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Film / Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

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A 1959 film adaptation of Jules Verne's novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, directed by Henry Levin and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

The basic storyline is the same as in the novel, following a professor and his assistants as they follow the ancient explorer Arne Saknussen's notes to find an underground trail that will lead them to the center of the planet. A number of changes are made, however: the heroes' home is moved from the German city of Hamburg to the Scottish one of Edinburgh, Professor Otto Lidenbrock is renamed Oliver Lindenbrook, and his nephew and viewpoint character Axel becomes one his students and is renamed Alec McEwan. Two new characters are also added: Carla Göteborg, the widow of one of Lindenbrook's rivals in the race to the center of the Earth, who joins the expedition to protect her husband's reputation, and Count Saknussemm, a descendant of Arne's who believes that only he has the right to follow his ancestor's footsteps. Count Saknussemm will protect his perceived birthright with deadly force — he's the reason why Carla finds herself a widow at the start — and provides an antagonist force to the narrative, which the novel lacks.

Due to the movie's age, the practical effects are often a little crude — notably, lizards with glued-on horns serve as stand-ins for prehistoric reptiles.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Sir Oliver walks through the marching band of a Highland regiment because he's wrapped up in reading his newspaper.
  • Accidental Discovery: The plumb bob that clues Lindenbrook in to Arne Saknussem's solo expedition is revealed because it happened to be covered by a piece of volcanic rock that Eric bought as a souvenir to Oliver who was surprised by its heaviness despite volcanic rock being pourous by nature, and a mishap at his laboratory ended up destroying the rock via an explosion when he was trying to melt it down to better figure out its composition.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Hans is a redhead in the novel, but is blond here.
  • Adaptational Name Change: To accompany the Adaptational Nationality below, Prof. Otto Lidenbrock becomes Prof. Oliver Lindenbrook, and Axel becomes Alec McEwan. Gretchen's equivalent character is named Jenny.
  • Adaptational Nationality: In the book, most of the characters are Germans, while in the movie, they're Scots, albeit ones with Scottish accents that range from shaky to nonexistent. Presumably, so soon after the end of the Second World War, American audiences weren't keen to see Germans as protagonists.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Sir Oliver is sure that his will not be the last expedition to the center, and wonders if any of his students will carry on his work. Hans, meanwhile, learns enough English to offer that, if Sir Oliver ever goes back down there, he'll come too.
  • Artistic License – Space: Lindenbrook remarks that more is known about the stars and galaxies than about the Earth's deeper layers. At the time the film is set, distant galaxies were called "spiral nebulae"; only our own Milky Way was referred to as a "galaxy".
  • Atlantis: The climax takes place here, with Atlantis buried in an air pocket cave rather than being the usual Underwater Ruins. Naturally, even the ruins are ultimately destroyed in a Cataclysm Climax.
  • Bad Boss: It's heavily implied Count Saknussem literally worked his servant to death.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Sir Oliver Lindenbrook and Carla Göteborg snipe at each other throughout the journey.
  • The Big Guy: As in the book, Hans. He towers over the other characters and easily resolves a Take My Hand! situation described below.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Sir Oliver briefly puts on a Scottish accent to imitate his mother. This raises the question that, if James Mason was able to do the accent, why he didn't do one for the rest of the movie, since his character is also supposed to be a Scot.
  • Canon Foreigner: Professor Göteberg and his wife Carla, Gertrude the duck, and Count Saknussem and his servant. Basically, half the principal cast.
  • Clothing Damage: The heroes' clothes get progressively more damaged the further they go. This ends with Alec completely naked by the time he gets to the surface, where he's stuck in a tree in an Italian monestary and is trying to tell the nuns coming to his rescue with a ladder to fetch him some pants first. The branch he's sitting on breaks off just when the the nuns figure out what he's asking for, and he has to grab one of the lambs grazing nearby to cover his crotch while the nuns shield their eyes in terror.
  • Determinator: Arne Saknussem is very, very dead when the group finally find him, but he was mere feet away from a possible exit when he expired and Lindenbrook figures out, from the skeleton, that he broke his leg at some point and dragged himself all the way here.
