Turner Classic Movies
Journey To The Center Of The Earth 1959 vs. 2008
Written by A.J. Hakari   

Few authors have sparked the imagination quite like Jules Verne. His work has shown fans that adventure can be found anywhere -- even their own backyards; and he has inspired readers to gaze upon their own world with childlike wonder. Verne's various novels have been given cinematic treatment on a number of occasions; the most often adapted arguably being A Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Tackled on both the big and small screens, Journey has endured more renditions than necessary. Two versions stand out amongst the rest: a grand-scale epic starring James Mason from 1959 and 2008's frothy adventure that sees Brendan Fraser headlining the cast. So how do these flicks compare? Does either one truly do justice to Verne's vision? Surprisingly, the results aren't so great in either film's favor.


journeytcenter250.jpgIn terms of plot, although it makes its fair share of changes from the original source material, 20th Century Fox's 1959's Journey to the Center of the Earth is closer to what Verne had in mind. The film takes place in 19th century Scotland, where recently-knighted Professor Lindenbrook (Mason) has made the discovery of a lifetime. When star pupil Alec McEwan (Pat Boone) gives the Prof a sample of hardened lava, he a message inside written by a scientist last known to be in search of a way
James Mason

to venture beneath the surface of the earth. It doesn't take much to inspire Lindenbrook to follow in his footsteps, heading off to Iceland with McEwan, a deceased colleague's widow (Arlene Dahl), and a helpful handyman (Peter Ronson) to make the perilous journey through a dormant volcano and down into the innermost reaches of the planet itself.

journeycentere.jpgWarner Bros. Pictures 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D, on the other hand, uses Verne's novel as a jumping-off point rather than being a straight adaptation. After discovering some notes in his dead brother's copy of Journey and comparing them to his own findings, goofball scientist Trevor Anderson (Fraser) proposes that what Verne wrote about might be the truth. With his cranky nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) and a beautiful mountain guide (Anita Briem) in tow, Trevor makes the same journey described in Verne's tale, encountering the very same underground sea and massive mushrooms he wrote about. But when the group finds that the temperature is rising at an alarming rate, they must press onward and find a way to get back to the surface before it's too late.


journeycenterearth-lizard.jpgSpectacle is the name of the game here, and both Journeys rise to the occasion in their own ways. For the 1959 film, Fox spared no expense in making their picture as eye-popping as possible, from the great period detail of 1880s Scotland to the Technicolor wonderland the characters encounter below the surface. Though not without its cheesier moments (namely the lizards awkwardly made to look gigantic), the '59 Journey was ahead of its time in terms of visual effects work, something the Academy recognized by nominating the film for three technical Oscars. Of the two films, this Journey plays out more like a travelogue, a sightseeing tour that won't disappoint the eyes as it makes its way to the end.

Journey 3-D, on the other hand, ups the ante in terms of visual excitement. Not only is the flick presented in digital 3-D (which, admittedly, was a bit of a pain to endure), it's disposition is a bit more action-oriented. It possesses many of the same sights as the '59 film, but it incorporates a few more to ratchet up the thrills, namely intensifying the
Josh Hutcherson, Brendan Fraser, Anita Briem

group's encounter with a beastly dinosaur and adding some vicious flying fish to their trek across the huge underground ocean. Like the '59 Journey, the effects work isn't bad here, although such scenes depend greatly on the 3-D gimmick; those seeing the movie in 2-D theaters will be left wondering why stuff's being shoved in their faces all the time.


journeycenterearth-scene200.jpgHere's where things start to get murky for our two films. I mentioned that the '59 Journey plays like a travelogue, which it does -- to a fault. It seems so preoccupied with just showing things that it never gets around to actually doing something exciting with them. You know a movie is in trouble when the most exhilarating sequences involve a slight rockslide. The rest of the time, the cast just seems content to wander around the Carlsbad Caverns' locations the film was shot at, pointing at stuff and randomly dancing out of nowhere.

In contrast, Journey 3-D almost has too much action. With the 3-Djourneycenterearth2008-action.jpg gimmick, the film has been referred to as little more than a glorified theme park right, which isn't all too bad of a description. At maybe a half-hour long, this would've been a fun and breezy little jaunt, but at three times that length, the action sequences start to grow stale as more and more are piled on to pad out the running time.


Arlene Dahl

Journey '59 easily wins the battle of the actors. As much of an unsympathetic grouch as his character is at times, James Mason fits the explorer type rather well, bringing to his role an air of authority and an eagerness to dive headfirst into the unknown. He's joined in his journey by wide-eyed innocent Boone (whose vague attempt at a Scottish accent wanes as much as a skyscraper made of cellophane) and fiery widow Dahl, who's not about to let Lindenbrook's misogynistic ways interfere with her role in the expedition.

In Journey 3-D, strong characterizations are another aspect of the film
Josh Hutcherson & Brendan Fraser

that's been ditched in favor of some more corny 3-D effects. Among the cast's (Brendan Fraser, Anita Briem, Josh Hutcherson) roles, most  are as one-note as can be, with only Fraser generating enough charm and charisma to let the audience know that at least one of the actors is having fun.



So which of the two Journeys comes out on top? My scales actually tip in favor of the 3-D version, though it's sort of a hollow victory. The action is tiresome, the 3-D is a big bother, and the characters are slim, but the effects are pretty good, and it actually stops once in a while to gaze in true wonderment at the dazzling surroundings it packs in. As classy as the '59 Journey is, it's way too buttoned-up and stodgy to truly have fun with. Neither journey is one I'd recommend taking, but if I had to choose, I'd say slap on the glasses and have as good a time as you can.

Photo credits: 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. Pictures




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