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Jules Verne's the Fabulous Journey to the Center of the Earth A.K.A. Where Time Began

Code Red // PG // October 31, 2006
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted November 23, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Billed as ripping, old-fashioned family entertainment, "The Fabulous Journey To the Centre of the Earth" is instead a big ol' hunk of Euro-schlock, complete with poorly dubbed voices, on-the-cheap special effects, and a guy in a gorilla suit.

The 1976 film - released as "When Time Began" in the U.S. - is a clumsy adaptation of Jules Verne's classic fantasy yarn, a story that was already successfully translated into a movie, with the popular 1959 adventure starring James Mason and Pat Boone. Another film reworking of a Verne novel, the 1956 epic "Around the World in Eighty Days," was a box office behemoth and earned a Best Picture Oscar. The influence of both films upon this "Journey" is evident from the opening frames, in which, like "Eighty Days," we get clips from the Méliès gem "A Trip to the Moon." This time, these scenes are shown as part of a promise in which the film dedicates itself to the artistic vision and love of adventure that such early silent works delivered.

It is, basically, a cheap way of wheeling in some much-needed instant elegance to the picture. Director Juan Piquer Simón hopes a 19th century setting and some classy (overdubbed) Brit accents will add some sophistication to his film, which is otherwise bogged down by a low budget, clumsy filmmaking, and a screenplay that seems to be going out of its way to avoid any real action as much as possible. By "paying homage" to a bygone era of storytelling, Simón hopes to get some leeway from the audience for his sluggishness.

The casting of Kenneth More as Professor Otto Lidenbrock (or "Lindenbrock," as this movie calls him) is another attempt at respectfulness, although More is so clearly uninterested in the role (his flat efforts in redubbing his own dialogue even more so), leaving us with little more than "Tired British Guy is about as classy as we get, folks."

Although the screenplay remains true to the spirit of Verne's story (which, as you probably know, involves a journey to the center of the earth), there's just enough tinkering to get things off track - I can understand the inclusion of Axel's love interest to keep the movie going, but what to make of the mysterious fellow explorer who joins them on their adventures and who turns out to be a time traveler? Here, the filmmakers, in an attempt to offer up quaint retro fantasy, mix Verne and H.G. Wells to uninspired effect.

Most of the film involves the explorers walking, talking, and walking some more, while occasionally, if briefly, encountering a beast of some sort. While it's not particularly involving, it's not too off-putting, either. Then comes the finale, and the script suddenly remembers it was supposed to include a whole bunch of monsters, which turn out to be a couple of stuntmen in animal suits running around and looking generally inane. Simón, whose talents as a filmmaker are all too questionable, follows this up with a climax that confuses "loud" with "exciting." As our heroes attempt to escape the volcano and outrun danger, we wind up with little more than cast members shouting, camera shaking, and a heavy rumble on the soundtrack. For all its noise, it's actually quite a snooze.

"Journey" marked Simón's feature debut as a director. He would follow this film with another Verne adaptation, "Mystery of Monster Island," only to switch to the world of exploitation horror and cheapjack idiocy with titles as "Slugs," "Pieces," "The Rift," and the infamous "Pod People." "Journey," then, is arguably Simón's best work, a fact which can at best be described as hideously depressing.

The DVD

Media Blasters offers up "Journey" in its complete, uncut European version, which runs four minutes longer than the American edit.

Video

There are plenty of scratches and dirt gumming up what is already a mediocre transfer. The whole thing's soft and overly grainy and a tad too dark. Presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen format, with anamorphic enhancement.

Audio

The Dolby stereo soundtrack is serviceable, yet unimpressive. This is mostly due to the print itself, which used a crummy redubbing process for all the dialogue. The actors' voices seem to float slightly above them, constantly sounding disconnected. No subtitles are provided.

Extras

For those curious how the U.S. version differed, we get the alternate opening credits of "When Time Began," which features a hideous, slightly indecipherable theme song. The credits are offered in full screen (perhaps the U.S. version was itself cropped?) and come from faded, ugly source material. (The credit text is of no help - it's in a brownish-yellow, and sometimes you have to squint to make out the letters.)

The film's lengthy original trailer, presented in anamorphic widescreen, looks much better, although it gives away every action scene in the entire picture.

A stills gallery plays in slideshow format and runs just over one minute. It's not that exciting.

Finally, a collection of trailers for other Media Blasters releases is offered. The preview for "Voltron" is a new trailer hyping the DVD, while the others are the original, rather dated Japanese trailers. (They're for "The Great Yokai War," "Space Amoeba," and the brilliantly titled "Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds," in case you were wondering.)

Final Thoughts

"Journey" is more lifeless and dull than it is straight-up lousy, although those gorilla suits don't help much. The ugly transfer does little to help improve matters. Skip It.
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