Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) * * *

Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook (James Mason), a geology professor at the University of Edinburgh, is given a piece of volcanic rock by his admiring student Alexander "Alec" McEwen (Pat Boone). Deciding that the rock is unusually heavy and therefore must contain Icelandic peridotite, Lindenbrook, mostly thanks to the carelessness of his lab assistant Mr. Paisley (Ben Wright), discovers a plumb bob inside bearing a cryptic inscription. Lindenbrook and Alec conclude that it was left by an explorer by the name of Arne Saknussem, who had 300 years earlier found a passage to the center of the Earth. Lindenbrook transcribes the text on the plumb-bob and learns that it reveals the entrance to the world below, so he immediately sets off with Alec as his assistant to follow the example of the Icelandic pioneer.

The first obstacle of the journey is Professor Göteborg of Stockholm, because the University in Stockholm writes to let Lindenbrook know that Göteborg has disappeared. Lindenbrook estimates the date of Göteborg's disappearance as being approximately when the first letter would have arrived. It's a lot of set-up, but it goes by quickly and it's made enjoyable by Mason's suaveness and the boyish charm of Pat Boone.

Act One is fun, but Act Two is better when Lindenbrook and Alec rush off to Iceland to try to beat Göteborg to Saknussem's secret entrance. Once they are in Iceland, Göteborg with the help of his goon, manages to kidnap both of them and trap them in an underground cellar, from where they are freed by young athletic farmer Hans Belker (Peter Ronson). He and his duck Gertrude join their expedition, but he doesn't speak English. That necessitates including a translator in their party, so they also bring along Carla Göteborg (Arlene Dahl). They next go to the inn where Göteborg is staying and sneak in his room, where they find him dead. Lindenbrook, with the astuteness of a forensic scientist, combs the goatee of Göteborg and retrieves some potassium cyanide crystals. They conclude that he has been killed by some rival scientist.

Carla Göteborg: Whom were you taking besides this young man?
Sir Oliver Lindenbrook: The big Icelander.
Carla Göteborg: Then I'll be very useful. He doesn't understand a word of English.

Alec McKuen: (after discovering Professor Göteborg dead in his hotel room) Why didn't they tell us at the desk?
Oliver Lindenbrook: Hotels rarely advertise the fact that there are corpses lying around.
Carla Göteborg: Sir Oliver, you are not going to listen to a murderer?
Oliver Lindenbrook: Never interrupt a murderer, madam.
Carla Göteborg: Someone is walking up there. I heard footsteps, human footsteps.
Oliver Lindenbrook: Since the beginning of time all women have heard footsteps up there.

Finding him dead before his expedition even began, Lindenbrook and Alec are suddenly supplied with all the materials they need for their project. Göteborg's widow Carla, who at first vowed to destroy all her husband's supplies, agrees to lend them his valuable supplies, including the much sought after Ruhmkorff lamps, if they include her in their trip. Lindenbrook grudgingly agrees to take her along, and so four explorers and a duck are soon journeying to the center of the Earth. Along with Lindenbrook and Alec, the group includes Hans Belker, Gertrude, and Mrs. Göteborg.

Strange terrain, a deranged rival scientist named Count Arne Saknussem (Thayer David), breathtaking scenery and giant reptiles embellish the rest of their journey. Count Saknussem is the descendant of Saknussem, the famed scientist who tried to travel to the center of the earth 300 years ago and left many guiding marks along the path for the posterity. Count Saknussem thinks that the center of the earth is his territory and only he has a right to visit there, as it was his forefather who went there first. He trails the group secretly with a servant. During his independent travels, as he becomes separated from the rest of his group, Alec almost trips over Saknussem's dead servant. When Alec refuses to become his new servant, Saknussem shoots Alec in the arm. Lindenbrook is able to locate Saknussem from the reverberations of the sound of the guns' echo, and in a strange court hearing, sentences him to death. However no one has the nerve to kill him, and they grudgingly take him along.

Count Saknussem: I don't sleep. I hate those little slices of death.

