Thursday, March 10, 2022

A Spanish Spelunking Double Feature: Adventure in the Centre of the Earth (1965), and The Fabulous Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1977)

Adventure in the Centre of the Earth

After a caving trip goes terribly wrong after an attack by mysterious creatures, the scientific community sees a valuable chance to study man's origins, and discover what lies deep within the planet. A team is assembled, and are determined to capture one of these creatures. But will they succeed, or is the whole mission doomed to failure?...

Adventure in the Centre of the Earth is an interesting movie in theory. A classic Mexican adventure, in the vein of Jules Verne, with a few monsters thrown in for good measure! In practice the film feels less like Verne, and more like an adorable proto version of The Descent. It has its share of suspenseful moments, but is a bit slow and plodding overall.

There's a subplot of intrigue and treachery, with the discovery of diamonds. This is alright, but only serves to pad out the runtime, and the heroes never even become aware of it, as the conspirators kill each-other first, framing the monsters. Poor things! Then again I suppose it's not a big deal if they're blamed for murders they didn't commit, because they still killed everyone else indiscriminately. It's not like their reputation was spotless beforehand.

The climax has some death-defying setpieces, and your typical monster romance. Nothing gets a homicidal beast's heart swelling than a beautiful senorita, and here is no different. Despite killing everyone else, the main girl is taken alive to their lair. This leads to a rescue mission, and a final attack against the subterranean creatures before everyone makes their escape.

The ending doesn't really resolve much beyond the basics, which I suppose isn't a huge deal with a story like this. The only characters left alive care more about getting back to the surface than fulfilling any scientific ventures. It does still feel a bit pointless that nothing was really accomplished though.

The setting in Adventure is the most mixed element of the film. In terms of appearance, they really hit it out of the park. The film is shot on location in the Grutas de Cacahuamilpa Caverns, and this detail does show! The problem though? The whole movie is shot there. I'm not saying a movie can't be set entirely in a cave, but the title does promise more than just a few tunnels. It begins to feel a bit limited as the movie goes on.

The acting is all decent enough, albeit over the top, in a predictably Spanish way. The girl who plays Julia is particularly hilarious with her overwrought reactions, often screaming before anything's even happened.

The costume design in Adventure is mixed. To sum it up quickly, A for Effort, B for Execution. The thing about these costumes is that as utterly unconvincing as they are, I liked the design! They are good looking, and it's like the creators pooled their resources into making the design fun rather than convincing. The best thing about these outfits is also the worst thing-How adorable they are! It's hard to take them seriously as a threat when they make your heart melt.

The music here is all fun stuff! Very traditional adventure music. I liked a lot of other little touches the movie has, such as the nifty intro sequence. I was less fond of its treatment of animals though, whether real or fake. Talk about overkill!

Adventure in the Centre of the Earth is an ok movie, and worth checking out if caving horror is your thing. Otherwise there are dozens of Mexican horrors that could be watched first...

The Fabulous Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Spanish director Juan Piquer Simón had an extensive and eclectic career, ranging from controversial 80s slasher Pieces, to the 'beloved' E.T. copy Pod People, as well as Slugs: The Movie. His films are known for the wild excesses, and flair, but also an interesting mix of tones. He'd make brutal horror films, then turn right around and make a lighthearted boyhood adventure! Or indeed an awkward mix of the two, as Pod People is proof of. One of his earlier entries is an adaption of the classic Jules Verne novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth...

In the 19th century, debate rages over what exactly lies in the centre of the earth. While most agree that it's a mass of gas, rock, or metal, the discovery of a unique journal leads Professor Otto Lidenbrock to believe there may be something more. Together with his niece Glauben and her young boyfriend Axel, they journey to an Icelandic mountain range. There they discover the once-a-year passage that leads them inside, further than any man has gone before...

The Fabulous Journey to the Centre of the Earth (aka Where Time Began) is a wonderful time! It has a quintessential British adventure feel to it. Which is impressive considering it's actually a Spanish film, based on a French book. And it was very much made with this in mind. The movie's providence is occasionally clear though, not only from the dubbing, but how olive brown a lot of these 'Brits' look (to say nothing of their bushy Latin moustaches).

