Monday, July 14, 2014
Journey to the Beginning of Time
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.