Code Red // 1976 // 91 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // December 1st, 2006
"We are going on a journey -- a journey to the center of the
"In that case, I won't need to pack your umbrella."
When "Mystery Science Theater 3000's Pod People" is listed as one of the director's credits on the back of the DVD case, it lowers my expectations somewhat. Still, a really cheesy, corny, sci-fi flick can be a lot of fun. Trouble is, Jules Verne's The Fabulous Journey to the Center of the Earth (originally released in the United States as Where Time Began) isn't that fun puff of cheese and corn.
What makes this Journey disastrous is the good intentions of Director Juan Piquer Simón. The movie is based on a classic Jules Verne novel and the director intends to make a high-minded, literary adaptation of it. This isn't going to be some tasteless ripoff like the latest TV incarnation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, by gosh! Drat!
The director establishes the tone early, setting the opening credits to clips from early silent Jules Verne adaptations, including Lumiere's From the Earth to the Moon. He adds the following explanation: "The film you are about to see is a tribute to these pioneers of the film world of science fiction." (The U.S. version of the opening credits, also included, uses the clips but takes away this explanation. It is not missed.)
The movie proper begins in 1898 Hamburg. British actor Kenneth More (Father Brown) plays Dr. Otto Lindenbrock, who buys a mysterious volume in a bookstore after seeing its current owner fail to make a sale with the store owner. The volume tells of a journey to the center of the earth, starting with a trip down a dormant volcano. So, naturally, Lindenbrock decides to try it. His niece Glauben (Ivonne Santis) wants to come, but is told that the center of the Earth is "no place for a woman." Instead, Lindenbrock decides to take along her soldier beau Axel (Pep Munne). Good thing Glauben turns up with the train tickets when Axel forgets them!
By the time they get to the volcano, they've picked up a porter, Hans (Frank Brana, The Pod People), who speaks very little and dreams about starting a sheep farm with his fee. Inside the volcano, they meet Olsen (Jack Taylor, The Man in the Brown Suit), who has been wandering around down there for a couple of months before they arrived.
The first half hour, as Lindenbrock plans his journey, is rather dull -- complete with three minutes or so of our intrepid heroes walking toward the volcano. This scene is beautiful, but deadly in a snorish way rather than a noirish way. Around the 30-minute mark, there are some ominous signs: eyes watching the expedition and a wind blowing through a skull-like opening in the rocks. Bu they don't t amount to much. Before the expedition arrives at the center of the Earth and finds it quickly turning dangerous (around the 52-minute mark), there's one more overly long sequence in which the travelers test their echoes on the cavern walls.
At last, we get to the adventure. The stop-motion-animated action scenes lack the joyous artistry of the silent films shown over the opening credits. They're also summed up well in the three-minute trailer, which suggests that this one could have been cut down to a one- or two-reeler without much trouble. The best of these effects are a bloody but fake-looking battle between two dinosaurs and a fireball storm. The worst would have to be the giant carnivorous turtles. At least the expedition thinks they'd be carnivorous if it weren't so easy to outrun them.
The dialogue, possibly dubbed since the movie was made in Spain, features lines like "Under the Earth, you have to expect the unexpected" and "A prehistoric boneyard's no place to bring up babies" (Axel's awkward proposal to Glauben). Yeah, I think those were the best lines.
Lost fans will be mildly interested to note that, like the mysterious island on that show, the center of the Earth has odd properties that lead to rapid healing.
The picture has many lines, scratches, and soft images; flaws which suggest that there weren't any long-term expectations for this movie. Too much of the cavern filming was poorly lit. The sound is adequate.
The stills gallery includes posters and promotional information for the movie, as well as production photos.
It's a shame that Journey wasn't a better movie, since the Spanish locations were beautiful and the combination of Jules Verne's imagination and stop-motion animation had possibilities.
Where Time Began? It's more like where time stopped for 90 minutes. The road to the center of the Earth may be paved with good intentions, but Director Juan Piquer Simón ultimately is guilty of making a dull movie.
Review content copyright © 2006 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Stills Gallery
* Original Trailer