sections of shots are free of distortion, looking so impressive that the few shots without any effects elements (as well as the more compressed video featurettes) are a shocking contrast.


The Czech LPCM 1.0 mono track has also undergone recent restoration and is hiss-free, with clear dialogue and the harpsichord-heavy score of Zdenek Liska (Fruit of Paradise) coming through sharply. Optional English subtitles are available.


The major extra of the disc is the Joseph E. Levine-presented English-dubbed version (82:29) in its entirety, with English-language title sequence and introduction by Hugh Downs (who draws attention to the fact that the imagery is directly inspired by the artwork from the Verne novels for those unfamiliar with them). Apart from the credits and Downs introduction, the presentation appears to be derived from the 4K master, which seems fitting as even the old recordings of the dubbed version kept the few instances of onscreen text in Czech, relying on the dialogue to summarize them. The original score and effects were also retained while the dubbed dialogue is relatively faithful to the original. The disc also features an appreciation by filmmaker John Stevenson (16:17) in which the animator turned director of Kung Fu Panda recalls being enthralled by Zemen upon seeing a documentary on his effects on British television as a child and actually calling up the Czech embassy for information on the director. Although they were kind enough to mail him Czech clippings about Zemen, it was not until he came to the United States as an adult that he got to see some of the films. He does not so much discuss how Zemen directly inspired him – unlike Terry Gilliam whose own adaptation of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen drew inspiration from Zemen's version – as pay tribute to Zemen's achievements as "unreproducible […] unique handmade works of art." The disc also includes two animated Zemen short films, Inspiration [Inspirace, 1949] (11:30) and King Lavra [Kral Lavra, 1950] (29:37) as well as the Czech archive featurettes "Why Zemen Made the Film" (3:33) in which actor Tokos and Zemen's daughter Ludmila – who was put to work painting sets on her days off from school as a child – recall his craftsmanship and love of Verne and "Zemen's Special Effects Techniques" (3:20) which features clips from the films intercut with behind the scenes archival filming and computer simulations to illustrate the various live and animated layers of some of the sets and shots. "Restoring the World of Fantasy" (3:32) looks at the creation of the 4K restoration as they discuss the restoring versus revision and the decision to retain the frames that accidentally revealed Zemen in the shots or other mistakes. The restoration demo (2:49) illustrates the actual steps of cleanup on the master. Karel Zemen Museum (1:13) is an advertisement for the titular attraction. The theatrical trailer (1:19) is also included. Housed with the disc is a booklet with new writing by critic James Oliver who discusses the source novel in the context of Verne's oeuvre, the fittingness that the first film adaptation should be done by one of Zemen's camera trickery antecedents Georges Méliès with A Trip to the Moon, and Zemen's film in the context of Hollywood Verne adaptations.


While "Facing the Flag" may not be as well-known a work by Jules Verne, Invention for Destruction is essential Karel Zemen.


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