Full disclosure: when I first saw Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) as a kid on TV, it totally captured my imagination and enthralled me. It's been a favorite of mine ever since, and while I no longer put the film on the pedestal that I did back when I was 10, it has aged very well. The movie is a classic adventure flick that's still fun and has a sense of wonder about it. Now Twilight Time, a small niche publisher, has released this favorite of mine on Blu-ray and I couldn't be happier. With excellent sound and a very good picture this is a must-buy disc for fans of classic SF.
When Professor Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) is given an unusually heavy rock by his student Alec McEwan (Pat Boone), he doesn't realize that the sample will have a drastic impact on his life. It's a volcanic rock and the geologist assumes that there's a denser rock that was engulfed by lava. After his assistant, Paisley (Ben Wright), errs and causes an accident, it's revealed that the sample contained a man-made object, a plumb bob, which has strange writing on it. It's soon revealed to be an item belonging to Icelandic explorer Arne Saknussem, who disappeared 300 years ago looking for a passage to the center of the Earth. It appears that Saknussem found one, and Lindenbrook and McEwan set off for Iceland to rediscover the path.
Once in Iceland Lindenbrook has to contend with a rival explorer, a lack of supplies, and being locked in a basement by an assailant. In the course of overcoming these obstacles he meets the tall and strong Hans Bjelke (Peter Ronson), and his pet duck Gertrude, who agrees to accompany the group on their quest. In order to obtain the supplies he needs, Lindenbrook very reluctantly also allows the recently widowed Carla (Arlene Dahl) to go with them.
Once they find the entrance to the interior of the Earth, things get a bit tricky. Following marks that Saknussem made, the group encounters all sorts of wonderful and amazing things including glowing rocks, giant mushrooms, perhistoric dionsaurs, and underground ocean and even a lost ancient city. In addition to these hazards they have to contend with a dangerous rival, the descendant of the original explorer Saknussem who feels that the passage is his by rights of inheritance. And once they get to the center of the Earth, who will they get back?
While the beginning is a bit on the slow side, the grand adventure makes up for any plot development in the early part. It's a fun and exciting romp filled with wondrous discoveries and hair-raising predicaments. The movie works in large part because they did take the time at the beginning to set up the plot but also to get to know the characters. It's these seemingly little things, like the addition of Gertrude the duck, that give the adventurers a human side and make it easy to connect with them. That's the big thing the recent remake lacked.
The actors seemed to have a great time making the movie, and they all did a good job. Pat Boone sings a couple of songs that don't really get in the way (rather they allow the audience time to catch their breath) and James Mason (with his wonderful voice) lends an air of respectability to the whole production.
Once again Twilight Time has released an impeccable sounding Blu-ray disc. The DTS-HS Master Audio 4.0 audio is superb, with a good amount of dynamic range and some nice use made of the soundstage. The rears were especially used to effectively with running water and other natural sounds being thrown behind the viewer to create an immersive feeling. The dialog is clean and very clear and the music really comes alive.
The 2.35:1 image is encoded at 1080p with the AVC codex looks excellent too. Aside from a couple of dirt spots the print looks impeccable with some very nice solid colors. The whites are strong without being crushed and the skin tones are realistic. The level of detail is very good, which is especially evident in the close-ups. Overall this is an outstanding image.
Twilight Time doesn't go in for a lot of extras generally, and this disc is no exception. There's an isolated music score and the original theatrical trailer.
With its a grand sense of adventure and awe, it's hard not to like Journey to the Center of the Earth. It's a great romp with a lot of exciting scenes and imaginative scenery. Watching this impeccable (both in image and sound) Blu-ray from Twilight Time will make you remember what it was like to be 10 year old again. Highly Recommended.
Note: The screen caps come from the SD DVD and are not illistrative of the quality of this Blu-ray disc.