Peter is repairing a log book that contains the written documentation of his and his friends’ journey through time. His friend Georgie found the fossil of a trilobite near the opening of a cave. Peter explains to him where the fossil came from. Georgie wants to see a live trilobite. Peter tells Georgie that to truly understand the fossil’s origins and to see a live trilobite he needs to go back through time 500,000,000 years.
Peter begins to tell the tale of the adventure he had with Georgie and two other friends Jack and Tony. The boys take a row boat through a tunnel that brings them into the river of time. They begin to travel upstream but the river begins to freeze. They realize that they are in the ice age. They drag the boat over the ice filled river and spend the night on the ice.
The next day they continue on their journey. The ice has melted and on the shores they see a Mammoth. On shore they find a cave that use to be the home of a caveman and some cave drawings. They are traveling through the Tertiary period. They see flamingos, sabre-tooth tigers, and ancestors of giraffes, elephants and deer.
After that they reach The Mesozoic period or the Age of Dinosaurs. They see Brontosaurs, Stegosaurs and other dinosaurs. Their row boat gets crushed by a dinosaur so they build a raft. Continuing on upstream on their raft fog begins to swirl around them and they find themselves in the swamps of the Carboniferous period with giant dragon flies. Finally the boys are in The Silurian age. The land is covered with rocks and boulders. It is the time before plants and animals. There is life in the sea but it hasn’t yet ventured onto land. This is where the trilobites came from.
“Journey To The Beginning Of Time” was released in 1955 and was directed by Karel Zeman. It is a Czechoslovakian science fiction story based in real science. The film won awards in both the Venice and Mannheim Film Festivals. Done in a quasi documentary style, the film is educational as well as entertaining. At least in the original Czechoslovakian version.
The American dubbed version is not as good. Some additional footage was shot using different kids and of course mostly shot from behind so you can’t see their faces. Some other scenes were cut or shortened. The running time of both movies is almost the same so the American version is a little choppy in places.
In the American version the four boys are, of course, American and are visiting the New York Museum of Natural History. Their names are also different. The boys tour the museum for hours. Eventually they pause to sit on a bench in front of an exhibit of a Native American in a canoe. The boys then decide to take a boat ride. As they row they see a tunnel in the rocks. They row through the tunnel. They come out of the tunnel and find themselves in a different river. The river of time. This is where the adventure is similar to the original film. The very ending is also different in that the boys wake up from their daydream and they are back in the museum.
For some bizarre reason the American version added a speech near the end about creation due to intelligent design. It totally defeats the scientific fact based movie and changes it into a children’s fantasy story with a religious undertone. An in your face undertone but still an undertone.
The Czechoslovakian version leaves you with the feeling that perhaps the boys really did go on an adventure. It is charming and fun. The stop motion is a little rudimentary but you don’t mind it because it adds to the appeal of the whole movie.
Needless to say I recommend the original Czechoslovakian version.