Journey To The Beginning Of Time (Czechoslovakia 1955)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/7/15
Director: Karel Zeman

Quite possibly Karel Zeman's most ambitious and personal picture, this is a romantically nostalgic look at a young boy's fantastic adventure into prehistory. After finding a fossilized trilobite, a group of four young boys decide to set out on an expedition to find a real life trilobite. Taking a tip from Jules Verne, they sail their small rowboat into a dark cave and emerge in the Ice Age, where they see a wooly mammoth grazing on the shore. Continuing down the river of time, they encounter increasingly older animal species, including familiar African mammals, alligators, a giant flightless bird, flying Pterodactyls, a Brontosaurus, a Stegosaurus, a giant dragonfly, and finally a trilobite in the primordial sea.

Of course it's all pure fantasy, so you can't put a lot of critical thought into it, like how did they get back, and weren't their parents awfully worried about them having disappeared into the wilderness for days on end? The film makes excellent use of a wide variety of sets and locations to represent various time periods and it looks great. The creatures are a combination of practical models, miniatures, puppetry, and stop-motion motion animation. This film really shows off Zeman's experience and expertise with puppetry, and some of the effects are very impressive. Additionally, the stop-motion work is very detailed and anatomically precise. Fascinating stuff. Even though the film overflows with a sense of wonder and imagination, it tends to drag. The child actors are quite good, but sometimes their sense of awe seems forced and contrived. I'm far too old and cynical to lose myself in an age of innocence adventure like this, but I can still appreciate the spirit in which it was made and the skill that went into making it.