One of many film versions of the classic Jules Verne story, in fact one of two to come out in 2008 (this is the one that didn’t have Brendan Fraser in it). It’s a long time since I read the original and I can’t remember a lot of what happens but I think it is safe to say that this is only loosely based on it although it does retain some of the elements I remember. It looks like this ramble is going to contain spoilers.
This version has an American heiress hiring an Indiana Jones type explorer, Jonathan Brock, to go on a mission to Alaska to find her missing husband. We’re not sure exactly why she wants to find him as she doesn’t seem to like him that much and he seems to have married her to get money to finance his expeditions and ran off on one as soon as he could after the marriage. But who needs a sensible reason to set off on a Journey to the Centre of the Earth!?
The time period when this film is set is quite interesting, the US have just bought Alaska from the Russians and the area is in a period of turmoil and mistrust and the new administration takes over making it difficult for our heroes to make progress with their mission. I know exactly nothing about this period of history, and for all I know it may not even have happened, so I can’t comment on any historical accuracy but it gave an interesting dimension and frontier adventure feel to the first part of the trip.
Of course the heiress insists on accompanying the party but this is just accepted without any of the usual film clichés of the woman having to prove herself to the menfolk that she is worthy to come with them. Only once during the film do the writers resort to using her as a damsel in distress and this role usually falls to Jonathan’s assistant (and nephew) Abel as he wanders around writing a journal documenting their adventures.
The first part of the adventure follows the group as they search for evidence of the previous expedition in Alaska. On the way they bump into Sergi whose brother just happened to be on the original expedition (because Sergi was too drunk to go!) and he decides to help them and see if he can find his missing brother on the way. Randomly a time constraint is suddenly added to the plot: much like the Dwarves map in The Hobbit, the entrance to the caves they seek will be illuminated by the sun on only one day of the year! Just as in the Hobbit there is no need for this and it doesn’t really add anything to the story. [Edit: this is actually in the original story, the entrance is marked by a shadow, not a ray of light, at noon over the course of several days at the end of June. Presumably you’d be able to get a good idea of the general area well into July too!]
When they arrive it is cloudy (just like in the book) and they have only seconds to spare before they’ll have to wait another year to find the entrance! Of course, following some pretty dodgy “science”, they manage to work out where the entrance to the cave is and magically get inside. Literally they are standing on the edge of a lake miles from where they decide the entrance will be with no boats or other transportation apart from their feet and then the director cuts to them already underground. There isn’t even an establishing shot of them by a cave or mine entrance. Surprisingly given the subject matter and that this is a TV movie that was the most jarringly odd sequence in the film.
Once underground, there is a lot of wandering around in tunnels and climbing down ropes which appear magically as they didn’t seem to have any at the start and must get through miles during the climbing sequences. Of course as anyone who has read the book or seen any other adaptations knows, the underground bits are just an interlude before getting to the main event: the Centre of the Earth!
As soon as they emerge into the wondrous and impossible surroundings of the underground world, our explorers seem to loose all sense of caution and start wandering around on their own and even strip off to go for a swim. Needless to say they are soon attacked by prehistoric monsters but even this doesn’t seem to dull their death wish and soon after they are wandering around again and getting caught by natives. Of course, this is exactly what needs to happen as the missing husband just happens to have found the tribe years before and taken over as king.
This is where the film feels it’s weakest. Even the bad CGI dinosaurs intercut with closeups of crocodiles were more realistic and engaging than the depiction of the prehistoric tribe run by the great white man from above. Everything slows down and becomes a bit tedious until the action of the final act.
The arrival of the newcomers upsets the social order of the tribe and they almost immediately rebel against their king forcing him and his followers to flee their wrath. The fact that they have guns and dynamite are the only things that allow our heroes to defeat the primitives armed with bows and arrows. Oh and zipwires in the trees of course! Over the course of about 10 minutes, the missing husband transforms from arrogant megalomaniac to selfless hero and sacrifices himself (quite unnecessarily as far as I could see) to allow our heroes to escape.
Immediately following the escape, everyone is jolly and happy despite recent personal loss and hardship and they decide never to tell anyone about what happened: The End.
But wait…at the beginning of the film Able left his young fiancée almost at the alter to come on this expedition with his uncle (very much unlike the cowardly nephew in the books who would have done anything at all to avoid going). She was not happy about this at all but Abel just brushed off her concerns. The big question on everyone’s lips is “Did she wait for him?” or perhaps she followed the expedition (I was waiting for her to pop up like an olde timey Tomb Raider and save the day throughout the film). Well, sit through to the very end of the credits and you still won’t find out! Since the film makers forgot about this character, I think I’m safe in my assumption that Abel has forgotten all about her too and is now “married” to the exploring lifestyle. I can only hope that she doesn’t wait around for too long for him to come back!
Blimey, I didn’t expect to write out the whole plot of the film in this ramble! Sorry for the lack of pictures to break up the text; there don’t seem to be many available for this one.