it comes to good adventure stories, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
will arguably feature among the very best. It is one of those films that
continue to delight audiences both old and new. In terms of elements it seems
to tick all the boxes. At its heart, there is a fine, good natured yet entirely
gripping story. A wondrous subterranean vista provides the viewer with
monsters, vast underground oceans, villains and plenty of cliff-hanger moments
was perhaps a well-timed stroke of luck that some of the stories penned by
Jules Verne were entering a period of public domain status. Two of Verne's
adapted novels were to feature James Mason. Disney's adventure 20,000 Leagues Under
the Sea (1954) starred Kirk Douglas as a 19th-century whaler and Mason as Nemo,
captain of the story’s legendary submarine, the Nautilus. Five years later,
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) was made by Twentieth Century Fox an
ambitious project which starred Mason as professor Lindenbrook, who sets about
leading an expedition into an Icelandic volcano along with his group to a
magical, underground world.
Lindenbrook discovers a long-hidden message that reveals the existence of a
passage into the centre of the Earth. He leads a team of unlikely adventurers including
singer Pat Boone (who is actually rather good), Arlene Dahl, and a duck named Gertrude.
The group’s daring expedition will see them come up against exploding
volcanoes, rockslides and even flesh-eating reptiles! The film also features a
classic score by the great composer Bernard Hermann and was lavishly filmed in
stunning Cinemascope. A landmark in both science-fiction and adventure
filmmaking, Eureka Classics presents the movie for the first time on Blu-ray in
the UK and from a very impressive 4K restoration.
keen fan of the movie, I’ve followed closely the numerous home video releases
over several decades – from the humble VHS, Laserdisc and DVD era through today.
Whilst each format provided a natural improvement in terms of quality, it was a
film that never looked entirely satisfactory, with issues around dull colours
and an overall grainy presentation. I did have some initial fears about the new
4K restoration, mainly concerning if it would only enhance the grainy look to
the film. Thankfully, my worst fears were immediately put to rest.
new Blu-ray looks nothing short of stunning; there is a genuine freshness to
the picture quality. The colour retains a wonderful, natural feel, vivid but
never too rich, especially in the opening scenes based around the college and
the Edinburgh street locations. The colour is ramped up a degree for the
subterranean scenes, as of course they should. But these scenes are now nicely rendered,
bursting with shimmering colours and crisp detail. I was also pleasantly
surprised by the lack of grain that had previously hampered so many other home
editions. Instead, the 1080p, 4K restoration (provided by Twilight Time) is
beautifully balanced, extremely clean and as close to perfection as we’re ever
likely to see. It’s been a long, patient journey for fans of the movie. Without
a doubt, Journey to the Center of the Earth should always have looked this
good. Leo Tover’s glorious Cinemascope photography has never been showcased so
well, and I very much doubt if it could ever be improved upon. Twentieth
Century Fox’s Cinemascope features have never fallen short in terms of rich
detail, it’s always been there. However, in respect of Journey to the Center of
the Earth, it’s arguably never received the kind of close attention that it’s so
fully deserved. Eureka’s release also provides a couple of audio options
including a stereo PCM track and a rather impressive DTS 5.1 HD master. Both
tracks are clear, clean and dynamic.
the extras is a very enjoyable audio commentary with actress Diane Baker and
film historians Steven C. Smith and Nick Redman. Diane Baker really emerges as
a wonderful commentator with an incredibly detailed memory and she has no
trouble reciting anecdotes from the production. Steven C. Smith (a Bernard
Herrmann historian) also demonstrates a vast knowledge of cinema and engages
effortlessly even when veering away from Herrmann’s incredibly important
contribution to the film. With two such enthusiastic and knowledgeable guests,
Nick Redman’s role as moderator is made very easy, and the entire duration of
the commentary is both an insightful and absorbing experience.
included is an isolated music and effects audio track.
to this release is a video interview with critic and author Kim Newman. As
always, Newman provides many important insights into the production, a look at
the written works of Jules Verne and the subsequent adaptations of his stories to
the screen. Lasting around 15 minutes, it’s a welcome and enjoyable piece.
is also a previously released featurette on the film’s restoration history
which provides split screen examples of various home editions of the movie.
extras are rounded off with the original theatrical trailer which features
James Mason’s perfectly delivered voice over.
Packaging consists of new artwork, which is ok, but I
would much rather see the original poster artwork put to good use. Inside
contains there is a booklet featuring an original review of the film from 1959;
a poster gallery; and a selection of rare archival imagery.
Overall, it’s a terrific package with a stunning
presentation of an important movie. Fans of the genre and the film, should at
last find a great deal of satisfaction in Eureka’s release. It’s been a long
time coming, but entirely worth the wait.