Mason and Boon go Core Processing
Whilst not the first movie adaptation of Jules Verne's story, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" from 1959 is one of the better known versions and not just because watching it now the special effects with super-imposed large lizards are comically dated. It's well known because it is an enjoyable adventure story which brings in just the right measure of humour to make it both fun and exciting. And in many ways it is a nice follow up to "20000 Leagues Under the Sea" as whilst not a Disney movie "Journey to the Center of the Earth" has a very similar feel with the jokey nature, musical moments and most significantly James Mason taking on the central role of Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook.
Having been made a Knight Prof. Lindenbrook (James Mason - Bigger Than Life) seems a little overwhelmed by all the celebrations, that is until his young student Alexander 'Alec' McKuen (Pat Boone) presents him with a strangely heavy lump of lava. It is this lava which leads Lindenbrook along with McKuen and a couple of others to head down a volcano in Iceland on an adventure of a life time as they try to make it to the earth's core. With rock falls and giant creatures it is a perilous journey but they are also in danger from nefarious scientist Count Saknussem (Thayer David) who wants to be the first person to achieve the extraordinary feat.
Whilst not a Disney movie "Journey to the Center of the Earth" does have a very similar style and turns Jules Verne's darker story into something much lighter with its blend of comedy and adventure. In doing so it may annoy fans of Verne's story but at the same time it turns it into a family friendly adventure which entertains on many levels. The most prominent of those levels is the excitement of watching this band of people explore deep beneath the surface as they try to find the earth's core. It's full of imagination with under ground caverns full of danger including over size monsters and rocks falls but also some stunning sets including the imaginative waterfall and glistening walls. And so it gives us danger and beauty in almost the same breath as we become enthralled in this adventure.
The danger in "Journey to the Center of the Earth" is not just from the perilous journey but also from the nefarious rivalry amongst scientists most noticeably that of Count Saknussem who is desperate to be the first person to make it to the Earth's core and back to the point he will kill to do so. So whilst we are enthralled by what the plucky band of adventurers discover we also get the extra excitement of whether they will make it back a live or the evil Saknussem will kill them. Of course it's obvious that are plucky explorers will win out as being a family friendly movie the danger of Saknussem is not realistically nasty.
But what makes all of this work is the jovial nature of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" as they have a laugh, dance and sing on their journey. It may now feel all a little awkward and false as they break out into a dance in a forest of giant mushrooms or young Alec is encouraged to lead them in a merry tune but it also works giving the movie the lighter aspect that it desperately needs. And to be honest with the special effects being now so dated you can't but help laugh when they find themselves battling giant lizards, although saying that I am sure that this obvious special effects wowed audiences back in the 50s.
Now I have to say that whilst I expected a solid performance from James Mason, and got it as he plays Lindenbrook with a blend of seriousness and comedy, I didn't expect the same from Pat Boone as Alec McKuen. But the younger singer impressed and not just in the scenes where he leads the group in a merry song and dance because he actually delivers an entertaining character. Yes it maybe stereotypical in the sense that Alec McKuen is handsome, charming and a little impetuous but it works and adds to the movies overall lightness. Boone is not alone as all the actors including Arlene Dahl as Carla Göteborg and the mostly silent Peter Ronson as Hans Belker also deliver enjoyable performances.
what this all boils down to is that "Journey to the Center of the Earth" is an entertaining movie which may now be dated thanks to the obvious special effects but still delivers that sense of adventure and humour. For me it's not quite as enjoyable as Disney's "20000 Leagues Under the Sea" but with the imaginative journey towards the Earth's core and the dangers along the way it does keep you interested and entertained if to be honest it does drag on a little too long coming in at 132 minutes.