Journey to the Center of the Earth Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Twilight Time
Directed by Harry Levin
Written by Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett
1959, Region A, 129 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on March 10th, 2015
James Mason as Sir Oliver Lindenbrook
Pat Boone as Alec McKuen
Arlene Dahl as Carla Goetabaug
Peter Ronson as Hans Belker
Diane Baker as Jenny Lindenbook
Thayer David as Count Saknussemm
Alan Napier as Dean
Sir Oliver Lindenbrook is a champion explorer and historian who now teaches at university and is a well-respected pillar of the Scottish community. When Alec, an admiring student, gives him a unique piece of volcanic rock, the professor is surprised to discover a secret hidden inside. Written over three hundred years ago, a cryptic message from a famed archaeologist points the way to a path leading to the center of the Earth. Lindenbrook cannot resist the challenge and takes Alec along for the exciting months-long quest that begins inside an Icelandic volcano. Upon arrival, they discover that an opportunistic former colleague has been killed, and his widow Carla insists on joining their expedition. The stuffy professor reluctantly agrees to her terms, as she will also be funding the trip. The group will be led by a pair of unusual guides, a giant Icelander named Hans and his pet duck Gertrud! The latter is more a family-friendly source of comic relief, but proves central to the plot. What follows is a tremendous underground adventure as our heroes discover intricate rock formations, towering mushrooms, rivers of lava, and giant prehistoric creatures along their trek to the Earth’s core. The path is treacherous but not their only adversary, as danger lurks in the shadows in the form of a murderous rival who quietly follows their every move.
Like many, I grew up reading Jules Verne stories and loved every moment of these marvelous adventures. I first saw Journey to the Center of the Earth as a child and was amazed by the sheer size of the movie. I am happy to report that the film holds up very well and is sure to appeal to a new generation of viewers. Based on Verne’s classic novel, the story is filled with wonder and unexpected beauty as our heroes delve deeper and deeper into uncharted territory, and the characters’ sense of awe is infectious. This is an event picture that delivers one spectacular landscape after another, thanks in part to the gorgeous cinematography of Leo Tover (The Day the Earth Stood Still). There are some uneven elements to be certain and these are all the more obvious given the film’s extended running time, but enough works that it is easy to get caught up in the spirit. Director Harry Levin (Cry of the Werewolf) does a fine job keeping things moving to a point, but there are some forced elements that cannot be avoided, namely pausing for Pat Boone to sing a few songs.
Boone does a fine job as Alec, but his talents are more in singing than acting, as he never looks completely comfortable in front of the camera. Thankfully, James Mason (Salem’s Lot) is the shining star of this production as Sir Oliver Lindenbrook. He is immediately credible as a figure someone would gladly follow to the ends of the Earth. Mason had already become synonymous with the magical world of Jules Verne with his starring role as Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and here he is absolutely wonderful as the inquisitive scientist. The supporting cast, including Thayer David (Dark Shadows) and Arlene Dahl (The Diamond Queen), keeps up without exception, but this really is Mason’s show. The screenplay written by Walter Reisch (Ninotchka) and Charles Brackett (Sunset Blvd.) is occasionally at odds with how best to move from one set piece to the next, but really only falters when resolving the Gertrud the duck plotline. A character that exists solely for comic relief deserves a better fate than the casual dismissal pushed on viewers here. The film remains easily recommended viewing even with the occasional bit of padding or script misfire. Science fiction and fantasy fans will find much to enjoy, as this classic tale delivers a genuinely fun ride into the unknown.
Video and Audio:
Journey to the Center of the Earth is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the quality is pleasing. The original Blu-ray release (2009) was impressive, but there was room to nitpick the transfer on a fifty-year-old movie. This new edition provides a 4K scan of the original film elements and the results are staggering. Colors and black levels are strong and flesh tones appear natural throughout, but overall clarity and depth have been vastly improved to the point that this looks like it was shot within the last decade. The tell-tale matte lines and rear projection both benefit greatly from this new clean-up and longtime fans will want to race to pick up what is essentially the definitive version of this title.
The audio has also received a full makeover as a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track immerses audiences in this adventure and I was surprised by the strength of this presentation. The numerous action set pieces are thrilling as music and sound effects come alive. The Bernard Herrmann score is particularly impressive with this new enhancement. A DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track faithfully presents the original audio recording and contains a surprising level of depth. The action scenes benefit from a nice blend of music and sound effects that do not step on dialogue levels.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
This new release comes with an added treat in the form of an audio commentary track featuring Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith and the delightful Diane Baker, moderated by Twilight Time’s Nick Redman. The discussion is informative and lively with little room for extended pauses since there is so much to say about this classic movie.
Bernard Herrmann's musical score is presented in an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is really entertaining and is a welcome addition.
The original theatrical trailer completes the special features on this disc.
The package includes a six-page booklet with a thoughtful essay written by Julie Kirgo.
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