They eventually encounter a subterranean ocean, and make a raft from the stems of giant mushrooms to cross it. Somewhere in the middle of the ocean, they pass through the center of the earth and their raft begins circling in a mid-ocean whirlpool. The professor deduces they must be at the center of the earth, because the magnetic forces from north and south meeting there are strong enough to snatch away even gold in the form of wedding rings and tooth fillings. They manage to cross the ocean, and reach the shore on the other side completely exhausted.

Hans Belker: (in Icelandic) There is a tunnel on this side.
Carla Göteborg: He says there's a tunnel on the other side.
Hans Belker: (in Icelandic) And they slant downhill, and we can walk them.
Carla Göteborg: Slanting downhill, but walkable.
Hans Belker: (in Icelandic) O, madam, will you all come down here where the boy fell. It is so wonderfully beautiful down there.
Sir Oliver Lindenbrook: What's happened now? What's he saying?
Carla Göteborg: He said we should go back to where Alec fell.
Hans Belker: (in Icelandic) He is guilty. Excuse me, madam, can you tell me, where do we go now, what do we do now?
Carla Göteborg: (in Icelandic) Hans, let him go.
Hans Belker: (in Icelandic) Madam, the tunnel lies straight upwards, but there is a big rock in the way and sadly we can't move it. Only a landslide could move it. (to his duck) My Gotrun, have you been lonely?

Despite the dangers of their journey, no one has died. That, however, soon changes. Gertrude, the duck, loses her life. But ironically it is not the difficult terrain that kills her, but Saknussem, who can't control his hunger and eats her. Nature delivers its justice immediately when soon after a mild earthquake occurs, and Saknussem is buried under a shower of heavy stones. Right behind the collapse, the group comes upon the sunken city of Atlantis. They are now faced with one question: How will they return to the surface?

Not far from the ruins of Atlantis, they see the remains of the scientist who went centuries before them with the hand of his skeleton pointing toward a passage to the surface. They decide that they have to create an artificial explosion to get out to the surface. They use the gunpowder in one of the sacks of their ancestor to create an explosion that awakens a giant lizard which tries to eat them--but is soon consumed by the lava that torrents down after the explosion. The same lava lifts them up out of the depths of the earth in a large sacrificial altar bowl. They are thrown out to the sea, emerging to the surface via a volcanic shaft. Three are retrieved from the sea by seafarers while the fourth, Alec, is thrown out of the altar bowl as it flies through the air and ends up naked in a tree in a nunnery orchard.

When the group returns to Edinburgh, the four travelers are greeted as national heroes. Alec has married Lindenbrook's niece Jenny Lindenbrook (Diane Baker), Hans announces his return to Iceland, and the result of previous tensions between Lindenbrook and Carla is two headstrong people in love. The film ends with Lindenbrook and Karla kissing each other and the crowd cheering them and joyously singing in chorus.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH is an adventure film adapted by Charles Brackett from the novel by Jules Verne. The film is also known as TRIP TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Excitement comes from its sense of mystery and the drama between characters more than it does from giant monster attacks. It features solid character development, and the actors take their roles seriously, bringing them to vivid life. This is a long film at 132 minutes for a general release, family oriented project.

The film is notable for its special effects, which are excellent. Matte painting artists of the old Hollywood studio system could truly be called artists, and this film is a prime example of this art. However, the special effects on the dinosaurs look phony. Putting fake back-sails on live reptiles and calling them dimetrodons is cheesy. But the rest of the film is great and the movie requires dinosaurs. Bernard Hermann's atmospheric score is one of the stars of the picture. His music supports the film, like a character all its own. It complements the story rather than overpowering it, combining woodwinds, brass, a huge percussion section, and five organs for the film's original surround mix. The payoff is sublime, as Herrmann's music dips into subterranean registers, while a harp captures the travelers' wonder.

