Thursday, September 17, 2015
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Quick Plot Synopsis
Geology professor Oliver Lindenbrook is given a hunk of lava rock by a student, Alex. It turns out to contain a message from Arne Saknussem, an explorer who disappeared years before, on an expedition to the center of the earth. Oliver writes to a swedish expert, only to find out that this expert is mounting an expedition first. Oliver travels to Iceland. Professor Göteborg is found dead, poisoned by Count Saknussem, descendant of the famous Arne, who believes the underworld belongs to him. Carla Göteborg insists on joining Oliver, Alex and Hans. The Oliver and party descend, shadowed by the Count. They find marks left by Arne. The Count fakes some marks to waylay them. Alex becomes separated from the rest. Through travels and travails, they become reunited and have reluctantly had to add the Count to the group. They find the underworld sea. They build a raft to cross it, thereby escaping the giant Dimenodons. A whirlpool at the center of the earth shipwrecks them onto a beach. In a nearby cave, the Count (who has eaten Gertrude) dies in a rock slide. This opens a passage to the ruins of Atlantis. The skeleton of Arne points to a windy shaft back to the surface. It is blocked, however, so Oliver blows it up. This causes earthquakes and lava flows. The four shelter in an asbestos altar bowl. The lava pushes the bowl up the shaft to safety. All are welcomed home as heros, though no one can prove what they saw. Alex marries Jenny. Oliver proposes to Carla.The End.
Why is this movie fun?
The A-level acting and well done musical score are a refreshing treat from a steady diet of B-level sci-fi. The sets and painting build a sense of wonder. The story, while not pure Verne, is well paced and entertaining.
Cold War Angle
The screenplay maintains Verne's 19th century point of view. It is worth noting that they avoided grafting in any Cold War modernism, unlike 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ('54) and From Earth to the Moon ('58) in which the writers inserted a nuclear parallel.
Sub-Terranian -- The notion that the earth was hollow, or at least had large habitable zones inside it, is ancient. The Greeks imagined Hades' underworld as an alternate world which surface folk could travel to and from. Q.v. Orpheus. The notion persisted until the 1800s. Edmund Halley (of comet fame) thought the earth might be hollow. Leonhard Euler thought there were holes at the poles that connected upper and lower worlds. A Captain Symmes wrote pamphlets and promoted (vigorously) the idea of going to search for these openings. Verne took the notion and ran with it. The idea that the earth had a deep magma layer and a solid core was not proposed until the 1910s.
Book vs. Hollywood -- The script of JCE was fairly faithful to the spirit of Verne's tale, but not slavishly so. JCE is closer to the novel than Unknown World ('51) which was loosely based on Verne's story. Fox's movie version of JCE added a Disneyesque cute animal (Gertrude the duck) and two women for romantic interest. Verne did not usually clutter his tales with romance. The writers also changed the lead character from a German (Otto Leidenbrock) of Hamburg to a Scot (Oliver Lindenbrook) of Edinburgh. Perhaps it was still a bit too soon after the Second World War to have a German protagonist.
Bottom line? JCE is not an especially science-y sci-fi, but it is very well done. The sets, the music, the acting, all make a fine performance. The story is well written and nicely avoids Verne's penchant for long stretches of exposition. JCE is a great family movie.