The film lives up to its title well. We get cave systems, underwater oceans, prehistoric beasts, and giant gorillas. Some have complained about the lack of dinosaurs until quite a way in, but it's not like this is The Lost World. The Journey to the Centre of the Earth book promises some dinosaurs, but not necessarily a whole movie of them. Overall there's a great balance, and an effective air of mystery by the end. A touch of fantasy and sci-fi.

The dialogue is a hoot! The film has a great sense of humour, which balances well with the action.

Glauben disapproving of her boyfriend's job: "Because if there's a war, you might get killed, and if there's no war you'll never be promoted. All in all I call that a silly profession."

"Will the trip be long? How shall I know what to pack?" "Marta, we are going on a journey. A journey to the centre of the Earth." "In that case I won't need to pack your umbrella."
"It's not your fault, Uncle Otto. Under the earth you have to expect the unexpected."

The main trio are a likeable bunch, with distinct personalities. The professor is scientific, but open to new ideas, while his niece is a pragmatic girl with plenty of book smarts. Axel is less knowledgable on such matters, and has an uncurious mind, but a good heart.

Smart as they are, I do question their intelligence in not having the book copied, so they're not carrying around the ratty dogeared single copy in existence. How they lose it is really dumb. They're caught in a gale, so Axel asks how they can get through this. The professor has the bright idea of consulting the book, which immediately flies away in the wind! Another moment has the professor let off a flare gun in a delicate cave for no apparent reason, resulting in an immediate rock slide.

Another amusing scene is early on, when the two men don't being along their eminent geologist simply because she happens to be a young girl. The two dopes though manage to forget their tickets, money, and luggage! So aren't they lucky when she tagged along with everything they left in tow.

The fourth member of the team is Icelandic shepherd Hans. A man of few words, and a tough guy who loves his sheep. It's endearing. The final member is the mysterious and enigmatic Olsen. He is cold at first, but a mutual respect grows between he and Lidenbrock, that becomes a deep connection by the end. Much is unspoken, and comes through thoughtful glances rather than any big speeches.

I really liked the soundtrack here. Not only are there traditional adventure tunes, and plenty of whimsy, some have a surreal music box quality. One track reminded me of Castlevania 64, which is a major positive!

The locations in Fabulous Journey are nothing short of breathtaking! While British films may occasionally feel a bit stuffy when confined to sets, the Spanish had no such constraints, with sweeping mountain vistas being only a short drive away. The first 20 minutes are set in sitting rooms and the great outdoors, while the next 20 explore a cave system, and the rest of the film is in the inner earth. Here we get mushroom groves, turtle 'fields', a petrified forest, and more. We also have a volcanic eruption at the end, seamlessly edited into the action, as if the crew was really there!

Juan Piquer Simón's direction here is fantastic. He films indoor drawing room scenes and close-quarters cave journeys just as expertly as wide establishing shots out in the open. The locations and vistas of the inner earth are captured splendidly, and our regular earth is also given great treatment, including one dizzying shot.

The effects are likewise very good. A little cheesy here and there, but that's not only to be expected, it can be seen as a plus! There's so much variety (both in terms of places, as well as creatures) on the screen too, it's laudable.

The cast here is good. They get across a lot of emotions, from humour, to awe, desperation, and triumph. The English dubbing is all good too, helping the movie feel as authentic as Simón wanted. Of note is the presence of Deborah Watling! It was a little surreal hearing a familiar voice from someone you know coming out of a different body!

Lastly, let's discuss comparisons with the book. I think this is a fantastic adaption! It lacks a few things, and adds more. Everything with Olsen and all of his weird stuff is original, while other things like Glauben's presence is expanding on the book in order to add a lady into the cast (no objection here!). Everything else though is ripped pretty much straight from the book, but most important is the tone! This really captures the feeling of science and adventure that Verne so effortlessly told, and that alone makes it a success.

The Fabulous Journey to the Centre of the Earth is a great time to be had, and by far my favourite Juan Piquer Simón film by far. For those who only know his cheesier efforts, this is sure to surprise, and is by far the easiest one to show the family...

Even today, the inside of the earth is somewhat of a mystery. Who knows what lies beneath our feet. Maybe it really is just an incandescent ball of rock and lava. Or perhaps deep within the earth lies an untold civilisation, of dinosaurs, underground oceans, giant mushroom forests, and more wonderful mysteries!...Ok, obviously there isn't, but still, isn't it more fun to imagine?...

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