Henri Levin (director)
132 min (length)
18 September 2017 (released)
12 September 2017
This Sci-fi classic (based on a story by Jules Verne) comes across as rather harmless by nowadays standards – indeed, in the age of Harry Potter chances are it won’t appeal much to youngsters at all. That said, connoisseurs of vintage fantasy flicks will find plenty to marvel at though rest assured it won’t be Pat Boone’s embarrassing attempt to speak with a Scottish accent!
The saga begins in late 19th century Edinburgh where Professor Lindenbrook (James Mason), a geologist teaching at the local university, is presented with a piece of volcanic rock by Alec McEwan (American actor/crooner Pat Boone), one of his admiring student. Later on in the lab, it is discovered – purely by accident – that the rock bears a lead bob inside which holds a mysterious inscription. After further inspections Lindenbrook and Alec learn that the message was left by a scientist named Saknussemm, who had apparently discovered a passage to the centre of the earth… 300 years ago! The ambitious professor and his loyal student furthermore learn that said passage is located in Iceland, to be precise at a certain volcano and before you know it, both head off direction Iceland (because both are heroes!).
Unfortunately, Lindenbrook did something rather stupid beforehand: he contacted a certain Professor Göteborg (Ivan Triesault) to tell him about the discovery of the message and now Göteborg immediately leaves his native Stockholm for Iceland in order to reach the earth’s centre first. To be absolutely sure he won’t fail in his attempt to get there first he kidnaps Lindenbrook and Alec and locks them in a cellar. Thank goodness that local Icelander Hans (Pétur Ronson) and his pet duck (!) Getrud are about so the kindhearted lad can free the two imprisoned men. Heading back to the inn where they were staying they discover the corpse of Göteborg who seems to have been poisoned. After his suspicious widow Carla (Arlene Dahl) comes to the conclusion that Lindenbrook and Alec have nothing to do with the murder of her late husband she agrees to provide them with the equipment that Göteborg had planned on using himself. However, there is but one condition attached to Carla lending the equipment: she wants to come along to the expedition! Lindenbrook has no choice but to agree. Also aboard is Hans, who has vital knowledge of the volcanic landscape though he too won’t come along unless his pet duck accompanies him!
As the ‘explorers’ finally get down to business they soon find out that someone else is hot on their heels: the shady Count Saknussemm (Thayer David) – a descendent of the scientist who, 300 years earlier – discovered the passage in the first place. Not only is Count Saknussem of the opinion that it is his sole right to claim victory, he also turns out to be the murderer of Professor Göteborg. As the expedition continues, Lindenbrook and the others encounter salt caves, gigantic mushrooms, a subterranean ocean, hungry pre-historic monsters, a powerful magnetic field and even the sunken city of Atlantis! Will they ever make it back to the earth’s surface or will they meet the same fate as scientist Saknussem, whose centuries old skeleton is discovered in a cave…
By and large this is a very silly story where nothing makes much sense, least of all the fact that our explorers don’t even wear any kind of special protective clothing or masks. Indeed, Carla’s make-up is always camera-perfect and no lock of hair out of place – this despite increasing heat as the small group descend further down the volcano! There are differences too between the film adaptation and Jules Verne’s original book which has the action begin in Hamburg, Germany, as opposed to Scotland. In the book, the professor’s name is spelled Lidenbrock and he learns about the secret passage not via a piece of volcanic rock but through an ancient runic manuscript written by Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturlusson. There are further liberties which scriptwriters Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett took with their adaptation for this 1959 movie which, at the time of its original theatrical release, no doubt captivated audiences young and old but which hasn’t stood the test of time too well…
James Mason does his best with a mediocre script and his ‘Professor Lindenbrook’ at least adds some gravitas to a flawed plot. Pat Boone is hopeless in attempting an Edinburgh accent though at least he gets to sing a ditty (based on a poem by famed Scots bard Robert Burns) while Thayer David has fun playing the baddie. If there is one things that’s outstanding than it’s Leo Tover’s excellent cinematography and of course, the imaginative subterranean set pieces are a treat and look even more vivid thanks to this brand-new 4K restoration.