Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) / Adventure-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audiences (I'd rate it PG for some violence)
Running Time: 132 min.
Cast: James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Peter Ronson, Thayer David, Diane Baker, a duck
Director: Henry Levin
Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch
Review published July 19, 2004
Journey to the Center of the Earth is a very Hollywood-ized production of the classic Jules Verne novel, and although not nearly the intelligent adaptation you'd want, it's still generally considered a classic family adventure. It's one of those films that seems to entertain today's audiences on two levels; it has some very good moments, especially in the descent below Earth's surface, but at the same time, there is quite a lot of mostly unintentional humor that has been added that you can't help but find endearing in some fashion. This is also the second time that James Mason would appear in a Verne adaptation, following closely on the heels of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the success of which no doubt led to the green lighting of this project. Yes, it could have been much better, but in the end, it still succeeds in being a terrific escapist adventure, so if that's what you're looking for, look no further.
The story starts in 1880 Edinburgh, where the recently knighted renowned professor of geology, Oliver indenbrook (Mason, North by Northwest), conducts class. Having been given a hunk of lava as a gift by his adoring student, Alec (Boone -- Yes, the singer), he discovers that inside the rock is an artifact from a famous explorer who had disappeared centuries before. Putting the clues together, Lindenbrook comes to the realization that there is a passageway to get deep below the Earth's surface through an Icelandic volcano, and immediately sends his information to the leading expert in the matter, Swedish professor Goetaborg, who decides to go on the expedition on his own. Lindenbrook is dismayed at the other man trying to steal his thunder, so the race is on the get to the center of the Earth first, but when Lindenbrook and Alec arrive, they discover Goetaborg dead, and in a pinch for equipment, Oliver consents to take Goetaborg's wife along, not realizing that the murderer is following closely in their footsteps.
The story takes a while to get going, and in fact, things don't really become interesting at all until around the halfway point, once all of the strange occurrences begin to dominate most of the action. This isn't the most scientifically accurate supposition of what such a venture would be like, but considering the time it was written in, it's still a very interesting theory.
Even less implausible are the various accents throughout the movie, and in particular, Pat Boone's faintly detectable Scottish brogue. The special effects are very dated-- a giant boulder is obviously Styrofoam, a giant lizard is really a small lizard close-up -- but the some of the sets impress through the sheer mammoth proportions of them. Even though the amount of lighting down in the depths of the Earth is suspect, there is still an inherently pleasing qualities to the visuals that even occasionally inspires awe, despite the easily perceived falseness of them.
This isn't really must-see entertainment by any means, as the schlock factor is immensely high for an undertaking this ambitious, but regardless of whether you're fascinated by all of the thought that went into Verne's original vision, or you just can't stop snickering because of the wooden acting, bad drama, and cheese-ball special effects, once it gets going, you probably won't be able to pull yourself away. A serious book given less than serious treatment, yet that's probably why it's so easy to enjoy beneath the surface of its misguided ambition./font>
-- Remade (sort of) in 2008
©2004 Vince Leo