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August 2012

At The Earth's Core

cast: Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro, Cy Grant, and Godfrey James

director: Kevin Connor

86 minutes (PG) 1976
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Studio Canal DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by J.C. Hartley

At The Earth's Core

Unlike this year's Edgar Rice Burroughs' adaptation John Carter, this outing from 1976 didn't have the benefit of CGI, depending for its monsters on extras in rubber suits and, for its effects, on back-lot jungles, camera tricks and lashings of magma. Made by Amicus, Hammer's cousins at one remove, this followed on from an earlier Burroughs' adaptation The Land That Time Forgot also directed by Kevin Connor and with a script by Michael Moorcock. Not wishing to leave any horse un-flogged, 1977 brought The People That Time Forgot, and EMI joined the bandwagon in 1978 with Warlords Of Atlantis, not a Burroughs' adaptation but bringing together director Connor with star Doug McClure once again.

McClure came to fame as the droll-faced accident-prone ranch-hand Trampas, in NBC's The Virginian, the hugely popular western series also starring James Drury, Clu Gulager, and Lee J. Cobb. This show was a staple of the BBC schedules on a Friday night, making McClure a big star in England which no doubt paved the way for these British-made Amicus productions. Back in the USA, McClure was also one of the stars of Search, the innovative spy-fi series (also from NBC), in which agents, equipped with miniaturised hardware monitored from a central control, fought everything from organised crime to threats to homeland security. Ripe for a DVD release I would have thought; I can't be the only person who remembers this.

In At The Earth's Core, McClure's David Innes self-made-millionaire funds his old geology professor Dr Abner Perry (the great Peter Cushing doing his comedy scientist routine) in his creation of an Iron Mole drilling machine with which he intends to drill through a Welsh mountain for reasons too obscure to care about. Things go awry from the outset and the drill ends up cracking through the mantle to emerge into a lost world. In the novel the land of Pellucidar is on the internal surface of the Earth's hollow shell, the film doesn't bother with such explanations. The novel was written in 1914 drawing on a canon of hollow-world fiction.

Discovering prehistoric jungles and giant bird-like reptiles, the explorers are captured by the Sagoths, chittering ape-like soldiers of the ruling Mahers, cruel telepathic leathery parrot-lizards. David rescues Dia, a subterranean princess, from the attentions of Hoojah the Sly but unaware of underground protocol fails to claim her as his mate leaving her prey to Hoojah's continuing pestering, and ultimately having to fight Jubal the Ugly for her. Taken to the city of the Mahers, yes - the bird reptiles have a city, David teams up with Ra (Cy Grant, Lieutenant Green in the Andersons' Captain Scarlet) unites the human tribes of Pellucidar and goes up against the Mahers. The cast has a refreshing ethnic mix, Cy Grant was the first black actor to appear regularly on British television, and Ra's tribe is composed of Afro-Caribbean actors and actresses. Dia is played by the very lovely Caroline Munro, female star of a host of British SF and fantasy films.

There are some considerable inconsistencies in the plot, Dr Perry gets work in some sort of library, transcribes and translates a hieroglyphic language, which leads to him discovering the secret of the Mahers which seems to involve a big egg being heated in liquid magma. The Mahers choose certain humans for some sort of sacrifice, as the victims tend to be attractive females there is an undercurrent of transgressive sexuality implicit in these scenes, which only involve feasting on human flesh in the source novel.

When the Mahers have been defeated and their city destroyed, the Iron Mole is mysteriously restored to full working order, and David and Dr Perry prepare to leave. Sadly for David, Dia opts to stay behind with her people. The final scene of the film is the cutting nose of the Iron Mole emerging through the White House lawn. Cheesy, yes, simplistically plotted and with less than convincing special effects, even on the TV after a trip to the pub 30 odd years ago, which was when I first saw it, this was dated low-budget hokum. There is however a certain amount of guilty delight in unpretentious twaddle like this, making any rating superfluous. The score is by Mike Vickers of Manfred Mann and includes some effective electronic sections.

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