As any fan of science fiction can tell you, Jules Verne wrote many exciting novels. These epic tales usually focused on a journey to an exotic, otherworldly locale and featured plenty of thrills and chills during the course of the story.
Verne’s classics gained new popularity when a 1954 film version of his 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea became a major box-office hit. Its success led to adaptations of other Verne tales like Around The World In 80 Days (1956). One of the best Verne adaptations from this era was Journey To The Center Of The Earth.
This film starred James Mason, who had memorably portrayed Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. In Journey, he plays a crusty but debonair Edinburgh professor of geology named Oliver Lindenbrook.
The epic story begins when Lindenbrook is given a volcanic rock by one of his students. It contains a message inside from a long-dead explorer that tells how one can reach the centre of the earth.
Lindenbrook organises a touring party – including his young assistant Alan McEwen (Pat Boone), his ward Jenny (Diane Baker) and Icelandic guide Hans Belker (Peter Ronson) – and sets out to find the location on the map, which they track to a dormant volcano in Iceland.
Once inside the volcano, Lindenbrook and his party witness sights that few men have ever seen. There are strange but gorgeous landscapes filled with luminescent algae and giant mushrooms. They even discover an ancient island that may hold the key to the beginnings of mankind.
However, there are also dangers to be dealt with. One big problem is a rival team of explorers – headed by the evil Count Saknussmen (Thayer David) – who are willing to resort to sabotage and kidnapping to be the first ones to reach the earth’s centre. Both teams also have to contend with the fact that dinosaurs and other ancient creatures are still alive and well in this underground world.
The finished film was good old-fashioned fun on an epic scale. James Mason created a lead character who commanded the audience’s respect and Pat Boone provided plenty of teen-idol appeal for younger viewers. Arlene Dahl also contributed a memorably spunky performance as Carla Goeteberg.
The story delivered the goods in epic style, especially during the scenes with the dinosaurs, filmed using real iguanas made up to look like dinosaurs.
Journey To The Center Of The Earth also benefited from the grand style in which it was presented. The film was shot in the Cinemascope format, which gave it an impressive widescreen look that allowed it to capture the underground vistas of the story in high style. Much of the location shooting took place at the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, with the production filming at night so as not to disturb the tourists.
The real cave locations were combined with studio-built sets, enhanced with the use of matte paintings.
The film boasted a lush, exciting musical score by Bernard Herrmann, who also did the honours for other fantasy-film classics like The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963).
In short, Journey To The Center Of The Earth had something for the whole family. It did well at the box office and inspired filmmakers to keep making Jules Verne adaptations like Mysterious Island.
Meanwhile, Journey To The Center Of The Earth continues to be popular today with fantasy film fans of all ages, still delivering the goods on an epic scale.
Professor Oliver Lindenbrook
Mrs Carla Goetaborg