Journey to the Center of the Earth Reviews
It's quite amazing what they managed to accomplish in 1959 to create the wonderful world of Jules Verne. There is some light hearted banter, heart stopping moments of perile, danger and despair, and monsters. Lots and lots of giant monsters... or every day lizards made to look like them at least.
If you love classic cinema and are a fan of adventure films such as Romancing the Stone or Indiana Jones, Journey to the Center of the Earth is right up your alley. If you'd prefer flashy CG and such, go watch the lesser remake.
As with many older films, Journey to the Centre of the Earth incurs a slow pace. The problem however is that since the hopes I had for it were for a good campy adventure story, the fact that the film spent so much time building up characters and putting in random dramatic elements which really aren't that interesting. I wasn't too fond of the 2008 remake of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, but it at least had fast paced energy. It takes about half the movie until it actually gets interesting, and from there it still maintains a slow pace. The only difference is that by then the adventure is more intriguing because the scenery and production design of the film becomes terrific so it takes a positive turn, yet the story still fails to remain engaging. The characters in the script are one-dimensional figures who are hardly compelling or all that interesting which presents no hope that they can bring any more meaning to the film. But the point is that viewers are unlikely to go into Journey to the Centre of the Earth with the expectation of depth or complex characters as what it boasts is good visual elements. The problem is that there is not enough of them. The entire first hour is dominated by thin characters and repetitive scenery until it gets better in the latter half, although by then the damage is already done.
The monsters don't even come in until nearly 100 minutes into the film. This is a shame because considering how cleverly realistic they look, they are some of the finest visual aspects of the feature. They capitalise on the strong visual talents of director Henry Levin to the maximum extent and give the feature some really good scenes, so if there were more of them then the film could be a hell of a lot better. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Journey to the Centre of the Earth had the potential to be a great adventure film with camp and nostalgic value in the modern day, but unfortunately the lack of fun just encourages it to have aged poorly. Journey to the Centre of the Earth is one of those films where the age must be taken into account during viewing, but it is just not a film which has aged well. The visual elements are all good, but the pacing and the focus of the story is just not on par.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth begs for a comparison to the science fiction adventure Fantastic Voyage. Fantastic Voyage did not have the most interesting plot, but its exploration of the human body was carried mostly by visual elements while also containing a sense that the characters had limited time to succeed and were constantly at threat which gave it a certain driving force. In Journey to the Centre of the Earth, there is no sense of constant threat and there is little narrative value in the film as it is carried strictly on the basis of how much adventure it can provide from a visual perspective. The story is no good but the visuals are, yet the film takes itself way too seriously and allows no room for cheesy fun to take place. There is a distinct lack of humour in Journey to the Centre of the Earth which means that it lacks as much fun as it could have used to make it more of an exciting and cheesy adventure film, and at the same time it lacks a premise engaging enough to serve as a legitimately involving or entertaining adventure film. All in all the ultimate flaw in Journey to the Centre of the Earth is that it takes itself too seriously. It focuses way too much on the story and not enough on the adventure all while trying to make the one dimensional characters of the story out to be more than they actually are, but failing to do so. The film is a shallow tale of adventure fun and should stay that way instead of trying to be a compelling tale of heroism, because there is really no way of getting attached to the characters, so trying is pointless.
But there is no denying just how interesting Journey to the Centre of the Earth is to look at.
Like I said before, the visual effects in Journey to the Centre of the Earth are terrific. And a lot of further colour is added to the film thanks to the strong and convincing scenery of the film as well as the excellent production design. Everything looks good in Journey to the Centre of the Earth and is captured with top notch cinematography which is then edited well, so when it is focused on the adventure it serves as a terrific visual experience. There are a lot of memorable images from Journey to the Centre of the Earth, particularly in the scenes towards the end of the film where the characters experience a rafting trip across the ocean and more so when they face off with Archelons. If the film was more focused on this kind of thing then it could have been the cheesy and nostalgic adventure film that I was hoping for, and it is truly a shame that it wasted such potential. Journey to the Centre of the Earth comes up short in action and adventure, but mostly it's just short on great imagery.
So although Journey to the Centre of the Earth sports the best intentions and a lot of strong visual elements, it gets too caught up in taking itself too seriously to be anything more than an excessively slow and humourless adventure film which has aged poorly and lacks enough proper focus to elevate itself beyond its thin premise and one-dimensional characters.
Kids liked it a lot.
Kids liked it a lot.
At just over two hours long the film is in depth with detail that's for sure, maybe too much. It takes absolutely ages for the team to actually get on with the expedition, there is tonnes of back story and plot which leads up to the main event. Now some of this is of course required, such as why they are going down into the Earth, the team members, the dastardly men who are clearly not as good willed as the heroes etc...
I have to admit to getting rather bored waiting for this film to get into gear. The film is in two acts almost really, the first act being a whole load of spiel leading up to the crux of the film, the second act being the actual fun part deep inside the Earth. If it wasn't for the eloquent dulcet tones of James Mason I may have given up.
Yep the cast is pretty good, not epically good but a unique selection of character actors that are good. Mason of course is the big draw here and he doesn't let you down, his performance is as solid as an oak tree. I really enjoyed his bold, loud, chauvinistic character and the way he belittles everyone around him as if they were a fool. The whole approach isn't exactly PC but undeniably fun to watch as he moans and groans about letting a woman come on the expedition.
Arlene Dahl is surprisingly attractive in this, didn't really expect that, and I liked her retorts as she goes head to head with Mason's character, you just know they will fall in love awww. Anyone know Dolph Lundgren was in this? I jest of course but Peter Ronson doesn't half look like a young early version of Lundgren, acting is about on par too hehe. Look out for Batman's butler 'Alfred' (Alan Napier) in a small role and of course the sinister looking Thayer David is brilliant as the somewhat nasty 'Count Saknussem' (terrific name), but was he really a bad guy or misunderstood?.
As for the actual adventure within the Earth...its kinda OK, but lacks excitement if you ask me. Now don't get me wrong its a fun varied adventure but you can't help but wish for more big lizards (various types) and some sea monster action. What we get are real iguanas that have been painted up and then blue screened/superimposed with the live action. The effect is pretty sweet really and adds a unique look, clever idea really but I'm still not sure if stop motion may have been a better choice?.
On reflection I must admit to liking the use of real creatures for the monster threat, it does work nicely, I just wish there were more monster threats in the film. The underground sea crossing was begging for some monster action but alas! it still looks good, nice matte painting work. The issue I have with this film is the fact they had gone with more dialog over action, too much action can also be bad of course but this film really needs a boost in places. The finale builds up to it but feels very anti climatic, when they find [i]Atlantis[/i] surely there could of been something lurking.
Oh and that's the other issue, this film has had many alterations from the original story. Not much of a surprise but the original book had sea monsters damn it!. I guess technology limitations come into play but that doesn't excuse the vast amount of other changes eh.
There is a lot of things I like about this film but a lot I don't like, mainly it being too long with too much exposition. Still can't deny the grandiose scope of the film at every turn, fantasy buffs will enjoy I'm sure. Personally I love the quaintness of it all, the way everybody is dressed, everyone is well spoken, they bring a duck along with them on the adventure etc...the era it was made in compliments the story so well.
Well worth a look and something I'm happy to have finally marked of my unseen list.