Cult Movie: Journey To The Centre Of The Earth a reminder of happier sci-fi times

James Mason and Arlene Dahl in Journey To The Centre Of The Earth
James Mason and Arlene Dahl in Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

THERE was a time when science fiction at the cinema meant more than an endless parade of comic-book superheroes thrashing it out in never-ending sequels, prequels and pointless origin stories.

Back in the day, Hollywood would occasionally tackle the biggest sci-fi ideas ever and turn in films that pushed the entertainment envelope to the max. Films like Journey To The Centre Of The Earth embody those braver times and still stand proud today as powerful examples of just how inventive the genre can be when it puts away the kids comics and turns to classic literature instead.

Written by Jules Vern in 1864 and delivered to the big screen by director Henry Levin in 1959, Journey is a masterful fantasy novel that translated beautifully to an unforgettable fantasy film, packed with cool ideas, memorable images of unseen underwater worlds and special effects that were, for their time, undeniably impressive.

As a newly restored Blu-ray from Eureka Video proves, it’s lost none of its power to impress with the passing of time either.

A plush and well heeled tale of a band of intrepid explorers led by Scottish academic Professor Lindenbrook (played by the great James Mason) who descend deep into the heart of the Earth to uncover a lost world, it’s got everything you need for a classic 50s adventure movie. There are exploding volcanoes, flesh-eating giant reptiles and even a stunning score from the legendary Bernard Hermann to enjoy.

There’s an impressive cast working under the magnificent Mason that includes cornball singer turned actor Pat Boone hamming it up as an overly enthusiastic student, Thayer David as Lindenbrook’s arch rival Count Saknussemm, a beautiful female (Arlene Dahl) whom the Professor is convinced will ruin the expedition and even a typically lunk-headed strongman (Peter Ronson) to complete the line-up. There’s also a duck called Gertrude to add a little comic relief but the less said about that the better.

Mason relishes the nastier side of his character and bounces well off the feisty Dahl who gives as good as she gets in the standard battle of the sexes that ensues. There are more monsters and near-death set pieces in the book than make it to the film but the whole thing looks lush in Cinemascope and the special effects still pack a punch even if the pet lizards blown up in size are more comical than fear inducing today.

Eureka have delivered a gorgeous looking print and packed this reissue with an impressive array of extras, from audio commentaries to trailers and a new video essay by sci-fi guru Kim Newman.

As high -nd Hollywood fantasy films go, Journey to The Centre Of The Earth is one of the best. It looks good, sounds amazing thanks to that ominous Hermann score and the spirit of old school adventure is there in just about every shot.