He has been vilified as the ‘Spanish Ed Wood’ and was in the director’s chair for 1982’s gore-a-thon, PIECES. I am talking of course about Juan Piquer Simón, whose first full length feature was an ambitious adaptation of Science Fiction pioneer Jules Verne’s 1864 novel, Voyage au centre de la Terre.

Simón’s movie, JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH (aka Where Time Began (USA)), was made in 1977 and was a remake of sorts of a 1959 movie of the same title starring Pat Boone and James Mason. It is definitely NOT to be confused with the 3d movie made in 2009 starring Brendan Fraser!

Simón’s movie has been given an apparent ‘remastering’ make over by BBC Studios and Post Production and has been released by Odeon Entertainment on DVD as part of their ‘Best of British’ collection. This is a little odd to me considering the only British cast member appears to be thespian actor Kenneth More. He is joined by classic exploitation icon, Jack Taylor, but apart from that it is a wholesome Spanish affair!

The movie begins when a mysterious old beggar flogs a few books in order to provide himself with a meal to Professor Otto Lindenbrock (Kenneth More).

The Professor although initially apathetic toward his newly acquired battered tomes is bewildered by a strange looking coded map that falls out of the pages of an intriguing work of fiction describing what exists at the centre of the Earth.

Along with his nieces Fiancé, Axel (Pep Munne), they fortuitously decipher the map (great invention that ‘mirror’ thing eh?!) and it’s not long before the two men are planning a Planet delving excursion via a hidden entrance to the Earths bowels in some far away mountains.

It’s obviously far too dangerous for Lindenbrock’s niece Glauben (Ivonne Sentis) to accompany them so she is duly left behind.

A pioneering scientist Lindenbrock may well be, but a seasoned traveller he is not. Rather embarrassingly neither the Professor nor Axel remembered the train tickets to the first leg of their trip. How lucky it was then that Glauben ignored their sexist instructions to stay home and keep the lab tidy and instead miraculously appeared in the carriage just as the duo are about to be kicked off by an unimpressed guard. She of course has the three tickets... hey wait – THREE TICKETS? I thought she wasn’t part of their excursion plans? Anyway…

Firstly they meet up with a character (who evidently did NOT appear in the book version of the story), a mysterious scientist named Olsen (Jack Taylor). Yes I know, I know; extreme providence got the trio this far, but Olsen simply got their first ok? (Rule number one of extreme B-Movies: Don’t ask too many questions!)

As the troop continue their underground voyage, their theories of the existence of incandescent layers of lava or unfathomable balls of gas at the Earth’s core are smashed to smithereens. As if tearing away the layers of evolution as their trip unfolds, they encounter a primordial ocean complete with ravenous dinosaurs, gargantuan turtles, even more colossal mushrooms and, to top it off, an angry (but rather cuddly looking) Neanderthal ape!

Well it sure sounds like a lot of fun but I found the movie quite hard work in all honesty. The fundamental problem for me was the rather sluggish pace. The opening third of the movie, made up poorly dubbed dialogue that served to set up the narrative, was driven by Simon’s loyalty to the original book. Indeed the original 1864 novel was cited as a historical account of evolution cunningly weaved into a fictional story by the author. But just because Verne was, to some extent, viewed as the Michael Crichton of his day, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Simón was Spielberg!

The slow motion, soft focus shots of rubber dinosaurs shaking their heads with bits of raw meat clenched within their jaws (i.e. ripping each other apart!) offered a few brief moments of action, but even these sequences were accomplished at such a slow stride, it hardly felt like a worthy pay off.

We had lumbering turtles and some poor sod in a gorilla outfit to help depict the Planet’s prehistoric progression, but again, they were shot in such a decelerated fashion they failed to even make the "so bad its good" grade.

The most intriguing element for me was when our protagonists ambled through a land filled with mushrooms the size of housing estates! It begged for one of the explorers to just have a wee nibble just to see, in the interest of science obviously, whether or not they contained copious amounts of psilocybin… They didn’t oblige and I remained bored!

The disc does at least do what it says on the cover and presented an obviously rare print in very good shape. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack was crisp with no crackles and didn’t, to my ears anyway, transmit any conspicuous snares.

The menu screen offers "Play Movie", "Chapter Selection" (of which there are only 6 to choose from) and a "Bonus" option. In here we find the original Theatrical trailer, a Stills Gallery, (mmm those mushrooms look so teasingly tantalizing) and a Best of British trailer reel from the Odeon Catalogue.

While these are pretty standard inclusions, what I did think was a very nice touch to the DVD’s package was a fold out inner sheet within the DVD’s casing simply titled "Adventure Notes". It offered some excellent information regarding the movie itself before talking about the director and the cast. Its reverse page goes on to document the life and career of the author of the original book, Jules Verne.

The innocuous PG cited on the bottom left corner of the cover meant this was another SGM sponsored ‘kid’s club matinee screening’ at the Lissenburg residence! But the bored enquiries of "Daddy, when are the dinosaurs coming?" kind of told its own story!

That said, I would recommend this release to anyone that does have affection for the movie due to seeing it in their childhood (and naturally hardcore Science Fiction B-Movie collectors) but for me it was a little lacklustre to ever consider a revisit.

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Released by Odeon Entertainment
Region 2
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review