  • Dies Wide Open: Count Saknussem's servant keels over off-screen (although the Count says that he worked himself to death, and considering he was packing as much weight as a mule and the huge amounts of heat of the cave, it's probably right) and Alec (and the audience) sees the servant's eyes are still wide in shock in death.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Prof. Göteberg is initially set up as the villain before being murdered by the real bad guy.
  • Disney Villain Death: Count Saknussem leans against a loose rock pile and is buried in an avalanche just after he kills and eats Gertrude, sparing the others from having to kill or otherwise deal with him.
  • Doomed Predecessor: Arne Saknussemm, who both made the MacGuffin and marked the trail the protagonists follow, died centuries before the story and his skeleton is found in Atlantis pointing to the Door to Before.
  • Double Take:
    • Alec uncovers Göteberg's blanket-draped body while searching the hotel room's stockpiled supplies, then covers it up again and goes on searching for a moment before realizing what he's seen.
    • Lindenbrook agrees absentmindedly to Carla's declaration that she'll be joining them, before backing up, asking for clarification, and protesting vehemently.
  • Fungus Humongous: The party encounters a forest of giant mushrooms just before the subterranean ocean, with skin tough enough to use as shoe leather and stems that can substitute for tree trunks when they need to build a raft.
  • Gentle Giant: Hans, until the moment he finds his beloved Gertrude has been eaten by Count Saknussem.
  • Hollywood Magnetism: The pole at the center of the earth rips away Hans's gold tooth and Carla's wedding ring, which, as Sir Oliver takes the time to point out, was also gold, a non-ferrous metal by nature.
  • Jumped at the Call: Alec, who proposes to go on Sir Oliver's expedition instead of staying to marry his niece. This is the exact opposite of The Narrator in the novel, who only goes along because he doesn't have the courage to tell Sir Oliver where he can stick his mad idea of exploring the interior of the Earth.
  • Kick the Dog: Count Saknussem commits murder and mayhem to deter his rivals, but finally crosses the Moral Event Horizon for the audience when he eats Gertrude!
  • Monstrous Cannibalism: The Slurpasaurs abandon their pursuit of the humans when Hans spears one of them, opting to devour its carcass instead.
  • Mouth Cam: There's a quick shot from inside the chameleon's mouth as it whips out its tongue to trip up Sir Oliver.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Pat Boone as Alec. He starts out at least attempting it, but loses it pretty early on.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Count Saknussem's dead servant. Alec runs into him a few seconds before the Count appears, mentions the poor man worked himself to death, and orders Alec to pick up the dead man's gear to continue the Count's expedition or the Count will shoot Alec.
  • The Professor: Sir Oliver is a celebrated professor at the University of Edinburgh, and is consistently the most knowledgeable person on the expedition.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Sir Oliver is not afraid to explain away Carla's usefulness because "she's a woman." He then goes on to complain about her waking the expedition up when she hears men moving above them, which Oliver dismisses as "rats in the attic." Later, when she is proven correct, instead of apologizing like any good leader would, he insults her again. Then proceeds to continue insulting her for the rest of the journey. He finally appears to pull his head out of his ass after they return to the surface, which gets him out of that mindset by the end of the film.
  • Related in the Adaptation: In the book, the professor is not related to Gretchen, although she is his goddaughter. In the movie, he is Jenny's uncle.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: After Count Saknussem eats Gertrude, Hans is fully prepared to commit murder. Fortunately, the villain enacts this trope instead by leaning too hard on a pillar of rocks and making them fall on top of him, making him fall down a volcano shaft.
  • Shirtless Scene: Pat Boone spends a number of scenes wearing nothing but shorts and oil, and Hans gets in on the action sometimes too. Even Sir Oliver manages to show off his Carpet of Virility once.
  • Slurpasaur: The movie features rock iguanas with plastic fins masquerading as Dimetrodon, and a tegu lizard covered in red paint as a "giant chameleon". Even Gertrude was an all-white American domestic duck painted like an Icelandic eider.
  • Take My Hand!: After following the Count's false trail, Alec falls into from a precipice and is left hanging from a rope. Hans lifts him back up with no difficulty whatsoever.
  • Taking Up the Mantle: Carla Göteborg falls into this role before her husband is even in the ground, declaring her intentions to continue his work by joining his rival's expedition.
  • Team Pet: Gertrude the surprisingly useful duck.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Count Saknussem spends the first half of the movie trying to sabotage the expedition, and the second half tagging along with it after none of the party can bring themselves to execute or abandon him.
  • Trail of Bread Crumbs: The sets of three chipped notches, left behind by Arne Saknussen.
  • Unrelated in the Adaptation: In the book, the professor is Axel's uncle. In the movie, Alec is one of his students instead.