A group of small boys find a trilobite fossil and decide the only reasonable thing to do is embark on a Journey to the Beginning of Time (Cesta do pravěku). This 1955 Czech Science Fiction film is intensely charming. It combines enthralling special effects with a credible sense of childlike thought process and also an appreciable sense of adherence to contemporaneous scientific knowledge of prehistorical animals and environments.
Director Karel Zeman introduces four little explorers who figure since most of the things Jules Verne wrote about came true they ought to be able to find a cave they can go through to travel back in time. And so it proves. Rowing a boat through a dark cave, they emerge onto a river partly frozen over and soon observe a woolly mammoth.
The film combines a number of different kinds of effects technique including stop motion, puppets, costumes, and matte paintings. As is usually the case with practical effects, they age so much better than cgi because, even when they're not convincing, they still have a sense of life to them. There's a great deal of artistry to these, too, and I love how they're shown side by side with mediaeval engravings of dragons while the boys muse on the connexion between these real beasts and the beasts of human imagination.
I also admire the film's attention to prehistoric plant life and the kids talk about the different kinds of trees and shrubs they see, things that are as extinct as the dinosaurs and mammoths that crash through them.
After the weekend's less than inspiring look at a dinosaur movie, I decided to watch this after seeing it recommended on Caitlin's blog and I'm glad I did.
Journey to the Beginning of Time is available on The Criterion Channel.