Tuesday, October 5, 2010

JULES VERNE’S THE FABULOUS JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1976)

JULES VERNE’S THE FABULOUS JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1976)
Director: Juan Piquer Simón
Code Red/Media Blasters

It’s hard to believe that Spanish exploitation director Juan Piquer Simón’s first feature film is a family-friendly adventure based on a novel by Jules Verne. After all, this is the guy who would later give us PIECES and SLUGS! Shot in 1975, JULES VERNE’S THE FABULOUS JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1978 under the title WHERE TIME BEGAN. Since the 1959 Fox film starring James Mason is so well received, Simón had a tough act to follow but managed to do an ok job, even if the cheese quota is high.


At a book shop, an odd elderly man sells to Prof. Otto Lindenbrock (Kenneth More) an ancient manuscript scribed by Swedish adventurer Arne Saknussemm. After Lindenbrock decodes the text from a piece of paper which dropped from the book, he discovers where and when to enter the center of the earth, believing that Saknussemm successfully traveled within it surface many years earlier. Lindenbrock then sets up an exhibition to Iceland, taking along his niece Glauben (Ivonne Sentis), her soldier fiancé Axel (Pep Munné) and they are later joined by a quiet shepherd (Frank Braña), who is promised pay in sheep for traveling along with them. The quartet eventually make their way into the center of the earth via an inactive volcano, following Saknussemm’s “AS” markings as a guide. Their adventures have them meeting a mysterious explorer named Olsen (Jack Taylor) and an array of strange creatures amidst an underground sea.

Using some exotic Spanish locations (including the Canary Islands), the film is comparable in look and feel to the Edgar Rice Burroughs adventured produced by John Dark and directed by Kevin Conner in England during the same period. The budget was obviously low (it’s hard to find a Spanish fantasy film with money behind it) but still has some impressive backdrops, including a den of enlarged mushrooms, an immense graveyard of bones and a petrified forest. The creatures seen included two sea serpents that tear at each other’s throats, a lair of giant turtles that peek out from under their shells and a Kong-like gorilla (a guy in a suit). The effects can be laughable, but the monsters are engaging enough that you wish they had more screen time.

Acclaimed actor Kenneth More (A NIGHT TO REMEMBER) rarely appeared in these types of films, so it’s surprising to see him here, but he adds the proper air of British authority that the part needs. Most of the remaining cast will be familiar to those who follow Spanish horror, including American born Taylor (who appeared in numerous Jess Franco and Paul Naschy movies) and Braña (HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES). Lone Fleming, an actress who appeared in the first two “Blind Dead” films, appears briefly, as does Ricardo Palacios (another regular Naschy co-star) as train ticket collector. Director Simón would again tackle Jules Verne in juvenile fashion with MONSTER ISLAND, which was notable for having Naschy and Peter Cushing in the same movie.

Code Red presents JULES VERNE’S THE FABULOUS JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors look great, fleshtones look natural, and except for some minor abrasions on the source print, the overall transfer shines. The English audio track is strong with no noticeable defects. Included is an original trailer, an alternative U.S. title sequence (featuring a pop song played over footage from a silent Georges Méliès film), a still gallery, and trailers for other Media Blasters releases, including the upcoming LEGEND OF DINOSAURS AND MONSTER BIRDS. (George R. Reis)

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