Journey To The Center Of The Earth Review
Made for those people for whom the more lifelike monsters of the recent, Brendan Fraser-starring Journey To The Centre Of The Earth was perhaps that bit too terrifying, here comes a made-for-television version of the film with creatures that are no more realistic than those that wobbled at Doug McClure in The Land That Time Forgot. Unfortunately, there is no place for McClure, who would be as much a fit for this as would a Toblerone for a triangle-shaped hole in your stomach. Instead, we have Rick Schroeder as Jonathan Brock, who is an anthropologist cut through with the derring-do of Indiana Jones. As the film opens, he is raising cash for his next adventure with a bout of bare-knuckle boxing but, before long, it's back into the stuffed shirt and to a meeting with Martha Dennison (Victoria Pratt), who is in search of her lost husband.
Edward Dennison (Peter Fonda) had disappeared some years previously and Martha arrives holding the map that he followed. With the lure of money persuading him rather than that of adventure, Brock saddles up his horse, retains the services of his nephew, Abel (Steven Grayhm), to keep a record of his trip and heads north to Alaska in search of Dennison and of a mine that is said to lead to the centre of the Earth. As luck would have it - in spite of bears, thieving Alaskans and an overcast sky, they arrive at the mine on the only day of the year in which it can be seen - Brock and his nephew, Martha Dennison and a Russian miner, Sergei (Mike Dopud) find the mine and descend through its depths...to the centre of the earth!
Corners have been cut in the making of this feature. There are the obvious ones, such as the cast's enthusiasm being no match for their inability to make the viewer believe in them, least of all when called upon to express wonder at a place set apart from the world that we inhabit. It doesn't help that this place actually doesn't look so very different from the bit of Alaska they have departed from mere minutes before but they could have made rather more of an effort. There are also the monsters, which seem to be computer-generated but were not the product of any computer produced in the last decade or so. I have no doubt that the laptop on which I write this, of a 1999 vintage and habitually on a winter of discontent-styled work to rule, could have done better if so asked. But it's the little things that really matter. At one point, the raft Brock and his party are on a raft when a beast surfaces from the water not far from them. The sheer size of the monster would, you might think, have had some impact on their makeshift boat but no. I have created bigger splashes while lowering myself into a bath than does this creature. Were there more dinosaurs, this one oversight could have been more forgivable but there is but this one and some birds that Brock and company shoot out of the sky without ever really being threatened by them. Cost played its part, no doubt, but we're spared the sight of a Tyrannosaurus stomping through the jungles.
Still, speaking as one who is actually rather fond of the old Doug McClure monster movies, I'm not that fussy about the quality of my creatures. The useless pterodactyls of The People That Time Forgot beat that out of me long ago. However, as bad though the effects are - one draws a line at calling them 'special' - they're quite marvellous when compared to Peter Fonda as Edward Dennison, who hasn't looked this bored since he snoozed his way through Thomas And The Magic Railroad. Fonda just isn't trying. That's perhaps understandable given what it is but a spark of interest wouldn't have gone amiss. When he first confronts Brock and tells them that the humans tribes there take him to be a god, one is looking for the hand operating this Fonda-dummy. One sees better performances from the cast of the confused.com adverts. Eventually, Brock and company put paid to Edward Dennison's godlike status and the rebels in Dennison's camp start a coup. Brock, Dennison and the rest make a bid to escape but not before there is a sacrifice to be made and Brock's technical marvels brought with him from the surface let him down.
The brevity of the piece is its greatest failing. In spite of other fantasy adventures falling over themselves to impress the viewer with their monsters, we see no more than ten minutes of them here. Similarly, the finding of Edward Dennison is dealt with very briefly, as though a, "Oh, there you are!" will suffice with a man who's been missing the last four years. The tribe over whom Dennison have been ruling are convinced of his humanity very quickly indeed while his escape is not one that could see itself on a par with that of Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough and company. The bigger problem is that this world doesn't seem so very far away from our own. Granted, movie-time is not quite the same a real-time but it takes longer for me to walk the length of my driveway than it does for Brock and company to descend to the centre of the earth. As close as it is, it's a wonder that it's not a busy playground for bored young adventurers.
But I'm not going to sneer at the made-for-television-ness of it all, which can be taken apart from the other problems in the show. A few years ago, the BBC made a entertainingly frightening version of The Lost World with Bob Hoskins, James Fox and Peter Falk huffing and puffing through the jungles of South America and, watched not long ago on BBC4, it still stands up today. Children will sound out a convincing, "Ewwwww!" at the sight of heads being caved in and brains and other matter eaten while still warm. Its longer running time, its better actors and its willingness to show not only the ferocity of the prehistoric creatures but also the human survivors puts it leagues ahead of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. I would watch that any time over this film, which serves only to say that Rick Schroeder isn't that bad as a grown-up actor, that Victoria Pratt does better than anyone in Cleopatra 2525 really has a right to and that this Peter Fonda, once the anti-hero of The Wild Angels and Easy Rider, could no more stick it to the ice-cream man than to The Man.
Everything about this looks very stylised. Not stylish, just stylised. The sunsets are not merely dappled with orange but look as though finding any other colour on the screen would be more of a challenge than circumnavigating the underworld. Alaska is a chilly blue while the forests within the centre of the earth are a rich green. However, this wash of intense colours only serve to soften the picture and leave it looking a little fuzzy. On the whole, though, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth works alright as a television movie but is lacking the sharpness that one would expect of a motion picture. The DD5.1 audio track is fine but there are very few moments when it shows itself off, particularly not when what dinosaurs there are make their presence felt. There are no subtitles.
There are no extras on this DVD release.