Cesta do praveku (A Journey to the Beginning of Time) is a forgotten memory. It feels like a movie I saw in school ages ago but I’m not sure. The 1955 Czech adventure film with theme park-like stop-motion animation returns us to a time when science and education were not only important, but cool. (They’ve never stopped being that, by the way.)
Instead of Disney rides adapted into Dwayne Johnson vehicles, paleontology, prehistory and evolution have been adapted into a Disney-esque ride movie that’s perfect for a substitute teacher or a Saturday matinee on the Criterion Channel.
The film is wonderfully simple — a young boy named Jirka discovers a trilobite fossil. The boy not only doesn’t know what it is, he doesn’t understand what clue to our genesis he possesses.
So he and his three other pals, Petr, Jenda and Toník, enter a cave. A primordial cave, traversing epochs of time and lightyears of space in a rudimentary jon boat to uncover the mystery of the trilobite. Where did it come from? When did it come from? Where and when did we come from? How the heck did we get here?
And so, the quartet of chums survive the Ice Age, reach the Prehistoric Age and encounter a woolly mammoth you might find at an abandoned museum. They witness “epic” dino battles; they hunt, they fish, they gather. They devolve, they evolve. They learn.
The boys chronicle their adventures in a logbook eleven years before Captain Kirk and company skipped around the final frontier. It’s a rad dad movie simply because well-meaning fathers grew up watching this or wishing they had. It’s as if the Hardy Boys crossed over with my awkward intermediate science teacher Mr. Campbell.
The film, directed by Karel Zeman (a Czech filmmaker obsessed with Sinbad demanding to be investigated further), has the aesthetic of a Science Fair project. You know, if I had let my dad do it for me like he wanted.
Four kids travel 50 million years because they’re curious about a rock. What’s more romantic than that? Yet the true romance is that the film’s only goal is understanding. I’m not sure there’s any other goal worth pursuing.
Cesta do praveku is now streaming on The Criterion Channel.