Thursday, August 16, 2012

139. JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959)

I don't seem able to get review copies from them, so I have only seen two of Twilight Time's much-praised limited edition Blu-rays thus far, the ones I was willing to pay their somewhat steep asking price for: Cy Endfield's MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) and this new presentation of Henry Levin's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. In both cases, the lustre of the image and the razor pitch of the music and effects tracks (presented on an isolated track) were disarming in the best way possible; it's a cliché, but watching them is like being transported directly back to the kiddie matinees of my youth, when I first felt those larger-than-life emotions that goaded me into committing the name of Bernard Herrmann to memory. This is arguably Herrmann's greatest score, and it's a worthy experience in its own right to strip the film of its dialogue and let its imagery wash over you as epic accompaniment to its concert.

This is a film I've seen on many different video media over the decades, from Beta to LaserDisc to DVD and now Blu-ray, and I can only say it has never played better at home than it does now, unless it was on the big screen as a first-run release. But the clarity of the CinemaScope image is often breathtaking, and even those elements that one might look upon as cheap in a lesser media are somehow inflated with a kind of pulp majesty. Made at 20th Century Fox during his years of reign there, it's like an Irwin Allen production, but made with genuine intelligence and wit. The iguana dimetrodons feel large and lethal via this technological underpinning, and there's a feeling of depth and magic to the brilliant art direction. Most importantly, though, there is Levin's own storytelling sense (felt just as well in his THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM some years after this), the authoritative glory of James Mason's performance (he doesn't hit a false note, nor an uncommanding one, in the entire picture), and also the sweet sincerity of Pat Boone's juvenile lead. Arlene Dahl, whom I remember looking matronly when I first saw this, now strikes me as deliciously seasoned in her sex appeal and a delightful foil for Mason. Future DARK SHADOWS villain Thayer David provides a stately sense of menace and earns his deserved comeuppance after committing an unforgivable transgression. He's not often discussed, but I also find Peter Ronson, as the Icelandic guide, an indispensible part of the film's charm.

Viewed via Twilight Time Blu-ray, limited to 3000 copies (now OOP).

2 comments:

  1. I tried to tell you that this run of "pricey" but ultimately rewarding releases should be caught up awhile ago Tim..Bought THE EGYPTIAN, RAPTURE (which I STIll wish you'd see)m and THE WAYWARD BUS (also another underrated and fine film) from them. DESIREE and THE SOUND AND THE FURY NEXT UP!

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  2. I missed getting the blu-ray of this and I'm quite annoyed. Drat! I did get the Egyptian on Blu-ray

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