1977, 90 mins. 14 secs.
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón
Kenneth More, Pep Munné, Ivonne Sentis, Frank Braña, Jack Taylor, Lone Fleming, George Rigaud
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Odeon (DVD) (UK R2 PAL), Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
The official solo directorial debut for J.P. Simon, this ambitious Jules Verne adaptation (shot as Viaje al centro de la Tierra) marked an entry in the strange run of European '70s Verne adventures like 1971's The Light at the Edge of the World and 1973's The Mysterious Island of Captain Nemo. It's a strangely sweet-natured start for the notorious Spanish auteur who went on to trash film immortality with Pieces, Slugs, Cthulhu Mansion, The Rift, and Extra Terrestrial Visitors. This one's definitely more respectable than those, a PG-rated adventure about four intrepid explorers who follow journals indicating that an Icelandic volcano leads down to the center of the world. As we all suspected, the layers within the earth are filled not with rock but with rampaging giant serpents, oversized turtles, and a big monkey.
Strangely, this version may sport a drastically lower budget than the much more famous 1959 Fox version with James Mason, but it actually follows the book more closely (and works in a weird angle involving Jess Franco regular Taylor you'll have to see for yourself). Kenneth More (Dark of the Sun) was near the end of his career when he headlined this one as leader Professor Lindenbrock, which is otherwise filled with Spanish actors dubbed in British accents including obligatory young romantic couple Axel (Munné) and Glauden (Sentis), plus a shepherd guide Hans (Braña). The monster effects are charmingly threadbare, but the locations and production design trickery are actually quite impressive in spots with lots of cavernous caves, gargantuan mushrooms, and that big turtle field.
Bearing the on-screen title The Fabulous Journey to the Centre of the Earth, this one had a modest U.S. theatrical run (in shortened form) in 1978 and first hit DVD from Code Red under that name as a standalone feature and as the co-feature of a double bill with Encounter with the Unknown in 2011. Either way it's the longer 90-minute European version of the film, which has become the default one in recent years.
In 2023, Severin Films bowed this film on Blu-ray in a markedly improved edition that restores the more aesthetically satisfying 1.66:1 framing versus the 1.78:1 we've had on DVD before. The additional vertical image info actually makes a substantial difference given the emphasis on scale here, and the colors look more natural and impressive than the yellow tinge seen in older versions as well. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds very good for what it is, with optional English subtitles included. As for extras, "Movies Were His Life" (20m56s) is an interview with the director's daughter, Isabel Piquer, about her "dreamer" dad, his humble beginnings, and his progress through the industry by force of will and imagination. In "Reckless and Fearless" (14m2s), Sentis goes into her background in Barcelona, her path to becoming an actor, her physical agility as an actor, the humid cave shooting for this film, and the family atmosphere on the set (apart from Braña). "A Tale of Fabulous Fantasy" (15m2s) features co-writer Carlos Puerto chats about the location scouting to match the script, the element of the film that struck some as religious blasphemy, the camera movement choices meant to create a sense of mystery, and some of his other key films around that time. The English trailer
is also included in HD.
Severin Films (Blu-ray)
Code Red (DVD)
Reviewed on June 29, 2023