As Jasper Morello (Joel Edgerton) reflects on the navigational error which resulted in a man’s death and may have cost Jasper his career, his wife Amelia (Jude Beaumont) hands him the letter assigning him to his next voyage.
Summary by Dr Marian Quigley.
The film opens in the imaginary industrial city of Gothia. Chimneys belch smoke into the sepia-toned atmosphere populated by bulky mechanical contraptions which seem to float effortlessly through space. Anthony Lucas’s silhouette animation style reveals little of the characters’ facial expressions, adding to the sense of mystery evoked by Jasper’s reflection that one degree can be 'enough to unmake a man’ and by the unexplained falling figure of a man seen in this clip. The music (by Bruce Rowland) and sound effects (by John Rowland) – particularly the man’s scream and the sound of a bell tolling in the background – add to the film’s sense of impending doom.
In this animated film, the aerial navigator Jasper Morello (voiced by Joel Edgerton), accompanied by the academy biologist Dr Claude Belgon (voiced by Helmut Bakaitis), sets out on a voyage aboard the airship Resolution to establish a line of beacons enabling wireless communication. Claude is searching for a cure for the fatal epidemic sweeping Gothia whilst Jasper – whose navigational error on his previous voyage caused a crew member’s death – hopes to redeem his career.
Following a collision with the airship Hieronymous, and the discovery of the skeletons of its crew, Claude convinces Captain Griswald (voiced by Tommy Dysart) to continue their journey aboard the abandoned vessel. On an island, they discover a dangerous creature which embodies a cure for the plague. They take on board live specimens of the creature. On their return journey, Jasper faces a moral dilemma when he realises that Claude is prepared to sacrifice human lives in order to achieve personal fame.
An Oscar nominee for Best Short Animation as well as winner of the Grand Prix at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and two AFI Awards in 2005, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello is a visually stunning film. Director Anthony Lucas established this unique animation style, where silhouette paper cut-outs of hand-drawn characters are scanned then digitally manipulated, making his student film Shadowland (1988) then used it again in Holding Your Breath (2001). Although the style has been compared with Lotte Reininger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), Lucas explains that he stumbled on the technique by accident when a light on an animation table went out.
Skilfully combining 2D and 3D animation techniques, the film conveys an imaginary world containing both Victorian and futuristic elements whilst its compelling story recalls the nineteenth century adventure tales of Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe. As well as the classic gothic elements of death, decay and terror, the film reflects the 'steampunk’ genre, seen in Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s Japanese anime Steamboy (2004), which nostalgically envisions an early Victorian era of steam-powered machines. Despite their apparent bulk, steam-powered airships float through the polluted industrial atmosphere of Gothia whilst intricate, cog-driven machinery and Jasper’s compass in particular, assume an almost magical quality. Ultimately, however, Jasper must rely on himself rather than technology in order to resolve his moral dilemma.
The story, narrated by Jasper, is based on a traditional hero’s journey narrative in which the hero (Jasper) leaves the ordinary world (Gothia) to travel on a quest to a special world (the volcanic island), then returns to the ordinary world. The film, which evokes an aura of mystery from the outset, is a superb example of the way in which animation, at its best, can create a magical imaginary, yet convincing, world.
The Jasper Morello website lists the film as 'the first voyage’ in a trilogy based on the adventures of the aerial navigator. The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello was produced by Anthony Lucas’s company, 3-D Films, with production funding from Film Victoria and finance from the Australian Film Commission and SBS Independent.
Jasper Morello was selected for over 40 film festivals and competitions internationally. It played in cinemas around Australia from December 2005, in a double bill with the silent Soviet Union documentary The Man with a Movie Camera (1929, with a new score by Michael Nyman). SBS broadcast Jasper Morello on 10 March 2006 and it was released on DVD on 15 March 2006.
Notes by Dr Marian Quigley