Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

“The greatest mystery is right here — right under our feet.”

In 19th century Scotland, a famed geologist (James Mason) journeys to the center of the earth, accompanied by his student (Pat Boone), the widow (Arlene Dahl) of his deceased rival, and a strapping Icelander (Peter Ronson) with a pet goose.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Explorers
  • Fantasy
  • James Mason Films
  • Jules Verne Adaptations
  • Rivalry
  • Science Fiction
  • Scientists

Following the success of Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and United Artists’ Around the World in 80 Days (1956), adaptations of works by Jules Verne become all the rage in Hollywood; unfortunately, few have really stood the test of time (see here, here, and here), and Journey to the Center of the Earth is no exception. Naturally, the premise itself is ludicrously fantastical on all levels, to the point where one must simply suspend all disbelief and treat the tale as an adventure rather than any kind of legitimate science fiction; interestingly, there are plenty of viewers willing to do just that. DVD Savant, for instance, gives it a glowing review, calling it “a fantastic adventure with something for everyone” — however, his nostalgic bias is clearly in evidence, given that he admits it was the movie he was taken to see on his seventh birthday, and that it marked the moment when he first “discovered that somewhere out there people made movies just for me.” His point is well taken: I can absolutely see a film like this suiting the bill for seven-year-old boys in a pre-CGI era.

Modern-day adult viewers, however (at least those without any similar nostalgic hold on the film), will likely find themselves simply bored and/or annoyed by the story, which takes 45 minutes to finally deposit its characters on their journey towards the “center of the Earth”, and from thence is patently sanitized to include an often-shirtless Pat Boone (!):

… a feisty female (Dahl) maintaining a perfectly made-up face no matter how deep into the Earth she descends:

… and a pet goose (!).

As noted by Richard Scheib on his Moria site, while “Verne wrote a dark, claustrophobic Age of Exploration fantasy”, the film adaptation “is a ridiculously opulent Cinemascope colour spectacle” in which “the center of the Earth is illogically depicted as a colourful and well-lit world of studio-floor splendour and crystalline formations”, and “the result is more akin to a 19th Century tea party than serious exploration”. Indeed, if this kind of thing is your cup of tea, then definitely indulge; otherwise, there’s no need to bother checking it out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Colorfully fantastic sets
  • Bernard Herrmann’s score

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for fans of the genre.


One thought on “Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

  1. Not must-see.

    In total agreement with the spot-on (and even somewhat humorous) assessment given here.

    ‘Journey…’ really has fallen victim to its time completely. Nothing really works here now. What rings loudly of amateur quality even makes one wonder how it all might have worked when it was released. I suppose the overall effect of the various designs and tricks may have seemed ‘advanced’ in the late ’50s but it’s quite difficult imagining just how.

    Watching is little more than an exercise in silliness. Boone gets to promote his singing voice (as used to be done a lot more in that era: taking on acting stints strictly for the purpose of record sales). Dahl is pleasing enough and puts on a game front but to little result. And Poor James Mason!!! Always so reliable but clearly working ‘long late hours of overtime’ to give his role his usual conviction; his effort not being worth the effort.

    Herrmann’s score occasionally graces with feelings ominous or wondrous but, again, there’s little that would have inspired him.

    A big ho-hum.

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