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Having spent my formative years in the New York City area, I was exposed to a little local phenomenon known as The 4:30 Movie. Every weekday New York’s channel 7 would broadcast an old movie, and most days, this burgeoning movie buff would be tuning in check out some classic (and not so classic) film. Of course, the syndicated package of films that played on The 4:30 Movie wasn’t particularly extensive and it seemed that certain films were broadcast more often than others. The film that I remember watching most often was the 1959 version of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH ($15), which was shown in over the course of two days- filling out those two ninety minute time slots with a very healthy dose of commercials. Being young, I never tired of watching JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, no matter how may commercials I was forced to sit through. However, as I grew older, my patience was easily exhausted, so I turned to home video to sate my desire to watch the classic movies I had grown to love as a child.

As for JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, it was easy to understand why any child would fall in love with this particular movie- it was a whole lot of fun. Adapted from the Jules Verne novel, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH tells the story of recently Knighted Scottish scientist Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason), who mounts an expedition down into the very bowels of the Earth, after discovering a volcanic rock with instructions on how to penetrate the planet. With a devoted student named Alec McEwen (Pat Boone) by his side, Lindenbrook heads to Iceland to find the cavern that serves as the entrance to the world below. Unfortunately, upon his arrival in Iceland, Lindenbrook discovers that he has a murderous competitor, one who intends to claim the center of the Earth as his own domain. The cast of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH also features Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker, Thayer David, Peter Ronson and Alan Napier.

20th Century Home Entertainment has made JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH available on DVD in an excellent 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. After having experienced some less than satisfactory home video incarnations of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, I can absolutely say that this is finest that the film has looked in the home venue, and possibly better than even original theatrical prints. The image offered on the DVD is shaper and better defined than it has appeared in the past, which brings out a lot of the smaller details that I missed in previous incarnations. Colors show the biggest improvement, especially in the area of consistency. I remember the initial wide screen Laserdisc release having wildly inconsistent color that looked like it was assembled from numerous prints. Hues on the DVD tend to be cohesive and vibrant, as well as being reproduced without noise or smearing. Blacks are truly excellent, whites are clean and contrast is smooth. Shadow detail is good for a film of this vintage and the picture produces a nice sense of depth. The restored film elements show very few blemishes and only a modestly noticeable grain structure. Clean authoring keeps digital compression artifacts out of sight.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH comes with a Dolby Digital 4.0 channel soundtrack that that represents the original four channel magnetic stereo sound mix.  I really like the old style fifties sound mixes, so I was very pleased to discover that it had been included on the DVD, instead of the Dolby Surround track that was indicated on the packaging and in the set up menus.  The discrete track supplies more oomph to Bernard Herrmann’s thunderous organ augmented score, than playing it back in down-mixed Dolby Surround.  Discrete playback of Herrmann’s music is really impressive, with the bottom end of the track sounding fairly thunderous.  However, there are a couple of passages where Herrmann’s music becomes ever so slightly distorted.  English dialogue is cleanly rendered and is always completely understandable.  French stereo and Spanish monaural tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, along with English and Spanish subtitles.  The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer, restoration comparison and nine sci-fi bonus trailers.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH is a fun science fiction classic that I love as much now as I did during my childhood. 20th Century Home Entertainment has done a wonderful job with the presentation, offering the finest looking version of the film that we will see this side of high definition. If you are a fan or would be fan, this edition is highly recommended.



Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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