A grand and glorious adventure tale of the old school, Henry Levin’s Journey to the Center of Earth is loads of fun. With superb production design, sound, and special effects (all of which earned Oscar nominations for their respective artisans) and featuring an ingratiating cast and even a song or two, this Journey is definitely one worth taking.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) (Blu-ray)
Directed by Henry Levin
Studio: Twilight Time (Fox)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 129 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 English
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: May 8, 2012
Review Date: May 3, 2012
Edinburgh professor Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook (James Mason) and his young student Alec McKuen (Pat Boone) lead a party of four (including the widow of one of his rivals – played by Arlene Dahl) down an Icelandic volcano encountering many natural perils along the way to their destination, the center of the Earth. One unnatural peril they face is the constant threat of sabotage by the nefarious Count Saknussem (Thayer David) whose ancestor led the original expedition below and who now takes every opportunity to send the explorers down the wrong shafts and endanger their very lives. Along the way to the center of the Earth are many surprises and one conundrum: how will they get back once they’ve reached the center?
Lovers of action may become impatient that it takes a full forty-five minutes for the descent into the Earth’s core to begin, but the time setting up for the excursion is not wasted allowing us to get to know the personalities of the four explorers in the party (plus a pet duck who is along for the ride and more than once saves their skins). The Walter Reisch-Charles Brackett screenplay is full of incident, some taken from the Jules Verne novel and some pure Hollywood invention, but all of it is exciting and engrossing. The production design is especially inventive and eye-popping throughout (a pity the film was released the same year as Ben-Hur; some of those Oscar nominations it garnered might well have been awards in another year), and director Henry Levin never lets the momentum dawdle, even when the team gets separated: there are always interesting discoveries and risky adventures around the next turn or down the next shaft. In this age of CGI miracles, the special effects here may strike some as quaint, but they were impressive in their day and still hold up. That maelstrom at sea, the mushroom forest, and the salt and quartz caverns are still very striking.
The cast seems to be having a whale of a good time. Though Pat Boone’s Scottish accent is rather puny, he evinces great good humor and seems game for anything (including a couple of sequences where he’s wearing next to nothing). There are also a couple of unobtrusive songs. James Mason’s natural authority and gravitas serves him well as a slightly absent-minded professor type. Arlene Dahl contributes, too, and is more than just a pretty face and, inevitably, a late reel love interest for James Mason. Thayer David’s charlatan isn’t as fully developed as it might have been with better writing, but Peter Ronson as the Icelandic guide Hans Belker is quite a gratifying presence and most welcome even though his words must be constantly translated. Diane Baker is an okay love interest for Pat Boone’s Alec even though once the expedition leaves Scotland, the occasional returns to her back home are rather intrusive.
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Apart from a few inserts and some other effects work, sharpness is excellent throughout. Color is outstandingly reproduced (one look at the theatrical trailer with its oversaturated brown tones will help the viewer appreciate what we have here; reds are especially vivid), and flesh tones look natural and appealing. Black levels are fairly good but are not the transfer’s most outstanding characteristic. There are some occasional dust specks but nothing intrusive to spoil one's enjoyment of the movie. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 sound mix features outstanding and surprisingly gripping bass levels heard almost from the beginning and notable throughout. Dialogue has been spread across the front soundstage rather than being done directionally, but it’s always clear and precise. And the rear surround channel carries some interesting sound effects with water and waves swirling, heavy winds whirling, and avalanche-pounding rock slides being especially notable. Bernard Herrmann’s score gets woven impressively through the entire four channel mix.
The Bernard Herrmann music score is offered in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo isolated track which has great fidelity of its own.
There are two theatrical trailers: the American trailer runs 3 ¼ minutes. The Spanish trailer runs for 2 minutes. Both are in 480i.
The enclosed six-page booklet contains color and black stills, poster art for the film on the booklet’s back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s always interesting background essay on the movie.
4/5 (not an average)
Journey to the Center of the Earth is an adventure lover’s paradise of a movie. Perfect for family viewing especially once the journey actually gets started, the movie comes with a strong recommendation. Only three thousand copies of the Blu-ray are available, so those interested in obtaining it should hop to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. They're also available via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.