Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Journey to the Center of the Earth

"Alone. Alone. It's Unthinkable, but it must be true. A man took some tools and went where no human being has ever set foot. Alone. Into the interior of the earth, alone". - Oliver Lindenbrook

Director: Henry Levin
Year: 1959
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Rated: PG
Genre: Adventure/Fantasy

James Mason stars in this 1959 film adaptation of the classic Jules Vern novel as Oliver Lindenbrook; a newly knighted respected geologist from the University of Edinburgh in the late 19th century. 

It’s just another ordinary day until admiring student Alec McKuen played by Pat Boone, gives Sir Oliver a piece of volcanic rock as a gift. Intrigued by the rock as it is unusually heavy, Sir Oliver is convinced that inside it must contain the heaviest rock in existence which is Icelandic peridotite. He later discovers that incased inside the rock is a centuries old surveyor’s instrument that bears a cryptic message indicating that it once belonged to an a famous Icelandic scientist who in his day was widely ridiculed by his peers after suggesting that another world exist beneath our own, before he mysteriously disappeared never to be heard from again. 

Upon studying the message further it reveals that the famous scientist managed to successfully reach the centre of the earth and leaves precise details on how to get there along with a path that can be found marked in stone by three notches. It is then that Sir Oliver decides that he must embark upon this journey for himself. Excited at the thought of such a great adventure Alec decides to accompany his professor leaving at home his new fiancĂ©e Jenny (Diane Baker) who is also Sir Oliver’s niece. 

Once in Iceland the two men acquire sufficient food and equipment for their journey, despite a few bumps along the way. And along with a big, strong Icelander named Hans (Peter Ronson), a recently widowed wife of a rival scientist (Arlene Dahl)and a pet duck named Gertrude the Lindenbrook expedition begins, but they are not along as they are closely followed someone with a different and more sinister motive. 

My Thoughts
If someone had asked me what I thought of this movie when I was 8 years old, I would have said without a moment’s hesitation that it was the best movie ever! Today, close to 20 years later I wouldn’t say it’s the best ever but I still enjoy it just as much as I did when I was 8. It’s a captivating story that I find nothing short of fascinating. Sure there’s hardly any realism to it and it’s often at times simply ludicrous, such as there being so much light in a region where the sun does not penetrate. But it stimulates the imagination. Like imagine if there were giant lizards that lived deep beneath the earth, what would they eat? Why are they so big? And what if there was an entire ocean of the underworld, bigger than any that lay on the world above? It’s fun to think about it.

It takes a good hour for the actually journey to begin. I remember as a kid I use to fast forwarding that first hour, just wanting to see ‘the best part’. I did this a few times until one day I decided to watch it from the very start, which I’m glad I did because I enjoyed it so much more. That first hour is used very well and isn’t wasted at all. We get to know the characters, their personalities and what prompts them on their journey. There’s a nice subtle humorous tone that’s constant throughout the film. And the interaction between the main characters is good to watch and entertaining.
The second half is when things really pick up, we the audience are transported deep into a labyrinth of endless tunnels, jungles of stone, dazzling chambers of quartz and many more strange and mysterious regions. There is plenty of action and suspense that leads to a more than satisfying climax.

Journey to the Center of the Earth was film in glorious Cinemascope that I’m sure would have been amazing to watch during its theatrical run. But the modified version for home viewing still gives you that impressive scope of size and scale the filmmakers were aiming for, especially if you’re watching it on a large widescreen plasma or LCD television. The many backdrops in this look great, and hold up reassembly well today, you can’t beat the old mat paintings. Set decoration is rich with detail and colour, which earned the film an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Colour.   

James Mason is just brilliant as Professor Lindenbrook; he’s a man of great knowledge who has devoted his life to science. But he has reputation for rudeness and is openly sexist towards the female member of his expedition, to the point where he isn’t even aware of it. But he’s also very determined despite all the many obstacles and dangers him and his expedition face during the seemingly endless journey.

Pat Boone is well, Pat Boone. He isn’t much of an actor, he randomly breaks into song and makes little to no attempt to do a Scottish accent. He comes across as quite a dork in this role. I think it’s obvious that the only reason that he was cast in this film was because of his singing ability and because the ladies though he was a bit of alright. 

This is a great adventure B movie of the 1950s that has a certain charm to it. It’s by no means perfect; you could spend hours on end picking out the many visual mistakes, some of which are so obvious who be scratching your head as to why that wasn’t picked up and corrected. But I still love it, for me nothing beats watching this movie on a nice quiet relaxing Saturday afternoon. 

4 out of 5.

1 comment:

  1. Always a treasured delight this film. Have watched it since I was a 70's child. There is just something magical about this film and I'm looking forward to getting the blu-ray edition someday. Best watched while chilling out on a lazy rainy Sunday afternoon!

    Rob Thomas