Director: Henry Levin
Writer: Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch; based on Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
Cinematographer: Leo Tover
Producer: Charles Brackett
by Jon Cvack
My mother had bought me the four-books-in-one volume of Jules Verne’s classic quad - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island, Around the World in 80 Days, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Similar to when I read a four-books-in-one from H.G. Wells, discovering that while the stories overall are appealing to young kids, the reading level can be fairly difficult, and best reserved for much later in life. I had read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea some time in grade school, expecting some type of wild adventure story where a submarine dives deep down into unexplored waters, 20,000 leagues beneath the surface, where terrifying creatures reside and attack them. Instead, similar to what makes Moby Dick so boring, are the, at times, unbearably dense taxonomy and geography passages that drone on for pages upon pages.
For aspiring scientists everywhere, I’m sure it’s thrilling. To the lay reader, it’s distracting. Still, considering when the books were published I can appreciate what Vernes’ prescient writings, though I still think the movie is far greater than the book, as it takes out all of the boring parts. However, it was The Mysterious Island that really took me for a loop, allowing Verne’s imagination to soar in impressive and imaginative ways as he creates his Lincoln Island from scratch, walking us precisely through how a group of men would survive on the Island, along with a plot that leaves you unable to put the book down. It was one of the best books I had read in 2016, leaving me excited to take on Journey to the Center of the Earth, as it had to be the best book of the series. While not terrible, and containing some exciting puzzles, again Verne falls victim to his own gross knowledge, leaving us with more geology lessons than we hope for, though still better than 20,000 Leagues.
I was excited for the movie version, expecting that like Disney’s 20,000, it would remove most of the boring elements and cut right to the action. Instead, it takes about 45 minutes of not all that exciting exposition until we finally begin the journey. It focuses on geologist Professor Sir Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) who’s given a piece of volcanic rock by one of his students. With the help of his assistant Mr Paisley (Ben Wright), they begin running experiments on the mysterious element and discover a plumb bob inside with a mysterious inscription. They soon discover it was made by the Icelandic scientist Arne Saknussemm who allegedly found a passage to the center of the Earth. The two then embark on a mission to Iceland in order to find the passage, joined by Icelander Hans Bejlke (Petur Ronson) and Saknussemm’s widowed wife Carla (Arele Dahl). However, they’re not the only ones who are determined to get to the center of the earth, with a villainous Count Saknassem’s (Ivan Triesault and Arne’s descendant) also making the journey with his band of cronies who will stop at nothing to make the discovery.
Even after 45 minutes, it takes quite some time before we end up seeing anything all that interesting. By about halfway through, we see where Spielberg grabbed his inspiration for Indiana Jone’s boulder run. Later they discover a room with overgrown mushrooms that satiates their starving bodies, which quickly leads to discovering the book’s best section - the vast underworld ocean that’s guarded by dinosaur sized reptiles. It was here that that the classic special effects really shine, as they make the lizards they superimposed look fairly real - fitted with stegosaurus-like derma plates. The problem is that Verne’s commitment to staying within the limits of science prohibits the story from ever going to the places that you hope it will go. I’m not rushing to go check out the 2008 remake with Brendon Frasier, but I do think the set pieces could benefit from today’s technology, as the 1957 didn’t seem the best year to create extravagant designs that were dependent on the limits of science. It’s a film that fails to meet the expectations you have for a movie called Journey to the Center of the Earth.
BELOW: Hate watching clips of people shooting clips on their tv but at least you can see the dinosaurs
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