Monday, 14 July 2014

Journey to the Beginning of Time

Cesta do Praveku; fantasy adventure, Czech Republic, 1955; D: Karel Zeman, S: Vladimir Bejval, Petr Herrman, Zdenek Hustak

Four boys use a boat to enter a cave and follow the stream of a river to find themselves on a journey through Earth's past: first the river leads them to the Ice age of the Pleistocene, where they observe a mammoth. As the peddle further down the river, they discover other mammals, from the unitatherium to the giraffe. They go even further down the river, and realize they entered the Mesozoic era, witnessing dinosaurs on the shore. As they travel further and further, they eventually go to the Paleozoic, until they eventually reach the Precambrian era, when the first life evolved in the seas.

Karel Zeman, one of the most imaginative and audacious directors of the Czechoslovak cinema, proved to be a 'Czech Spielberg' when he ignored all the budget constraints and still went on to create a charming kids' film, "Journey to the Beginning of Time", which accumulated enough prehistoric creatures, from mammoths to dinosaurs, to establish a small cult following. Most of the critics praized the imaginative "stop-motion" special effects which indeed reach the level of the veteran effects guru Harryhausen, while the majority of the critics rightfully pointed out the underwhelming, underdeveloped story in which the four kids just paddle on a river and watch the prehistoric creatures on the shore, and nothing more, since no humor, adventure or suspense are conjured up faced with such passive and faceless protagonists, making "Journey" feel more like an educational video than a film with a narrative, aggravated further by a weird open ending. However, even if the story is just an excuse for effects, Zeman has a field day and delivers a rare and refreshing fantasy film outside the English language cinema, and the highlight is obviously when the protagonists enter the dinosaur age some 50 minutes into the film, with a neat fight between a stegosaurus and a ceratosaurus.

Grade;++

5 comments:

Christopher Sobieniak said...

At least you watched the original it seems. This was one of those that showed up in the US as well on TV though it had a new footage produced showing those four kids as Americans in New York who go through a cave in a park pond where they travel through time (while wearing hats they bought by a guy who we're only told at the beginning in narration), if only to try to stay consistence with the original film except for the cave itself appearing like a background out of The Flintstones.

Marin Mandir said...

I agree. The US version used an unnecessary intro in order to have a happy ending where the kids return safe and sound back home, because the original ending was too vague for them. Anyway, it is a charming and rare dinosaur film outside the English language world.

Christopher Sobieniak said...

I agree. The US version used an unnecessary intro in order to have a happy ending where the kids return safe and sound back home, because the original ending was too vague for them.

No doubt someone needed closure or else confused viewers would start writing in angry letters to the station. In some way, I remind myself of Haim Saban and the Power Rangers series in the 90's. Merely taking the original concept and footage and placing the American characters and stories in place and hope nobody notices the difference.

Perhaps not one of Fred Ladd's finest but at least he tried here (a few years later he would bring over a Japanese cartoon that fared a little better despite whatever demands the American company had over the content that it's original creator didn't have in mind (but then I suppose you know that story too).

Marin Mandir said...

"Perhaps not one of Fred Ladd's finest but at least he tried here (a few years later he would bring over a Japanese cartoon that fared a little better despite whatever demands the American company had over the content that it's original creator didn't have in mind (but then I suppose you know that story too)."

Actually, I am not familiar with that story, but I guess you are talking about Astro Boy and its introduction to the US audience.

Christopher Sobieniak said...

I was.

On one hand, there are those that would compliment Mr. Ladd for what he did to start any interest in Japanese cartoons around here, yet there are the sneers at what he did to ruin classic American cartoons of the black & white era with the redrawn identicals that were a mainstay on TV stations for years simply because of the unproven fact that kids would not watch a 'boring' program that was in black & white. A whole generation pretty much thought all early American animation looked that way on purpose when it wasn't.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kdnyS8Ai6k