Journey to the Centre of the Earth Review
Though comparatively little seen – especially when place alongside the 1959 version starring James Mason and Pat Boone – this 1976 adaptation of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth is in possession of a relative degree of promise. Its onscreen title, The Fabulous Journey to the Centre of the Earth, suggests a certain camp knowingness, whilst its director, one J. Piquer Simon, is also of interest. The man responsible for such trashy efforts as Slugs and Supersonic Man (needless to say, it was a Superman knock off), his presence should at least offer an intriguing balance, one that juxtaposes his exploitation methods with the classier elements of Verne’s source material.
Disappointingly, this doesn’t prove to be the case. The film’s pre-credits preamble dedicates itself to Georges Méliès and other silent film practitioners. Certainly, it’s a welcome sentiment, an applaudable one in fact, but then it also imbues Journey to the Centre… with a seriousness that it really shouldn’t have. Indeed, it makes for a very dry film, or, to get further to the point, an incredibly dull one; for a work that should be best described as an action film, an adventure or a fantasy, it spends an awful lot of time concentrating on talking heads in stuffy little rooms. It should come as no surprise then to learn that the action-packed trailer steals 99% of its material from the final twenty minutes.
Yet whilst this doesn’t make for especially exciting cinema, the audience also to contend with some often appalling dubbing. Though financed in Spain and shot in Spanish, here we find the majority of the cast list stuck with unseemly upper class British accents. Certainly, the class dimension would no doubt have seemed incongruous with Spanish tongues, yet the clearly imposed dubbed dialogue over the top has only rendered it more so. And even venerable British actor Kenneth More is unable to escape this fate courtesy of having had to post-synch his own dialogue, thereby rendering his performance even more tired and bloated. Indeed, he never once rallies his companions in a manner befitting a Verne hero, let alone the film itself.
In fact, Journey to the Centre as a whole is all rather toothless. Though it’s impossible to be sure, it would appear that J. Piquer Simon is intent on a making a picture for children. As such we have an exploitation director making a film with all of his best tools removed – there’s no sex, no violence, no sense of danger or desire to shock. Rather we’re left with a simplistic work that fails to capture the imagination. In setting its sights so low it appears to be perfectly happy to employ a faltering, awkward voice-over; to focus easily solved predicaments as opposed to creating a genuine tension; and to switch to travelogue-style vistas whenever things begin to flag. Needless to say, none of these are successful, words that perfectly sum up Journey to the Centre of the World itself.
Released in the UK as a Region 0 disc by Fremantle, Journey to the Centre of the Earth’s presentation pretty much matches that of the film itself. Things start out promisingly courtesy of an anamorphic presentation (at a ratio of 1.78:1) and quickly go downhill. Thus we have a scratchy, ageing print, a soft, murky image and plenty of flicker to contend with. More annoying, however, is the fact that from time to time a shot will look absolutely perfect only to be followed by one that is incredibly ill-defined and near unwatchable. As for the soundtrack, all that really needs to be said here is that we get an appalling English dub. Given the Dolby Surround treatment, it’s merely okay, but suffers from the numerous flaws of post-synching; footsteps are far more audible that the dialogue and, overall, everything’s just too distracting. With regards to extras, these amount solely to the theatrical trailer, one which makes the end result appear far more entertaining than it actually is.