By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
Geology Professor Lindenbrook (James Mason) and his student assistant Alec McEwan (Pat Boone) stumble upon an object with writing on it hidden inside a lava rock. The writing on the object is identified as belonging to Arne Saknussemm; an Icelandic Geologist who disappeared nearly 300 years earlier after claiming to have discovered a traversable pathway to the center of Earth. Lindenbrook organizes an expedition to follow Saknussemm’s directions, and hopefully to make the biggest scientific discovery in history.
This was a sizable hit for Fox studios, capitalizing on the Jules Verne craze started by Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Much like that film, this created a whole alien world for its characters to move within. Much effort was put into the visuals; from the mountains of Iceland, to the caverns and canyons inside Earth’s crust, every scene is immaculately designed with an eye for splendor. The matte paintings are quite obvious by modern standards, and the transition between practical location shoots in real caverns contrast quite dramatically with those shot on a soundstage, but scientific realism shouldn’t be expected from the story written over 100 years ago. Countless jokes have been made about the “Dinosaurs”, which are clearly iguanas with rubber costumes glued on. I’d argue this isn’t any less realistic looking than CGI. One is a cartoon, the other is a rubber suit, you pick which is more fake (and at least the lizard moves realistically).
I’m unsure of whose hair-brained idea it was to cast Pat Boone as a Scotsman, and I’m even more concerned that they allowed him to use his regular American accent. Everyone knows Scotsmen sound like this:
As an actor, Boone handles the physicality of his role admirably enough, particularly in a sequence where he is separated from the group, and has to appear increasingly deranged and weather-beaten. Dialogue, on the other hand, is not his strong suit. The early scenes in Edinburgh, particularly those involving his romantic interest character, are nothing short of excruciating. Thankfully, the film pushes this cookie-cutter romance way out of focus, only occasionally referencing it.
While the special effects are forgivable relics of the era, the misogynistic tone of its lead character does not get a free pass. Profesor Lindenbrook objects to having a woman on the expedition, but “the plot” forces him too have one. The second act of the film is dominated by Lindenbrook taking every opportune moment to rip into her, and womankind in general. This ages the film so considerably that it does significant harm to its watchability.
Actor James Mason reportedly did not get along with actress Arlene Dahl, which may explain the obsessive nature by which he dresses her character down with demeaning remarks. Thankfully, these elements have more or less petered out by the 3rd act.
Woman-hating aside, this is an immensely fun adventure story which can be enjoyed for the gorgeous production design and smooth pacing. The special effects are very representative of the period, making this a historically important film as well.
Take a Drink: when Lindenbrook makes misogynistic comments.
Take a Drink: for the Duck
Do a Shot: each time the name Arne Saknussemm is mentioned
Do a Shot: for “The Three Notches”