Film review: Journey to the Centre of the Earth

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Journey to the Centre of the Earth

It’s been many years since I enjoyed this 1959 classic from childhood Sunday afternoon television, so I was very excited to discover it again this weekend on DVD. This sci-fi gem is still as magical as I remember it, though it may make you a little nostalgic for that blissfully vivid imagination you had as a child that was free of cynicism and could easily fill in all the gaps.

A lot of the wonder of the film comes through the fully-committed performance of James Mason as Professor Oliver Lindenbrook, whose enthusiasm for treking towards the centre of the earth is catching. The film takes its time building up the excitement—we’re even treated to a bit of vocal serenading by then-hardthrob Pat Boone—so when finally the party gathers on the slopes of an extinct volcano and the dawn light shines onto the spot where they are to enter the Earth, you really want to don your hiking boots and join this bunch of loonies on their adventure.

Unlike the special-effects-heavy sci-fi of today, the film gives us memorable characters and relationships; you can’t help but enjoy the verbal sparring between Lindenbrook and the strong-willed Mrs. Carla Goetaborg (Arlene Dahl); or hate the slimy Count Saknussem (Thayer David) who you just know is going to meet a richly-deserved end; even Gertrude the Duck gets our sympathy (thanks to probably the best performance by a duck you’re ever likely to see).

The effects run the gamut from tacky (real lizards in slow motion with fins stuck on their backs are the giant dinosaurs) and the astounding (some beautiful classic-era matte painting, especially the views of the Underground Sea), and perhaps a little more real location work (some scenes were filmed in Carlsbad Caverns) rather than cardboard sets would have been better; but Journey still maintains it’s fascination throughout. A classic I’m very happy to have in my DVD collection.

Four and a half giant mushrooms out of five.

Myst IV

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