Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1959)

Rating: ****
Cast: James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker, Thayer David, Peter Ronson

A visually rewarding adaptation of Jules Verne's classic adventure of a group of people who travel to the center of the Earth. Eccentric scientist Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) stumbles across a clue left by a man who dedicated his life to reaching the center of the Earth, and decides to follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately, there are other parties, considerably more ruthless than he, who want to beat him to the punch. He eventually enlists the aid and company of one of his students (Pat Boone), the widow of a rival (Arlene Dahl), and a strong Icelander (Peter Ronson) and his pet duck Gertrude. Through numerous trials and amazing wonders, they eventually make it to the center of the Earth, and then must find a way back out.

Visually, the film is superb, with one astounding sight after another. The sets are huge, colorful, and imaginative, and several scenes were shot in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, lending a stark realistic look to complement the fantasy. The miniature work is also quite impressive, featuring some nice giant lizard footage (although the lizards might not have fared too well). Unfortunately, the proceedings are as ridiculous as they are fantastic. Jules Verne's fabulous, and now preposterous, visions aside, what drags the film down the most are the dated caricatures and the sexist tone that pervades the work. Ah, how sad to be so socially conditioned against attitudes of the past. The pacing is also a bit slow, and the first hour of the film is complete tedium (complete with outrageously misplaced musical numbers). But once they get underground, the film becomes riveting. It's also amusing that during their one year tour underground, our heroes remain clean shaven and well kempt, save for some torn clothing. Still, given the time it portrays and the time it was made, "Journey To The Center Of The Earth" remains a remarkable piece of classic fantasy adventure filmmaking.