An excerpt from the booklet essay by James Oliver

Born in 1910 in Northern Bohemia, Karel Zeman’s taste for fantasy and his artistic skill were apparent from childhood, even if his mother and step-father obliged him to study business, with an eye to a more stable career path. It didn't work: he began a career in advertising and developed an interest in animation which, in turn, would bring him directly into the film industry; he secured his first professional position after his home-made work was seen by Elmar Klos, a major Czechoslovak documentary filmmaker and head of his own studio in Prague. (Klos later helped found the Czech motion-picture academy known as FAMU, and directed – with Ján Kadár – The Shop on the High Street /Obchod na korze in 1965).

That was 1943, and he worked initially as an animation assistant. Once the war had ended, he started making his own films, beginning with a sequence of stop-motion shorts about a funny little fellow called 'Mr Prokouk' ('Pan Prokouk'), variously an inventor, detective and filmmaker who pursued his various careers in nine wildly popular short films made between 1946 and 1959. Not insignificantly, these also marked the beginning of an important collaboration; in time, Zdeněk Liška would become the unquestioned doyen of Czechoslovakian film music, a composer famed for the unconventional soundscapes he provided for many diverse films of the period, including Ikarie XB-1 (Jindrich Polák, 1963), Marketa Lazarová (Frantisek Vlácil, 1967) and The Cremator (Juraj Herz, 1968). But his earliest film work was scoring the adventures of Mr Prokouk for Zeman, and their partnership would endure: Liška is responsible for the suitably innovative music heard in Invention for Destruction, from elegant harpsichord to foursquare fairground waltz and beyond.

The charming early work gave way to something more ambitious, as the two supporting shorts on this disc attest: the dream-like Inspiration (Inspirace, 1949) mixes live action with an animation beautifully crafted with glass figurines; while King Lavra (Král Lávra, 1950) is more conventional with stop-motion puppetry and it's plot taken from a fairytale – but at nearly half an hour long, it shows him ready to make the step to full length features. The first of those, The Prisoner of Bird Island (Poklad ptačího ostrova, 1953), came only seven years since the since the first five minute Mr Prokouk film, a sign of how quickly Zeman mastered his art. A Journey to the Beginning of Time (Cesta do pravěku , 1955) sent a group of kids back to when dinosaurs ruled the earth and even had them interact with the beasts by way of trick shots and stop motion animation.

He would develop that style throughout his feature-film career, most famously on Invention for Destruction. This was the product of a life-long love affair – unsurprisingly, the filmmaker had been a devotee of Verne since boyhood, and not just the stories: Zeman the budding artist had been much inspired by the illustrations by Léon Bennett, Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou that accompanied Verne's tales on first publication and gave form to his fantastical world.


James Oliver's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

Czechoslovakia, 1958
Length / Feature
(Blu-ray/24fps): 82 minutes
(DVD/25fps): 79 minutes
Length / Special features:
(Blu-ray): 82 minutes
(DVD): 79 minutes
Blu-ray: 2.0 Mono LPCM (48k/24-bit)
DVD: 2.0 Mono
Black and white
Original aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Language: Czech, English

Blu-ray: BD50 / 1080 / 24fps / Region ABC
DVD: PAL / DVD9 / Region 0

Blu-Ray: £19.99
DVD: £12.99
Release Date: 09 July 2018


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