Thursday, 6 June 2013

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

You want something to watch for an entire lazy afternoon? well I highly suggest this quirky adventure which is epic in both scale and length. Jules Verne was probably the best fantasy writer to come along, his stories are the stuff of legend and this film is probably the best adaptation of this particular work.

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 Atlantis 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.