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Journey To The Centre Of The Earth
cast: Kenneth More, Pep Munné, Ivonne Sentis, Frank Bana, and Jack Taylor

director: Juan Piquer Simon

86 minutes (PG) 1976 widescreen ratio 16:9
Fremantle DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Patrick Hudson
As the credits rolled inexplicably on a background of the Moon, alarm bells started ringing and I quickly realised that I wasn't about to see the classic 1959 version of Jules Verne's famous story starring James Mason as Prof Oliver Lindenbrook from Edinburgh and Pat Boone as Alec. In fact, I was watching the not-so classic 1976 version with Kenneth More as Professor Otto von Lindenbrook from Hanover, and Pep Munné as Axel. Also known as Where Time Began and Viaje al Centro de la Tierra, this Spanish production has been dubbed into English then likely re-cut for the international market, and the odd disclaimer at the start makes me wonder if they had copyright problems with the Verne estate or the producers of the 1959 film.

As it is this is mostly a workman-like retelling of the spelunking yarn, where Professor Lindenbrook finds an ancient manuscript that tells of an ancient explorer's journey beneath the surface of the Earth through a volcano in Norway. He follows the clues in the book and leads an expedition that includes his niece, her fiancé and a local guide to retrace the ancient journey into the bowels of the Earth. Along the way they encounter rock falls, quicksand, mysterious strangers, giant mushrooms, a huge underground sea, giant turtles and, of course, rubber dinosaurs.

This film reminded me of the sort of cheaply made European productions that used to turn up on TV in the early 1980s as filler during long afternoons in the summer holidays. It's rather a cheap and cheerful production that makes good use of location and sets, with effective caves and a good-looking petrified mushroom forest. Kenneth More makes an agreeably gruff professor, displaying the tweedy middle-aged machismo of an old tree, and Frank Bana and Jack Taylor do what they can with their underwritten roles.

In other respects the film is a little disappointing. The dubbing is lifeless and often difficult to understand. I struggled to grasp the names of Axel and (especially) Glauben, and their constant lovers' prattle was mostly unintelligible, mawkish meeping that nonetheless had me gritting my teeth. Some of the minor characters are entirely incomprehensible, and their comic schtick is reduced to tiresome Continental slapstick. The creature effects have a certain na�ve charm, but hand puppets have their limitations - in some scenes the dinosaurs on the offensive look like Rod Hull's emu going for Parkinson. It's not that an effort hasn't been made, but it looks like the filmmakers just didn't have a clue where to start making monster effects and opted for painted rubber gloves in a paddling pool.

A quirky addition to the core story is the mysterious Olsen, who joins Lindenbrook's party halfway through their trek underground. Olsen carries an enigmatic box that he says has great power, and he sets off some explosions in the sea for no readily apparent reason to show us what a hardcore thing his brass box is. Olsen's presence beneath the surface of the Earth is never adequately explained. At one point he takes Glauben and Axel to see a tiny futuristic city inhabited by miniature versions of himself and that's never really explained either, except for some nebulous talk about the theory of relativity and time travel that's a little hard to follow. Jack Taylor's well-cut beard and intense portrayal in this scene make the character appear a little bit like Maurice Gibb trying out for Donnie Darko.

While a bit of slog at first, the thrills come regularly once the action gets underground and More's Lindenbrook is enjoyable whenever he's on screen. There's plenty of crazy dialogue, bad acting and cheesy effects, with the added spice of a late-career Kenneth More paying some bills with gusto. If you like campy old movies, then this is an amiable way to kill a couple of hours on a lazy afternoon.
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