Adventures in Netflix! Episode 15: Journey to the Center of the Earth (with special guest EmotedLlama)

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Welcome to Episdoe 15 of  Adventures in Netflix! Today EmotedLlama and I will be discussing the 1959 adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Now, before going any further I should mention that this movie breaks the rules, in that both I and EmotedLlama have seen it before, though not in a long, long time.

With that out of the way, Journey to the Center of the Earth is, to my knowledge, a relatively faithful adaptation of the original novel, following Professor Lindenbrook (James Mason), his young assistant, Alec McKuen (Pat Boone), an Icelandic man named Hans (Peter Ronson), and the recent widow of a rival explorer, Carla Göteborg (Arlene Dahl), as they delve deep into the earth in search of the center. As they follow markers left by a previous explorer, the group goes through numerous trials (and spend roughly a year) before reaching their destination.

The expedition stands ready to begin.

Now that everyone has some idea of what the movie is, let’s get down to it.

NekoShogun: So, I know I consider to this movie a bit of a childhood favorite, but did you have any particular nostalgia for it, or even remember it?

EmotedLlama: My memory of the movie was pretty hit and miss; I remembered most of the “trials” (in quotes due to the lack of real danger) well enough, but a lot of the intermediary events seemed new to me. The whole beginning of the movie, especially, had faded from my memory.

NekoShogun: Yeah, I’d forgotten how long the movie takes to get going. I’m not complaining, mind you, I like the methodical pace of the movie, it made it feel more like a real scientific expedition rather than just a fantastical adventure.

What, if you were going to the center of the earth I bet you'd take some time to hang with your girlfriend too.

EmotedLlama: That was one thing about the movie: even when it was spouting out bizarre coincidences and events (oh no! My bag fell in this hole and then I got lost and then I found tons of salt and then I fell through salt sinkholes and then I met the antagonist!), it always seemed like these bizarre happenings were carried out in a thoroughly non-bizarre way. That’s one advantage I’ve noticed about many older movies–even if they’re rather cheesy at times, they’re also just more realistic in how they portray everything.

NekoShogun: I don’t know if I’d say older movies are more realistic, just that some of them (this movie included) feel like the characters are acting logically according to the information and scientific knowledge they have (even if some of that science is somewhat laughable today), and not just making decisions arbitrarily  move the plot along.

"I assure you, my methods are perfectly scientific. Now, can we please get a move on? I'd like to reach the giant underground mushroom forest on the edge of the subterranean ocean before dinner."

You know what, scratch that about it just being some older movies, there are movies like that from all eras, there’s just something a bit more noticeable about it here.

Changing topics though, what did you think of the acting? I think some people, myself included, tend to think of all older movies as having bad or over the top acting, but I didn’t think that was the case here. I actually though that the acting was great. Yes, there were a few moment here and there that were a little over the top, but that’s not because the acting itself was bad, it just reflects a difference in style between then and now. I think subtlety has become more in vogue in recent years, partly because screen sizes have gotten bigger, and partly because screen acting has had longer now to evolve away from stage acting, which was the main influence on a lot of early film actors.

EmotedLlama: The acting seemed good, probably better than “average,” but the oftentimes cheesy writing rarely helped. A few of the screams seemed pretty silly, but other than that the actors were emotive and expressive.

"Cheesy? You think we're cheesy? Really?"

NekoShogun: You thought the writing was cheesy? Huh, I thought it was pretty good, and sounded appropriate to the period in which it was set (1880).

Anyway, the really interesting thing to talk about in older movies is often the special effects. Some movies and TV shows effects age so horribly as to render them laughable, but I thought this movie’s actually held up pretty well. Then again, I am an admitted lover of practical effects, so my eyes might look more kindly on matt paintings and miniatures than most.

EmotedLlama: No, I think the practical effects were genuinely good. I mean, a few of those shots with the giant lizard monsters, which as far as I can tell was achieved through green screen, looked about as real as you can get. However, the lava at the end of the movie was truly laughable, looking more like strawberry slushy than, well, lava.

"Not much, just chillin' down here in the Center of the Earth!"

NekoShogun: Yeah, the lava wasn’t great, but it did make my thirsty for a nice frozen beverage.

One interesting thing was seeing the movie with an older mind and noticing for the first time the sort of casual sexism that existed back then, and how much it irks me now. I can’t speak as to how much of it is simply inherent in the original book, but I feel confident in saying that if the movie had been made today, even if it was largely faithful to the book, that sort of thing would play out differently. I don’t mean it would be gone–it’s part of the time and helps establish it as a period piece–but I think it would be played up for some kind of subtle social commentary, instead of just being something that’s there. In fact I think the attitude of the characters towards women is the most dated aspect of the movie, and the one that holds up most poorly to the tests of time.

Carla, when she's not randomly breaking character and acting all girly just to remind us she's a woman and thus inferior, is one of the more capable members of the expedition.
(I'm being sarcastic, not sexist. Just FYI.)

Well, I think that’s just about everything worth mentioning here. All in all I really enjoyed the movie, and not just because of nostalgia. I think it holds up as a classic, and I urge anyone interested who hasn’t seen it (or just hasn’t seen it recently) to give it a try.

~NekoShogun & EmotedLlama

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