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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

"Don't you see what's at stake here? The ultimate aim of all science, to penetrate the unknown!"
- Prof. Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 11, 2003

Stars: Pat Boone, James Mason, Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker
Other Stars: Thayer David, Peter Ronson, Ivan Triesault, Alan Napier, Gertrude the Duck
Director: Henry Levin

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Services Corp.
MPAA Rating: G for (violence, animal cruelty)
Run Time: 02h:09m:19s
Release Date: March 04, 2003
UPC: 024543050094
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-AC+ C-

DVD Review

The novels of Jules Verne were particularly fertile grounds for movie adaptations during the 1950s, with a variety of different studios getting into the act. 20th Century Fox's entry into the Jules Verne field was this adaptation of his novel of the same name, which has several merits but ultimately falls far short of the goal.

In 1880 Edinburgh, geology professor Oliver Lindenbook (James Mason) is being celebrated for his recent knighthood; one of his gifts is a hunk of lava from student Alec McEwen (Pat Boone). The lava is strangely heavy, however, and upon investigation they find that inside the lava is an Icelandic plumbob, engraved with a message from explorer Arne Saknussemm, who vanished 300 years earlier. The message discloses an entrance to the center of the earth located in an extinct Icelandic volcano. When the professor shares his discovery with Prof. Goetaborg of Stockholm (Ivan Triesault), the confidence is betrayed and a race to discover the center of the earth is underway. But before long the Swedish professor turns up dead, indicating that a more vicious second rival has the same goal. On the way, the little group of Lindenbrook, McEwen, their Icelandic guide Hans Belker (Peter Ronson) and Goetaborg's widow Carla (Arlene Dahl) face a wide variety of underground marvels and dangers, including dinosaurs, floods, cave-ins and volcanic eruptions.

There are a number of concessions to popular taste that are badly injurious to the story. Primary among these is the introduction of Carla Goetaborg, which results in much of the story being subsumed into a trivial battle of the sexes that's neither interesting nor compelling. Using Pat Boone as the hero dictates that everything screech to a complete halt so that he can warble a few tunes, and god help us, he plays the concertina. Repeatedly. In an apparent appeal to children, Gertrude the Duck also accompanies the adventurers, though younger children may be disturbed by her grisly (off-screen) demise. The production values are highly uneven to boot; some sequences shot in Carlsbad Caverns are suitably impressive in the Cinemascope frame, while many passages are obviously poorly-constructed studio sets. But most disappointing are the dinosaurs. Instead of hiring Ray Harryhausen to animate some proper prehistoric monsters, the producers opted for the el cheapo Irwin Allen contrivance of rear-projected lizards with fins strapped to their backs. The buildup to the sequence is excellent, but the appearance of the dinosaurs is a tremendous disappointment.

On the positive side, James Mason takes on another Verne hero, having played Captain Nemo a few years earlier, and he demonstrates a visible enthusiasm and passion for science and exploration that redeems much of the foolishness that transpires on the screen. As an aside, it's clear that this is science fiction from the opening sequence, where the entire city honors a geology professor for his unspecified achievements. I doubt most people could name any geologist, living or dead, let alone treat them as heroes. Once shoehorned into the plot, Dahl acquits herself well in a thankless role that requires her to be insufferably superior at all times. Thayer David, best known from various roles on the original Dark Shadows, plays the villainous Count Saknussemm, Arne's vicious descendant, with requisite glee, fire and inhumanity. Boone varies from passable to horrific, with a Scottish burr that comes, goes and occasionally wanders into an Irish brogue of sorts.

Fox really needs to hire a proofreader; the keepcase is replete with errors, such as dating the film as a 2003 production, and the bizarre combination of "This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your screen" and the statement that it is 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (the latter is true; thankfully there is no modified aspect ratio version on the disc).

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original Cinemascope frame is well-represented in anamorphic widescreen (notwithstanding the declarations of the keepcase). Color is excellent throughout, whether below the earth or above ground; check out the colors of the books in Lindenbrook's library for a dazzling color display. The source print is very clean, with only the most occasional speckle. Detail is crisp and clear, with mild grain structure present. A number of difficult-to-render patterns are present, such as on Mason's plaid coat, and they're brought off suitably well. Very little to complain about on this front.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is presented in a 4.0 that apparently recreates the original four-channel sound from the original release. In the 1950s, when multichannel sound was used the dialogue tended to be exaggeratedly directional, and that phenomenon is repeated here. On a few occasions, the stems seem to be mixed up, with the voice of Pat Boone on the left of the screen coming from the right speaker, but this wasn't consistent. The sound is very hissy, and on occasion there is a very high, shrill electronic whine that may not be audible by all viewers. Bernard Herrmann's score sounds terrific, with a full and fine sound and powerful bass. Much of the score is supported by organ and that comes through extremely well. On the whole, acceptable but I found the high whine very irritating when it was present.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
9 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Abyss, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Enemy Mine, Independence Day, One Million Years B.C., Planet of the Apes (1966), Planet of the Apes (2001), Wing Commander, Zardoz
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 38m:11s

Extra Extras:
  1. Restoration featurette
Extras Review: The principal extra is a featurette on the restoration of the film and the video restoration, both of which are represented as being a huge improvement over the 1982 video master and the 1995 laserdisc; these were murky and ill-defined, making the DVD version a complete revelation. If you've only seen these older versions, you've not seen the film properly at all. In addition to the theatrical trailer (also in Cinemascope, and in nice condition), there are trailers for nine other Fox films with science fiction connections. The layer change is very badly placed and freezes for quite a long time.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Although it has the merit of James Mason in the lead, the effects and the added baggage of a female love interest and Pat Boone help drag it down. The transfer is very nice, although the audio has a number of issues. Other than trailers galore and a restoration featurette, there's nothing here for extras.


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