The cast also includes: Robert Adler (Groom), Alan Napier (Dean), Gertrude the Duck (Gertrude), Mary Brady (Kirsty), Alan Caillou (Rector), John Epper (Groom), Edith Evanson (Innkeeper), Alex Finlayson (Professor Bayle), Mollie Glessing (News Vendor), Frederick Halliday (Chancellor), Kendrick Huxham (Scots Newsman), Owen McGiveney (Shopkeeper), Molly Roden (Housekeeper), Ivan Triesault (Professor Peter Göteborg of Stockholm), Red West (Bearded Man at Newspaper Stand / University Student), and Peter Wright (Laird of Glendarick). Bernard Herrmann composed the music. Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett wrote the screenplay from Jules Verne's novel "Voyage au centre de la Terre". Henry Levin directed.

Derived from Jules Verne's 1864 novel, the movie "sexed up" the story compared to the original. In the book there is just a little romance between Axel and the professor's goddaughter, but Arlene Dahl's character (Professor Göteborg's widow), Arne Saknussemm's descendant and even Gertrude were additions made by the screenwriters. For the movie it definitely makes sense to add a romantic subplot as well as the intrigue with Saknussemm's descendant. The novel does not start in Edinburgh, but in Hamburg, the Professor's name is Otto Lidenbrock, Axel is his nephew, and Axel's sweetheart, Lidenbrock's goddaughter from the Vierlande is only known as Grauben. Lidenbrock, professor of geology and mineralogy at the Johanneum, is also a rather different character from Lindenbrook, perhaps an early example of the mad scientist and to some extent a caricature of a German academic as seen by a Frenchman who was heavily influenced by reading the strange tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann. James Mason's character is worldly and suave compared to the dry and irascible Lidenbrock of the novel. In the first chapter it is mentioned that his lectures are well-visited because people hope to witness his famous fits. In the novel, as in many of Jules Verne's Extraordinary Voyages, it's mainly about the journey and teaching young readers about as many geographic and scientific facts as possible. Famous and wealthy in his lifetime, Jules Verne predicted the future use of submarines, space-travel, and crustaceous exploration. Over 80 motion picture and TV productions around the world have heralded his work.

Location shots were filmed at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and wild sets were designed to show off the scope ratio as the Lindenbrook Expedition reaches the Earth's surprisingly solid center. Fox's anamorphic transfer was made from a restored print, and those who grew up watching the film in a faded TV version will be delighted to see the production's attractive lensing. Like some of Verne's more exotic ideas, the underground territories share a lot of fanciful ideas, and that's part of the film's charm. Even the giant dinosaurs are well intercut between the terrified explorers, and much like the film's sets and locations, the creatures make good use of the scope frame.

The DVD presents the film in its original CinemaScope aspect ratio. This brand new anamorphic (2.35:1) DVD is an excellent transfer. Fox found the original 1959 camera negative worn and faded. A search for viable film elements led to a black-and-white silver print. From this came a 35mm interpositive. Finally came digital restoration and video enhancement. The original 4-track MagOptical soundtrack is offered in Dolby Digital 4.0 surround. DVD extras include 40 chapter stops, 8 trailers, and a conclusive restoration documentary.

Jules Verne's novel has been adapted several times for the big screen: Juan Piquer Simon's 1976 Spanish version starring Kenneth More; a 1989 Cannon version glued together for a cheap video release; a 1993 TV film featuring Carel Struycken, Tim Russ and Jeffrey Nordling; a 1999 mini-series starring Treat Williams and Bryan Brown; a 2008 TV film featuring Rick Schroeder; and a 2008 direct-to-DVD film produced by The Asylum.

In 2008 JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH starring Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, and Anita Briem was released. It's also called JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3D or JOURNEY 3D. Probably it should be considered a 21st Century sequel to the 19th Century of Jules Verne's novel of the same name.

Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) is a Bostonian volcanologist whose 13-year-old nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), is supposed to spend ten days with him. Trevor has forgotten that Sean is coming until he receives several messages from Sean's mother.

When Sean's mother drops him off, she leaves Trevor with a box of items that belonged to Max, Trevor's brother and Sean's father, who disappeared 10 years before. Sean suddenly takes interest in what Trevor has to say after he tells him about his father, whom he never really had a chance to know. Inside the box Trevor discovers Max's old baseball glove, a yo-yo, and the novel "Journey to the Center of the Earth" by Jules Verne. Inside the book Trevor finds notes written by his late brother. Trevor goes to his laboratory to find out more about the notes and realizes that he must go to Iceland to investigate for himself. He intends to have Sean flown back to Canada but relents at Sean's protest and brings him along for the adventure.

