A one-of-a-kind silver-screen illusionist, Czechoslovak filmmaker Karel Zeman devoted his career to transporting viewers to realms beyond their wildest imagining. The deft, breathtaking combinations of live-action and animation techniques that he pioneered in the postwar years earned him comparisons to legends such as Georges Méliès, and an array of followers that includes Jan Švankmajer, Terry Gilliam, and Wes Anderson. Presented here are three of Zeman’s most enchanting fantasies—a boys’ adventure into the mists of prehistory, a Jules Verne–derived flight of fancy, and an exotic eighteenth-century tall tale—all of them treasure chests of wondrous sights, tactile textures, and headlong yarn-spinning that helped put Czechoslovak cinema on the international map.
JOURNEY TO THE BEGINNING OF TIME (1955)
A beguiling mix of natural history and science fiction, this early feature by Karel Zeman follows four schoolboys on an awe-inspiring expedition back through time, where they behold landscapes and creatures that have long since vanished from the earth. Hewing closely to the scientific knowledge of its era, Journey to the Beginning of Time brings its prehistoric beasts alive through a number of innovative techniques—including stop-motion, puppetry, and life-size models—creating an atmosphere of pure wonderment.
Run Time: 84 minutes; Color: Color; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; Language: Czech; Subtitles: Eng
INVENTION FOR DESTRUCTION (1958)
This eye-popping escapade revolves around a scientist and his doomsday machine—and the pirates who will stop at nothing to gain possession of it. Freely adapting the fiction of Jules Verne, and inspired by Victorian line engravings, Karel Zeman surrounds his actors with animated scenery of breathtaking intricacy and complexity, constructing an impossibly vivid proto-steampunk world. Released abroad at the turn of the 1960s, Invention for Destruction went on to become one of the most internationally successful Czechoslovak films of all time.
Run Time: 81 minutes; Color: Black & White; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; Language: Czech; Subtitles: Eng
THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1962)
In The Fabulous Baron Munchausen, Karel Zeman conjures the adventures of the legendary, boastful baron, whose whirlwind exploits take him from the moon to eighteenth-century Turkey to the belly of a whale and beyond. A kaleidoscopic marvel that blends live action with techniques including stop-motion, cutout collage, puppetry, painted backdrops, and antique tinting, Zeman’s film is an exhilarating visual delight and a warmhearted whirl through a bygone age too entrancing to have existed.
Run Time: 83 minutes; Color: Color; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; Language: Czech; Subtitles: Eng
New 4K digital restorations of all three films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks
New programs with animation filmmaker John Stevenson and special-effects artists Phil Tippett and Jim Aupperle discussing director Karel Zeman and his complex visual trickery
Four early short films by Zeman: A Christmas Dream (1945), A Horseshoe for Luck (1946), Inspiration (1949), and King Lavra (1950)
Film Adventurer: Karel Zeman, a 2015 documentary about the director, featuring filmmakers Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, illustrator Ludmila Zeman, and others
Short documentaries by the Karel Zeman Museum profiling the director and detailing the production and effects of all three films
U.S.-release version of Journey to the Beginning of Time from 1960
Alternate English-dubbed soundtrack for Invention for Destruction, and the opening sequence of the 1961 U.S.-release version
Restoration demonstrations and an interview with restoration supervisor James Mockoski
New English subtitle translations
PLUS: An essay by film critic Michael Atkinson, along with limited-edition deluxe Blu-ray packaging featuring pop-up art
New covers by Eric Skillman