1961, Second Run (UK), 1.37:1, BD-ABC, 85m (163m of supplements)
To watch a Karel Zeman film is to feel that all other filmmakers are impeded, that they were short-changed on the day the Angels distributed the tools of filmmaking. Pick a random Zeman film and you will see his mastery of black-and-white and color; live-action and animation; collage and sculpture; sobriety and humor; science and imagination. His creativity is like a fountain; it never stops flowing, never stops its own endless reinvention. A simple shot of a rose in the moonlight is enough to bring us to our knees.
Zeman, a Czech filmmaker who lived from 1910 to 1989 and made films from 1946 to 1980 (his first feature, CESTA DO PRAVEKU / JOURNEY TO THE BEGINNING OF TIME, in 1955), belongs in the ranks of animators who became directors: Georges Méliès, Ladislas Starewicz, George Pal, Frank Tashlin, and even Mario Bava - but he is particularly well-placed among Pal and Starewicz, and a third filmmaker who never graduated to stage direction: Lotte Reiniger (best-known for her animated cut-out feature THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, 1926). As a child, Zeman fell in love with the stories of Jules Verne and the illustrations of Gustave Doré and became a confirmed fantasist. His aforementioned debut begins realistically, with live action, but then almost imperceptibly melds into fantasy as a group of boys on a nature trip find themselves face-to-face with creatures that never existed in their own time. His second feature, VYNÁLEZ ZKÁZY / A DEADLY INVENTION (1958; released in English territories as THE FABULOUS ADVENTURES OF JULES VERNE), was a far more radical and delightful creation, a melding of different Verne scenarios into an original story, told in a conglomeration of live-action, trick shots, and animation that brought Verne's original book illustrations uncannily to life. After more than half a century, it remains the most commercially successful Czech film of all time - and the primary reason why there now exists a Karel Zeman Museum in Prague. This same museum has made it their mission to see Zeman's groundbreaking work better known and more fully appreciated; some years ago, they began releasing DVDs of his work, with VYNÁLEZ ZKÁZY released as a solo (and English-friendly) Blu-ray disc, while Zeman's first three films have also been released by them as a single-disc Blu-ray. Now the British label Second Run, which has long specialized in Eastern European cinema and previously released Zeman's BLÁZNOVA KRONICA / A JESTER'S TALE on DVD, has entered the picture with a glorious 4K restoration of what is arguably the filmmaker's greatest film, one that is tempting to interpret as a testamental work thought it perversely arrived well before the midpoint of his career: BARON PRÁŠIL / THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1961).
Perhaps it goes without saying in light of all I've just said, but this is one of the most important HD releases of 2017 and warmly recommended. The region-free disc can be obtained directly from Second Run or from retailers such as Amazon.co.uk.
(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.