They start by looking for another volcanologist named Sigurbjörn Ásgeirsson and instead find his daughter Hannah (Anita Briem). The scientist died years earlier. It turns out that he and Trevor's brother Max were Vernians, a small group who believe the works of Jules Verne to be fact. Hannah offers to help them climb up to the Stag Mountain which has suddenly started sending data again.

While hiking the mountain, a lightning storm forces the three into a cave that collapses, leaving them trapped. The group then explores the cave looking for an exit, and they find it is an abandoned mine which was closed after an accident that killed 81 people. They venture deep into the mine until they reach the end of the tunnels and enter to the bottom of a volcanic tube which is full of precious gems. As they are admiring the gems they realize the floor they're standing on is actually muscovite, a very thin rock formation. Due to their weight, the muscovite breaks and the group falls thousands of miles through the volcanic tube to the center of the earth, surviving only because the volcanic tube eventually turns into something like a water slide which drops them into a lake. It is there that they find that the center of the Earth is actually another world contained within the Earth, "a world within our world", and they set out to explore the place.

Along the way they find evidence that someone was there 100 years previous. Trevor remarks that the instruments found are Lindenbrook's, hinting that his views of the events of the book being real are changing. They find some of Max's (Trevor's brother and Sean's father) things as well. While Trevor and Sean are going through what they've found, Hannah wanders off and unfortunately discovers Max's body. They bury him on the beach of the underground ocean and Trevor reads a letter to Sean found in Max's journal. They then say their goodbyes and embrace. Trevor then realizes that his brother died due to dehydration.

Trevor figures that they must find a geyser that can send them to the surface, which is located on the other side of the underground ocean, or otherwise the temperature will rise up to 200 degrees, making it impossible to survive. They must reach the geyser in 48 hours or all of the water to create the geyser will have evaporated. They also figure that they must get out before the temperature rises past 135 degrees, which is the limit that the human body can withstand. They begin by crossing the underground ocean, and then the two adults become separated from Sean. Sean's guide is now a little bird who has been present since the trio entered the center, and it takes him towards the river. After he goes through a path of floating magnetic rocks, he encounters a Giganotosaurus and Trevor--who has desperately been searching for him--finds him. The beast pursues them until they discovers that the ground beneath them is muscovite, the same type as earlier. The monster falls through the muscovite, creates a massive hole and dies in the process. When they arrive at the geyser, it is all dried up. But they find water on the other side of a wall.

Trevor uses a flare to ignite the magnesium in the wall and causes a geyser to shoot them through Mount Vesuvius in Italy. When they destroy the vineyard of an Italian man, Sean gives him a diamond which he found earlier. Trevor sees that he has many more in his backpack, and he uses them to fund his brother's laboratory. Throughout the adventure, Hannah and Trevor gradually become close and even share a kiss. The film ends on the final day of Sean's visit with Trevor and Hannah. As he is leaving their new home, which was purchased with some of the diamonds, Trevor hands Sean a copy of the book "Atlantis: The Antediluvian World" by Ignatius L. Donnelly, suggesting they might hang out during Sean's Christmas break, which suggests a possible sequel.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH grossed $21,018,141 in 2,811 theaters with an average of $7,477.57 percent of the opening gross was taken from theaters which showed the film in 3-D. It has since made just over $100 million domestically. As of May, 2009, the film has grossed $101,704,370 in the US and $139,157,146 foreign sales, with a total of $240,861,516 worldwide. Warner Bros. marketed the film like a theme park attraction. However, the studio had to change the ad campaign, including dropping "3D" from the title, when it became clear that the film would be shown in 3-D in far fewer theaters than anticipated.

The film has enjoyed strong DVD sales. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 28, 2008 in standard 2-D format as well as a magenta/green anaglyph. Four pairs of 3-D glasses are available along with the two-disc edition of the movie.

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