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Originally filmed in Czechoslovakia in 1954, the American Museum of Natural
History filmed new scenes in 1967 for this remarkable study of prehistoric
life which uses high-quality stop motion animation.
The story goes like this: a group of young boys rent a boat at an inner-city park and enter a small cave at the edge of the lake. When they come out the other side of the cave they find themselves on a river in an uninhabited area. As they float down the river each day, they travel progressively further back into the past, encountering wooly mammoths, prehistoric rhinoceros, and numerous dinosaurs -- all of which are extremely well animated, photographed, and matted. Written and directed by Karl Zeman, who gave us the unique film `The Fabulous World of Jules Verne' (release in 1958).
During the 1960s, `Journey to the Beginning of Time' was shown in serialized form on television in some areas (Atlanta, for one), amazing animation fans like me with this unexpected treat. For about two weeks I would stumble out of bed, fix breakfast, and then choke on it while I watched each morning's episode of this remarkable little gem.
The irony of movie-making is that the supposedly "amazing" modern
special effects often seem to rob movies of their potential charm. By
trying to dazzle us with all their computer magic, too many
contemporary films fail to stir our imaginations. It is like comparing
prose with poetry. When special effects were more primitive, they had
to be a bit more "poetic" and less literal in their presentations. The
result was that these older movies stirred our imaginations better than
many current ones.
This little gem of a movie is proof that limitations inspire creativity, and that the inability to graphically show anything you conceive forces the filmmaker to be more resourceful and clever with his choice of material. Nowadays, many people seem to be bored, rather than dazzled, with the flawless special effects that dominate some movies.
"Journey to the Beginning of Time" makes great use of the somewhat modest visual tools they had to work with at the time. Just as a novel like Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" is a pleasure to read, "Journey to the Beginning of Time" is great fun, and something you'll always fondly remember.
I originally watched this movie in short segments on the "Garfield Goose" TV show (mid 1960s). Each week, I could hardly wait to see another of these brief episodes. Since TV back then had poorer screen resolution, and reception was often a bit grainy, I never noticed that the actors' mouths were out of synch with the dialogue. Only after looking up this movie on the IMDb.com website did I discover that this movie was not American. It was produced in Czechoslovakia in 1955.
This movie has so much warmth and charm that it overcomes the technical limitations of the day. I just purchased a copy of this movie, and will surely watch it over and over.
What a difference a few years makes (eg., this is a follow-up to an
earlier post of mine).
Both the US and the original Czech versions are out there for sale these days (try ebay - and go for the DVD! The Czech version, at least, is cut from a wonderful print).
How the distributors of the US version ever came up with four boys falling asleep in the American Museum of Natural History and transgressing time via an Indian shaman statue is beyond me, but it was a pretty ingenious way of putting a domestic mystical stamp on a foreign film.
The Czech version begins with the character known as "Doc" in the US version recounting his "journey" while reviewing his diary. Before long, the four boys are seen emerging from the cave (which was supposedly located in Central Park in the US version) into the realm of the Ice Age, after which, the film proceeds as the movie we all know with a few notable exceptions: occasional shots of "Doc's" diary written in Czech, and an ending very different from what American audiences have seen - a seashore sequence in which the boys find a living trilobite, and closing shot of the narrator summing up the movie before fading out. (How the boys got back from their 4.5 billion year trip will remain a mystery until I get someone to translate the Czech dialog!) There appears to be no pontificating over how the boys had reached "creation" - and no footage to accompany it (the US version has shots of spouting lava and twisting luminous geometric shapes suggesting not only the beginning of earth but of the universe itself).
Despite extensive credit given to the staff of the American Museum of Natural History in the US version (namely, Edwin Colbert, prominent paleontologist at the time), it's apparent that, after viewing the Czech version, the Museum's input was limited to the museum sequences. The original movie is all Karel Zamen's - along with whichever Czech(s) who served as his paleo-documentarian(s).
Still a mystery, however, is why (as I stated in an earlier post) North American fossil vertebrates feature prominently in the film. The Styracosaur, the Sabertooth cat and, most notably, the grotesque Uintatherium featured are all unique to the American West.
Perhaps Zamen was not as isolated from US influences as life behind the Iron Curtain would have us think.
