Journey To The Center Of The Earth (Blu-ray)
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Review of "Journey To The Center Of The Earth (Blu-ray)"
So long Ciao. We had some times.
This Eureka Blu-ray is £15 on amazon and at HMV at time of writing.This is a big-budget (for the day) Jules Verne adaptation, made in the late 50s, after previous Verne movies like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days had made big bucks for Hollywood. I’ve never read the book, or anything else by Verne, but it seems the filmmakers added extra teen interest, intrigue and romance to the story.
Director: Henry Levin
Stars: James Mason, Pat Boone
More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052948
IMDB user rating: 7.1
This is a mostly good-natured adventure film (with one surprisingly mean-spirited moment towards the end) that never takes itself too seriously, has plenty of gently ‘battle of the sexes’ badinage, and some decent special effects for the time. It’s in the same ‘Victorian explorers’ tradition as Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, later, stuff like Warlords of Atlantis. Sometimes its whimsicality is a bit irritating, though, and at least one of its casting decisions comes close to sinking it.The lead is James Mason, who is very good, as you might expect. He doesn’t put much effort into convincing us that he’s Scottish, but that’s fine. Setting the story in Scotland is a weird choice anyway, and apparently not one that Verne himself made. Mason witters on about science, bickers with the widow of his rival (guess how that relationship ends up) and occasionally shows a bit of convenient humanity. He’s a good ‘older leading man’ for something like this.
Unfortunately the ‘impetuous younger lead’ role went to 50s singing sensation Pat Boone. I hate Pat Boone. He was the vile crooner the music industry turned to in their attempt to de-fang rock ‘n’ roll, worried that the likes of Elvis Presley were making their kids think un-American thoughts. Boone’s dutifully bland covers of Little Richard songs are infuriating even 60 years later. Boone is still alive – he has, to date, outlived Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Phil Everly, and Bo Diddley, among many other rock ‘n’ roll pioneers. He’s also a staunch Trump supporter. There’s not much to like.And he’s in this film, looking a lot like the kind of frat boy you wouldn’t want near the punch bowl at any party your daughter was attending. He occasionally remembers he’s meant to be Scottish, but is pretty wooden except when he has to sing (mercifully only once). There is, to be fair, a decent enough sense of camaraderie between him and Mason, but I’m going to attribute that to Mason, simply because I hate Boone so much.
Anyway, joining them on their journey is Arlene Dahl as the strong-willed widow of Mason’s rival. Her main role is to continually exasperate Mason with her womanly ways until he inevitably softens and falls in love with her, as is the way in these things. Mason is so comically furious at the thought of a woman accompanying them that the end result can never really be in doubt. Boone’s fiancée is played by Diane Baker, and is very appealing. She seemed to be so perfectly set-up to be the determined young heroine of the film that I was genuinely shocked when she had to stay in Edinburgh and spend the movie pining for her thuggish beau.The expedition is rounded out by Peter Ronson, playing Icelandic hunk Hans. He looks a lot like Peter Schmeichel. Although the expedition takes at least a year, he never learns a word of English, which strikes me as unlikely. He takes his pet duck, Gertrud, with him – she provides some odd comic relief, I guess for the younger section of the audience. They’re pursued by a sinister villain played by the surprisingly nasty Thayer David. Alan Napier plays one of Mason’s academic colleagues – he later played Adam West’s butler in the Batman TV show.
The film’s main problem is that it’s too long. It takes its sweet time getting Mason and Boone out of Edinburgh, and seems to take an eternity setting things up that we’d probably just take for granted nowadays. Mason is eccentric and somewhat forgetful, a point we have made for us several times just in case we’re too thick to notice it the first time (this being a Hollywood version of Scotland, one of those occasions involves him walking obliviously through a marching band of pipers, so intent is he on his newspaper). Boone is decent and shy and a bit clumsy. Edinburgh is picturesque, and everyone there treats ageing academics with excessive respect (I’ve not been there since I was quite young, but I’m sure that’s true in real life, too). These scenes really tried my patience. A scene where Mason’s students sing a song to him about how great he is, although mercifully brief, almost made me abandon the film before I was five minutes in.And even after they set off for Iceland, where the entrance to the underworld is to be found, we still have a pretty interminable wait before things actually start to happen. I guess Jules Verne liked to take his time. And when they finally get underground finally, things still take a while to pick up. Mostly it’s just walk through some caves, chat a bit, talk about how awe-inspiring science is, complain about woman, repeat. Some of the caves, admittedly, look amazing, with some pretty nifty use of back projection creating almost psychedelic vistas of giant crystals. But it’s all rather light on incident. And some of it is rather cheap-looking – a lengthy scene where Pat Boone gets lost in the terrifying cave of papier maché arches would have shamed Lost in Space.
Things do picks up, thankfully, and the last third of the film has a decently hissable villain, some actual jeopardy for the characters, and some properly bonkers landscapes – giant mushrooms and an actual ocean, for instance. It also has dinosaurs, although sadly these are very much of the ‘normal lizard with plastic fins’ type, superimposed to make them look larger than the actors. Not only do these always seem lame when compared to Harryhausen-style stop-motion monsters, they’re also obviously not good for the lizards – some of the ‘dimetrodons’ here seem to suffer actual injuries, which really doesn’t seem fair.It’s a well-shot film from the latter years of Hollywood’s studio system. It all looks very pretty. The score, by Hitchcock’s favourite Bernard Herrmann is good, and apart from a few tacky looking sets, it has high production values. It’s just a bit old-fashioned, has Pat Boone in it, and takes way too long to get going.
Well, it certainly looks good. The colours buzz, and there’s lots of fine detail visible (fans of James Mason’s chest hair are in for a real treat). Some of the effects shots look a bit soft, but that’s almost always the way with films this old – superimposing actors onto a background always results in either the background or the actors looking a bit fuzzy.In terms of extras, there’s a good 20-minute piece by critic Kim Newman about the film, and there’s a commentary by some American film historians and actress Diane Baker – they don’t really have enough to talk about relating to the film, and mostly discuss Baker’s career, with a lengthy digression about composer Bernard Herrmann.
This is a decent enough release of the film, but it’s not really a favourite of mine, evoking none of the nostalgic fondness of similar films like the Harryhausen Sinbad movies or 70s Doug McClure adventure films. I imagine it will drop in price fairly quickly, so may be worth checking out when it’s under a tenner.
Product Information : Journey To The Center Of The Earth (Blu-ray)
Manufacturer's product description
DVD Region: Blu-ray
Video Category: Feature Film
Actor(s): James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl
Production Year: 1959
Director(s): Henry Levin
Listed on Ciao since: 29/09/2017