With so much schlock crowding out the marquees at our local cinemas, it’s nice to get a chance to see a quality production for a change.
Last weekend, my daughter and I managed to finally catch the Cinemascope epic, Journey to the Center of the Earth, loosely based upon (read: with the same title as) the Jules Verne classic. Thankfully, mine eyes are virginal—I have never read the Verne novel. Rather, I was always partial to Burroughs’ Pellucidar series (about which a movie is coming out this Summer!), so while I am sure there are egregious departures from the original story, they did not and could not offend me.
There is much to like about this charming movie about a priggish Scotsman geologist (who sounds a lot like James Mason), a fresh-faced geology student (who sings a lot like Pat Boone), a strong-willed and competent widow, a strapping Icelandic farmer, and (the true hero of the story), a duck named Gertrude. This team forms the Lindenbrook Expedition, which aims to penetrate the depths of the Earth. The access point is an Icelandic volcano, this entry having been pioneered by Arnie Saknussemm decades before.
Four of the five intrepid explorers
Did you know Pat Boone could sing? Who’da thought?
The science is silly, of course, but that’s acceptable since this is based on a novel of Victorian (3rd Republican?) vintage. Beneath the Earth, there are giant mushrooms (all edible, of course), ubiquitous phosphorescent algae, intelligent cannibal Dimetrodons, and a giant subterranean ocean. And, of course, none of our heroes need shave or brush their hair. Apparently, in the deep vaults of the Earth, little invisible gnomes keep chests, underarms, and coiffures in perfect order.
Less palatable is the rather artificial conflict between the Mason party and his rival, an Icelandic self-styled “Count,” the descendant of Saknussemm, who attempts to derail and vanquish the expedition. I would have been just fine with a Human vs. Nature spectacle rather than an obligatory Man vs. Man piece.
A most charming aspect, however, is the movie’s streak of feminism. The Widow Goteborg, who came to Iceland at her husband’s request (Professor Goteborg having attempted to get the jump on Lindenbrook) convincingly argues herself onto the Lindenbrook expedition. Lindenbrook sputters on about the uselessness of a female explorer, and is then shown up at every turn by the cleverer, more capable Goteborg. The cleverest member of all, however, is the duck, Gertrude; she unerringly guides the team to safety and profit, and she was my daughter’s favorite character.
At one point, I noted, “The message of this film is that women are always right.” My daughter replied, “I’m fine with that message.”
Gertrude leads the crew across the Nonestic Ocean
In sum, it is an absolutely stunning film, in gorgeous color and with fantastic visuals. I was engaged throughout, even on the several occasions when the movie nearly careened into the musical theater genre. Immediately upon finishing the movie, I wanted to find my own mustard-coloured traveling outfit. Sadly, they are in short supply these days.
Coming up, more science, more television, more books, and more magazines. May is proving to be a month of embarrassing riches. Stay tuned!