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A Journey to the Centre of the Earth

CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

Journey to the Centre of the Earth, first U.S. editionFirst U.S. edition, 1874
By Jules Verne
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

Original title
Voyage au centre de la Terre

Also known as
Journey to the Centre of the Earth, A Journey into the Interior of the Earth

First publication
1864, expanded 1867

Literature form

Science fiction, adventure

Writing language

Author's country

Approx. 73,000 words in English translation

Journey to the Centre of the Earth 1959 scene
An expeditionary team of four explores the underworld in 1959's Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

Fantastic journeys revisited

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959): Film, 129 minutes; director Henry Levin; writers Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch; featuring James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Peter Ronson, Diane Baker

Movie adaptations of A Journey to the Centre of the Earth didn't begin until nearly a century after the novel was first published in 1864. But, like most of Jules Verne's most popular Voyages extraordinaires, it has had numerous cinematic and televised treatments.

However, most of these adaptations have wondered far from his original story lines, characters and intentions. With adaptations of A Journey to the Centre of the Earth some revisions are understandable. For one thing, Verne uses a fair bit of the original text to show the scientific underpinnings for the expedition and to decipher the clues pointing the way—all somewhat cerebral work, taking its time before getting to the action. Also that scientific understanding, in which Verne stood in the forefront, has advanced far that of his time.

Then there's the small matter of sex. The subterranean research team in Verne's writing is all male with only a few lines concerning a female love interest on the sidelines, presumably waiting for the men to return from their dangerous mission. No way this works for a twentieth and twenty-first century audience.

Ditto for having the lead characters hail from Germany. Easily switched to Britain or United States in most cases.

Keeping the balance

The 1959 Hollywood-made Journey to the Center of the Earth has the story starting in Edinburgh, Scotland. Professor Otto Lidenbrok has his name changed to Oliver Lindenbrook, as played by popular English actor James Mason.

His nephew Axel is now his student Alec McEwan, played by American pop star Pat Boone, who gets to sing a sappy song and take his shirt off for half the film.

Sex appeal is heightened by giving the young man's love-interest Jenny (Diane Baker), renamed from Gräuben, a larger role on the sidelines. More significantly, over the professor's objections, a woman is added to the book's three-man expeditionary team. The character of Carla Göteborg (Arlene Dahl) is thus created, providing opportunity for sparks between members of the team.

Another cinematic failing of the novel, the lack of human conflict, is remedied by adding a couple of villain who shadow our heroes in their journey beneath the surface.

James Mason narrates the trailer for 1959's Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

As for the narrative, the multiple chapters of intellectual discovery before the expedition is curtailed, as expected, and a partly new set of adventures occur underground. From the book are taken confrontation with prehistoric creatures (obviously lizards shot large) and rafting across an underworld ocean. New additions include the discovery of the ruins of Atlantis—unnecessarily bringing in the myth that later adaptations would also be tempted by.

The escape from beneath the surface of the earth is, like most of the movie, highly unlikely but not straying ridiculously beyond Verne's vision, as later adaptations do. Although some of its dramatizations and special effects appear dated now, this version finds that fine balance between faithfulness to the original text and and being highly entertaining for its own time.

Despite all the changes made to the original story and characters, this first motion picture of A Journey to the Centre of the Earth remains, decades later, one of the best adaptations of Verne's novel.

— Eric


CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

1959, 1989, 2008b