Na Kometě (On the Comet)

Looking for a sci-fi epic with insane special effects? Then look no further, friend- step right this way to a little known Czech film from 1970, Na Kometě, which blows anything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe out of the water.

It’s hard to know where to start with this masterpiece by the great Karel Zeman. Ten minutes of his films and you see the influence he has had on everyone- from Terry Gilliam to Wes Anderson, George Lucas, Spielberg, everyone. Every shot is perfectly composed, and the next shot flows perfectly from that one… and so on, and so forth. He blends film and stop-motion animation seamlessly, building sets that add to the illusion by being both 2D photorealist images and actual, tangible props interacting with actors in such a way that you can’t tell where one medium starts and the other one ends. You’d think this could only be done using a computer, but, alas, it’s all done by hand.

Add to that his sense of color- from nostalgically-tinged sepia to aquatic blues and greens to the eerie purples of the universe, and you have a black and white film that’s anything but. Sometimes, shots transition from one color to another for dramatic effect- and always, the drama is perfectly calculated and crafted. Zeman is no showman for showman’s sake- he has a tale to tell, and his special effects are only there to tell it well.

And the story- oh, the story! A mad masterpiece, a ridiculous romp through time and space, Na Kometě is very loosely based on Jules Verne’s On the Comet, a much more serious sci-fi tale where a comet collides with Earth and takes a bunch of people with it. Zeman turns that idea into a fantastical, sometimes hilarious dream journey where men can’t stop playing at war with each other, even when they realize they’re no longer on Earth. Our two young protagonists- Captain Hector and Angelica- find themselves caught up in these ridiculous political battles, all the while seeking to be free from the madness and simply live their life in peace.

But they can’t- not with three overbearing brothers, Arabs aided by Spaniards fighting the French, oh, and- dinosaurs. (Don’t worry- guns may not frighten these prehistoric beasts, but pots and pans do.) Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen owes a nod or three to this zany, madcap film (as well as Zeman’s own Munchausen) which has lost nothing of its captivating magic decades later. It’s silly, beautiful, wondrous, hilarious, romantic, and fun. It’s a film full of an auteur’s stamp while eminently serving to entertain the crowds. Please enjoy.


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