I saw this movie on television when I was just a boy. It was back then, when we had no video recorders or even DVD players in east Germany, and the only chance to see the beloved films again, was to wait... and wait... and wait... until they would be broadcasted once again. Maybe. And now, 25 years later, I had the luck to see all the Karel Zeman movies of my youth again. Aside the "antique" technical aspects, these films are still as good as in my memories. But old-fashioned technical details do not bother me, because the stories still work. And by the way: The Zeman - style was forerunning in that time. His combinations of live-action and animated scenes were unique! I watched "Journey to the Beginning of Time" recently with my son (6 years old) - and he was excited (as much as I). If you have the possibility to watch these Zeman films again - do it, they are worth it!
If you loved prehistoric life as a child, this film is perfect. The plot concerns four boys who travel down an otherworldly river and encounter the various stages of prehistoric life along the way. The stop-motion dinosaurs and numerous other prehistoric animals not usually seen on film (as far as I know, this is the only film that ever recreated the Carboniferous Age), as well as the painted backdrops, are imaginatively conceived and executed. The characters of the four boys are also humanely and realistically developed (a rarity for children's characters in films), so that _Cesta do praveku_ is equally enjoyable for adults. Unfortunately, the American version is horribly dubbed and has a ludicrous prologue to explain how the boys got to the river tacked on by the distributor; but the originality of the film still comes through, so it's worth watching if the original Czech version is unavailable (as it mostly is).
This is surely a unique film. Although I possess only the US-version with
the added scenes where 4 kids are visiting the Museum of Natural History
as they wander through the halls of giant prehistoric skeletons one of the
boys stops by a "model" of a native indian and starts dreaming the very
journey the original Czechian film is about.
With a boat they find by the shore of a river they journey downstream and to their astonishment they find that the wildlife on the fastland is prehistoric. The longer they travel the more ancient the animals. Its a kind of an educational kiddie movie without any melodramatic plot,but the whole business is fascinating as the kids who are trapped on the "river of evolution" must from time to time seek shelter on land. They confront a mammoth and a lurking caveman. From the Tertiarian Age they are attacked by a Diatryma bird and see a living prehistoric world exhibited in a way very unusual from other prehistoric adventures. The special effects are invented by the director himself, and works very well and the atmosphere of living prehistory is still unsurpassed, I think.
As they travel further down the river they meet dinosaurs and pterosaurs and finally they are forced to cross a Carbonian swampland infested by amphibians and insects until they reach the end or should I say, the Beginning: An endless Ocean where Life started. This plot was reprised in the british film Land That Time Forgot (`74).
A warm and educational movie (although we know more about Evolution today), I can recommend to everyone with that timegazing eye.
I used to watch this movie on Garfield Goose (Chicago children's program in the 1960's) and was lucky to purchase 2 copies a couple of years ago. I actually found the movie (VHS format) in a drug store in South Bend, Indiana. My six year old daughter loves the movie as I did some 39 years ago. I wish I had it when my oldest daughter was younger; at age 16, she's not interested. Finding this movie was next to impossible to locate; I've been looking several years for it without any luck. An outfit in New York released the film in 1994 and I will be glad to give you names, addresses if interested.
My father is a film maker, an American who has lived in Prague for more
than 40 years. He would bring back things from Eastern Europe in the
early '60's. One of them was a 16 mm print of a film titled "Lost
River". It had poor English dubbing but the stop motion animation of
the various prehistoric creatures was pretty spectacular for the time.
This was not the English language version of Cesta do praveku that was
distributed as Journey to the beginning of time in the States, but just
a dubbed version of the original Czech film.
My brothers and I ran that film time and again and that as well as repeated viewings of King Kong was responsible for giving me a lifelong interest in both dinosaurs and stop-motion.
I saw this wonderful little film in my boyhood, and it took my imagination soaring! The fact that I can still picture much of the film in my mind's eye, now, some 35 years later, demonstrates the film's charm. Ah, if only it were available on video!
I saw this movie at the theater in the mid-late '60s. I spent years and years trying to find out the name of it based only on my memories of a few of the scenes. I finally tracked it down and got a VHS copy and watched it with my husband and son. My son (11) was totally cracking up the whole time, spoiled by all the movies he's seen. Yes, the dubbing is hokey and horrible, and the stop action primitive compared to today, but to an 8 yr old in the '60s it was wonderful! I may have to hunt down an original copy without the extra US storyline that was put in. I'm just glad that I found this movie, prove to my husband that I'm not crazy and it did exist and can now move on with my life! ;)
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