20th Century Fox’s 1959 “Journey of the Center of the Earth” is the best version of the often-filmed Jules Verne classic, despite differing from the source material quite a bit. The adventure film set in 1880 stars James Mason as Professor Sir Oliver Lindenbrook, a geologist at the University of Edinburgh who is given a piece of volcanic rock by his assistant Alec (Pat Boone). The professor discovers a cryptic message inside the rock from a scientist who, 300 years ago, had discovered a passage beginning in Iceland and traveling to the center of the Earth. Together, Lindenbrook and Alec set off on their journey, and are joined along the way by companions like Icelander Hans (Petur Ronson) and his pet duck; Carla (Arlene Dahl), the widow of a rival professor; and enemies including a descendent of the scientist who originally discovered the passage.
Film adaptations of Jules Verne novels proved to be quite popular during the 1950s, as epic adventures told in Technicolor and Cinemascope were produced to lure audiences back to the theater and away from television. “Journey to the Center of the Earth” followed on the heels of the Disney successes “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Around the World in 80 Days”, and it proved to be a financial hit as well. Despite some dated special effects, this adaptation of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” still holds up well today. The film is ridiculous, but it is aware of its ridiculousness, and it’s a whole lot of fun watching the actors navigate every crazy thing thrown at them. Mason and Dahl have quite good chemistry as their characters fight and bicker through the story; however, while their characters on screen ended up together in the end, the actors never got along in real life. Pat Boone also initially didn’t want to do this movie, but was later satisfied with it, as it ended up being his biggest success as an actor.
Those devoted to the novel may not like all the departures this film takes—several characters, including Carla, were not present in the book—and there’s an entire sequence involving Atlantis that wasn’t in the novel either. Despite that, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” is one of the most enjoyable adaptations of any Verne story, and those changes were likely made for the better.
“Journey to the Center of the Earth” is currently streaming on Netflix.
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