Master of the World

Synopsis: In 1848, a fanatical inventor seeks to fly around the world and stop war from his flying airship (the “Albatross”)…a cross between a zeppelin and a helicopter. Adapted from two Jules Verne novel — Master Of The World and The Conqueror.

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Master of the World 6.75

eyelights: its ambition.
eyesores: its limited means.

“With the Wright Brothers’ conquest of the air, man became master of the world.”

Learning to fly is a significant step in the evolution of the human race. Being airbourne has allowed us to move people, goods and culture more easily and more rapidly. It has also given us the upper hand over any grounded opponents in armed conflicts.

‘Master of the World’ is a 1961 adventure epic based on Jules Vernes’ novels ‘Robur-le-Conquérant’ and its sequel ‘Maître du monde’. It follows the world-shaking plans of Robur, the inventor of the first airship, as he tries to rid the world of all war.

His plan: to threaten the world’s powers into submission.

The story is told from the perspective of a small group of people who investigate some anomalous environmental activity at the Great Eyrie, in the area of Morgantown, PA, and are kidnapped by Robur to prevent them from leaking his plans.

Our picture begins with a brief black and white, narrated, introduction to humanity’s quest for flight. Though it’s sometimes played for laughs, given all the wacky contraptions that were devised, it’s fascinating to see all of that creativity on display.

Then the picture proper takes us to Morgantown, circa 1868, featuring a hilariously poorly painted backdrop of a mountain with static clouds around it. Suddenly, the town quakes, and lights and a voice come from the mountain, scaring the locals.

It’s the first indication that American International Pictures’ attempt at making an epic adventure movie on the cheap (instead of bankrolling a luxurious production like Disney’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’) may not provide the greatest results.

Another example is its farcical substitutions for actual flight: the actors performing in front of shaky background footage, a painful sight indeed, and the even crummier combination of Robur’s Albatross superimposed over ultra-grainy stock footage.

WTF.

Thankfully, the picture’s pace is swift enough that it remains relatively entertaining throughout. And there are layers of social commentary to keep its audiences thinking, with Robur’s actions and views highlighting the responsibility and cost of war.

The cast is also pleasant enough: Vincent Price clearly relishes his role as the honourable but potentially misguided Robur, and Charles Bronson is implacable as John Strock, a government agent. Being our hero, John also gets a love interest and a rival.

The character dynamics are fairly standard for the genre, and bring nothing new to the table, but their familiarity make them easy to watch. One does get the sense, however, that no time was invested in fleshing them out, that they’re secondary to the action.

And yet the set pieces in ‘Master of the World’ come off as lackluster, impeded as they are by its production budget – which was high for American International Pictures but subpar for the genre. It probably looked pretty shoddy then. Imagine now.

But the end result is fairly decent Sunday morning or rainy day fare, the kind of movie that young families could surely enjoy killing time together with. It’s an ambitious, though cheap, adventure film that has just enough redeeming qualities to pass muster.

It may not be world-class entertainment, but it could have been.

Date of viewing: June 27, 2017

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