Three Fantastic Journeys by Karel Zeman
A former marketing man for a shoe company, Karel Zeman took a job for an animation studio and went on to create not only several of the most influential Czech films of all time, but become arguably the most important Czechoslovak filmmaker of the pre-New Wave era. Zeman’s works demonstrate an imagination unrivaled by many filmmakers to have come since, and ingenious approach to special effects more artful than utilitarian.

Criterion's new boxed set, Three Fantastic Journeys by Karl Zeman offers his best three (and most representative) films: Journey to the Beginning of Time, Invention for Destruction (aka The Fabulous World of Jules Verne), and The Fabulous Baron Munchausen. Previously released to Blu-ray in other parts of the world, Criterion's set mostly repurposes supplements from those releases while packaging everything in a wonderful pop-up style folder/booklet consistent with Zeman's designs.

3xBD50, 3xDVD9 | 1080p AVC, NTSC | 248 min | 135 Gb, 21.9 Gb
Language: Czech
Subtitles: English
Genre: Adventure, Animation, Family, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Comedy


Released in 1955, Journey to the Beginning of Time was clearly inspired by Jules Verne’s famous tale about a certain trip to the center of the Earth. Plot-wise, there’s little to it: four boys hop into a paddleboat and row their way into a cave, convinced that doing so will lead them on a trip through time and allow them to see real, living dinosaurs. Well, it works! They emerge from the cave and into daylight to find themselves in the ice age. As they row further, they progress through prehistory: spotting mammoth, gigantic birds, and other extinct creatures, and eventually dinosaurs.

Three years later Zeman returned with Invention for Destruction, a movie more directly adapted from the works of Jules Verne, namely his novel Facing the Flag. The story involves pirates kidnapping a scientist to construct a super-weapon, but it’s secondary to the movie’s otherworldly visuals. Where Journey was set in prehistoric times, it still felt linked to our world, and was imbued with a sense of realism. Invention for Destruction on the other hand is pure flight of fantasy, set in a world that looks like old book illustrations come to life.

It’s a bit funny that, if you trace the trajectory over the three features presented in this set, Zeman’s worlds become more and more disconnected from reality. Where his dinosaur time travel movie, Journey to the Beginning of Time, placed its fantastic creatures within a world that resembled our own, The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1961) is a journey through pure fantasy. Based on the fabled character’s adventurers, Munchausen travels with a native moonman to Earth, where he rescues a princess from a Turkish despot, travels with pirates, is swallowed by a whale, and becomes the lead advisor to an eccentric king at war with his neighboring kingdoms.

Criterion’s three-movie boxed set is as packed with extra features as you’d expect. Each disc includes short documentaries by the Zeman Museum that demonstrate the special effects; there are also two different featurettes about Zeman himself, one of which contains gushing tributes from famous admirers like Tim Burton and Gilliam. Most exciting are the inclusion of four of Zeman’s early shorts, including the charming holiday bit A Christmas Dream (1945) and the gorgeous Inspiration (1949), which appears to make delicate glass miniatures spring to life.

Download Three Fantastic Journeys by Karel Zeman: A Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955), Invention for Destruction (1958), The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962) Criterion Collection:

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