Karel Zeman Films Selected for Digital Restoration

For this project of digital restoration Restoring A World of Fantasy, a joint project of The Czech Film Foundation, Karel Zeman Museum and Czech Television, we selected three most important films of Karel Zeman: Invention for Destruction (1958), The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1961) and Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955).

Invention for Destruction

Czechoslovakia, 1958, 78 min
anotace-vzDirector: Karel Zeman
Screenplay: František Hrubín (based on the book by Jules Verne)
Camera: Jiří Tarantík
Music: Zdeněk Liška
Starring: Lubor Tokoš, Arnošt Navrátil, František Šlégr, Miloslav Holub, Václav Kyzlink, Jana Zatloukalová, Felix le Breux,
Otto Šimánek, Alena Kreuzmannová, František Řehák and others

The most successful Czechoslovak film in history, which became a global phenomenon in 1958. In New York alone it was screened simultaneously in 96 cinemas. This fantasy adventure won a number of prestigious awards, including the Grand Prix at EXPO 58 in Brussels.

This is the first of Zeman's films to be inspired by Jules Verne, in which the director tries out a new style of art direction, which he was later to develop even further. The story-book sets, striking design and innovative music of Zdeněk Liška – all contribute to the unique appearance of this thrilling story with its antiwar subtext. The black and white narrative is deeply influenced by the classic engravings of Édouard Riou and Léon Bennett - the original illustrators of Verne's novels.

The story of the engineer Simon Hart - as recorded in his diary - takes place at a time when humanity was driven by a belief in inevitable progress. New inventions emerged like mushrooms after the rain and attracted criminals to abuse them...
Hart, along with his mentor, Professor Roch are kidnapped by the rogue Count Artigas. This alleged benefactor of the professor's research is in fact the cynical boss of a band of pirates, who deliberately sink merchant ships to steal their cargo. The trusting Roch is for a long time completely unaware that Artigas wants to exploit his new explosive to gain world domination. Hart, cut off from the old scientist in a makeshift shack, tries to thwart the plans of the villains and inform the world outside of their real intentions. Meanwhile he meets the young beauty Jane, who was rescued during one of the pirate attacks. With some difficulty, he manages to send a message from the villain's lair on the island of Back Cup, a high-tech base hidden inside what looks to the outside world like a smoldering volcano. But it is not easy to attack overwelmingly powerful enemies who possess the deadly submarine Nautilus and an array of deadly inventions...

Digitally restored Invention for Destruction film

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen

Czechoslovakia, 1961, 83 min
Director: Karel Zeman
Screenplay: Karel Zeman, Josef Kainar (based on the book by Gottfried August Bürger)
Camera: Jiří Tarantíkanotace-bp
Music: Zdeněk Liška
Starring: Miloš Kopecký, Jana Brejchová, Rudolf Jelínek, Karel Höger, Jan Werich, Rudolf Hrušínský, Eduard Kohout and others                                                

In this unique treatment of the famous book by Gottfried August Bürger, Zeman was inspired by engravings used in the original edition from the hand of one of the most important illustrators of the 19th century, Gustave Doré. Filming the action in black and white, the director then used heavy tinting and different colors as symbols of the changing moods and surprising plot twists of the story. This fantastical adventure - interspersed with unique effects and funny gags - won many international prizes, among other festivals in Cannes and Locarno.

The American director Terry Gilliam – member of the legendary Monty Pythons - revealed that Zeman's film was the initial inspiration for his own version of the famous story. In Zeman's playful parable, a smug Baron Munchausen recounts his tales, intertwined with the love story of a modern adventurer (and astronaut!), Tony, who becomes the Baron's rival in love. The title role is played by Miloš Kopecký, Tony the astronaut by Rudolf Jelínek and the capricious princess Bianka by the contemporary movie star Jana Brejchová. A number of other Czech acting legends (including Jan Werich and Rudolf Hrušínský) play cameo roles in the film.

Tony, a modern astronaut, lands on the moon, where he meets a peculiar party of gentlemen. This includes Cyrano de Bergerac, the heroes of Jules Verne's Voyage to the Moon, but above all the blustering Baron Munchausen. All warmly welcome him with a glass of wine and want to know if this "Moon-man" knows of the magic of life on Earth.

Baron Munchausen then takes Tony with him back to Turkey, where they free the charming princess Bianca from the captivity of the malicious sultan. The boastful baron tries to charm her and thus plunges them into crazy adventures; they find themselves in the belly of a whale; he flies in the claws of a Roc, swims underwater on a seahorse, and is taken into the midst of battle riding on a cannon ball...

In the course of these fantastic adventures Bianca becomes enchanted by the boldness of the dreamer Tony and together they reach the end where the story began – back on the pale Moon, which belongs not only to poets and fantasists, but also to lovers.

Journey to the Beginning of Time

Czechoslovakia, 1955, 93 min
Director: Karel Zeman
Screenplay: Karel Zeman, J. A. Novotnýanotace-cdp
Camera: Václav Pazderník, Antonín Horák
Music: Emil František Burian
Cast: Vladimir Bejval, Peter Herrmann, Josef Lukáš, Zdeněk Husták

One of the best children's adventure films of world cinema. Its popularity is evidenced by its being put on general release in the USA (with an extended prologue and epilogue), following on from the phenomenal success of Invention for Destruction.

This nonfiction work, a form of docufiction if you will, tells athe story of four schoolchildren who travel deep into the geological past up the river of time on a normal boat. Their exploration of the mysterious past becomes a visual textbook of our planet's evolution, filled with scientifically-accurate paleontological information, all presented as an imaginative boyhood adventure. Several generations of children and adults got their first introduction to the true past of mankind through this popular evergreen. The imaginative handmade special effects used in this unique adventure have found their place in the directory of filmmakers' illusions.

The decision to go back in time by the four boys is inspired by their finding a fossilized trilobite and the desire of little Jirka to see alive the exhibits that fascinate him in the museum. The narrator Petr, the chief of the expedition Jenda, the photographer Tony and the youngest Jirka decide to sail their small boat through the caves, in which Jirka first discovered the ancient fossil trilobite. Thus they start their journey back to prehistoric times, during which they see a lot more than just the Jirka's beloved mammoth...

The enterprising boys sail upriver against the flow of time as the landscape around them gradually changes. Their exciting encounters with prehistoric fauna and flora are carefully recorded in their expeditionary log. They visit caves with wall paintings painted by early man and, in one of the key episodes, witness a battle between mesozoic dinosaurs. Passing through a jungle of club mosses and horsetails, they finally reach the sea in the Paleozoic. There they find a living trilobite, whose modern-day fossil provided the motivation for their trip.

You can support the project Restoring the World of Fantasy!