Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) Blu-Ray
Stars: Pat Boone, James Mason, Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker, Thayer David and Gertrude
Director: Henry Levin
Composer: Bernard Herrmann
Released by Twilight Time
Limited Edition of 3,000 units
Available exclusively through www.screenarchives.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
In an age where technology moves as fast as the wind it’s refreshing to spend a few hours with scientists who set out on an expedition driven by such an innocent and wholesome sense of adventure. We’re taken to a prestigious University in Victorian times in an age of enlightenment and invention. The thirst for discovery is palpable and the competitive drive to get there first is powerful. Journey to the Center of the Earth is one of those early tales of science fiction written near the turn of the century. Long before Tolkien thought of Hobbits and Middle Earth, Jules Verne spun an amazing tale of a journey deep within the bowels of our world. His other books include Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Mysterious Island. Arthur Conan Doyle known for his Sherlock Holmes stories published The Lost World. H.G. Wells contributed First Men in the Moon and The Time Machine. All of these tales have inspired many motion pictures from the silents to the recent 3-D craze. They all stimulate a youthful sense of wonder and adventure. They all have a journey, an odyssey and a triumphant return. There was a time, not too long ago, when students would rush to a series of upscale comic books to get them through book reports. Classics Illustrated was the Criterion of the comic books then. All of these can be found in those glorious collections of abbreviated text and tantalizingly drawn panels. What is it about these stories that have brought them back again and again? They contain the classic search for what is out there? What is deep under the sea, beyond the stars, in the future, buried in the past or at the center of the earth .
One of the neatest things a movie can do is take you somewhere you have never been before. Journey to the Center of the Earth first takes us back in time to get us properly in that mood. We begin at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland as geology professor Oliver Lindenbrook has just been knighted. James Mason plays him with an impassioned combination of grumbling impatience and eccentric wanderlust. He couldn’t care less about knighthood and is off on an expedition at the drop of a hat. The choosing of the crew for the expedition and the assembling of the proper equipment has become a ritual in these kinds of films. The professor’s top student is Pat Boone who sings, too. Arlene Dahl is the love interest and the woman’s perspective. The heavy lifting is done by Peter Ronson as Hans who insists on bringing along Gertrude the Duck. There is a scene where James Mason shows off the state of the art in special lamps designed for miners. You wind them up and they can conceivably put out light forever. Once equipped, we see them spread out along the horizon line all in silhouette. They gaze down into a crater looking for a sign. As the journey starts Pat Boone breaks out the concertina and they engage in a four-part harmony as they trek ever downward. That someone had been there before and left signs to follow was an intriguing plot device. However having a cunning descendant of that person skulking in the shadows to be glimpsed almost as a ghost on the way down was inspired. Thayer David as Count Saknussem is pure evil. He’s got these long sideburns, deep-set eyes and is frequently seen half covered in shadows. It’s worth noting that he went on to appear in both House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows
This imaginative film is blessed with the tremendous cinematography of Leo Tover (Day The Earth Stood Still). This Blu-Ray is in love with his work here. Colors pop with a vengeance. The mushroom garden they encounter is right out of Alice in Wonderland. The purple of Arlene Dahl’s skirt is bold as can be. The textures of the walls and stalagmites are reach out and touch them detailed. The set design is wildly creative and yet mixes well with the Carlsbad Caverns where many of the scenes were shot. This has got to be the best use of fins glued onto the back of a lizard in any movie. The “dimetrodons” here easily best Irwin Allen’s sailboat lizards in The Lost World the year after in 1960 and the ones that Victor Mature dodged in One Million BC (1940). The film was nominated for three Academy Awards including art direction and special effects.
1080 P, 2.35:1 This Cinemascope presentation is a simply stunning experience. If one was pressed to nit pick there was one emulsional scratch spotted when Count Saknussem gets his first close up in the caverns. There is grain apparent but it is friendly grain. There is a great measure of detail to be appreciated. The deep wools that Pat Boone wears in the beginning practically make you itch just to look at them. The color palate in the costumes is perfectly rendered as are the panoply of colors that sparkle in the underground caves. The art direction here will often stop you in your tracks. The publicity shots here do not reflect the quality of the Blu-Ray disc.
English 4.0 DTS-HD. No Subtitles are offered
So much of Bernard Hermann’s wonderful score lives in the lower regions of the mid range speakers and nestles comfortably in the bowels of your subwoofer. Hermann uses a two chord descending riff that just reverberates through you. It sounds like deep reeds, bass clarinets, saxophones, a church organ and a horn section that come from well below the knees. He then sprinkles glissandos from a harp over this. It’s got a magically captivating sound. Watching this on TV or VHS there was no hope of recreating the theatrical experience. Twilight has produced a track that a good home system will gulp down with a smile. The new 4.0 track on this disc is powerful and lustrous. Hermann, well known for his work on Alfred Hitchock and Ray Harryhausen pictures, has chosen a blend of wind driven instruments to carry the soundtrack. The organs, reeds, and horns seem perfectly matched to the currents of air that cascade down the otherworldly crevices and crannies the cast crawl through. When we finally reach the ocean at the middle of the earth he’ll stand your hair on end. Play this one loud.
Isolated Score Track. American and Spanish trailers. Booklet with
artwork and an essay. The isolated track is a very nice addition.
On a scale of Poor, fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent