Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

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Released 13-May-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Featurette-Restoration Comparison
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1959
Running Time 124:12
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (79:27) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Henry Levin
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring James Mason
Pat Boone
Arlene Dahl
Diane Baker
Thayer David
Peter Ronson
Robert Adler
Alan Napier
Case ?
RPI $31.95 Music Bernard Herrmann


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
Dutch
German
Spanish
French Titling
German Titling
Spanish Titling
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Jules Verne is ranked high on the list of the world's great writers, and some even say he was the best of them all. He had a passion for stories that were larger-than-life, and the animals and scenes he wrote about were even bigger still. Journey to the Centre of the Earth and his other famous title, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are two such stories which contain every story attribute that Verne is still famous for. In his lifetime, he had a total of 54 novels published, and a further 14 were published after his death. Numerous short stories were written, and published posthumously, but Jules only ever got to see the one collection of titles, Le Docteur Ox, published. This is on top of the plays, poems, speeches and interviews that are also credited to this brilliant writer.

    The story is set in 1880 Edinburgh, which is also where the opening and closing scenes were actually shot. The remaining scenes were shot on specially made sets and both outdoor and underground shots were shot at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the USA. With cavern walks that take an hour and a half to go through, 46,766 acres and more than 80 caves in total, complete with an eight story hill inside one cavern and numerous crevices to pass through, it was as if this place was custom-built for the movie.

    The film begins as Professor Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) walks to college to start work. The Professor's day takes an intriguing turn when one of his students, Alec McEwan (Pat Boone), hands him a lava rock to analyse. This simple rock appears to hold the key to what lies at the centre of the earth and includes a message from the explorer Arnu Saknussemm who vanished many years ago. It is with much excitement and haste that the Professor mounts an expedition to the original location of the lava rock where he can then descend into the earth. The Professor is accompanied by Alec, and later joined by Carla Goetaberg (Arlene Dahl) and a local, Hans Belker (Peter Ronson), who make up the entire party.

    As the story continues, the group descend into the earth and are confronted by all manner of wild creatures, giant mushrooms, a duck, rushing water, salt hills, giant caverns and an underworld ocean guarded by fierce iguana-like creatures. Oh, and all the while they are followed by Count Saknussemm (Thayer David), a descendent of Arne Sacnussemm no doubt . . .

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer of this movie is superb when you consider the age of the print and the amount of restoration work that was required. There are several prints that have been restored over the years, with the 1995 release of the film being the first that I am aware of. This was then moved onto laserdisc that same year, which I believe was only available in full frame, then followed shortly after in 1998 by a laserdisc widescreen version. The 2002 film version was of high quality as well, but contained frequent and large film artefacts. This was then given a video quality restoration to remove these artefacts but the colours were left untouched and are the same as what you see here on this disc. The example below shows the first stage of restoration and compares the 1982 Film Transfer Master (on the right) with the restored 1995 Film Transfer Master (on the left). You can see just how much work was involved in bringing this master back from the brink of loss.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is quite clear and sharp, which makes this by far the most pleasurable version of this movie that I have ever watched. Pleasing levels of detail are revealed throughout the film. It does help that the small portable lights used by the expedition give off an extraordinarily large amount of light. (I say this with tongue in cheek, as some scenes could have done with some diminished lighting for better effect). After all, they are descending into the bowels of the earth, and yet there is not a hint of any problem with shadow detail. There was very mild low level noise.

    The colours were also of high quality and the restoration here is particularly evident. At 115:18 for instance, see the bright red shown on the chameleon lizard and at 116:28 the red of the lava is strong and rich in colour. Blue, gold and to a lesser extent green are the most predominant colours in this transfer, which is probably why the red examples stood out the most to me.

    There was one MPEG artefact which appeared on the curtains at 30:38. Aliasing is also very rare and very mild when it does occur. At 2:58 the books on the bookcase were noticeably blurred but this did not affect the camera's centre of focus on the actor. There was a slight jump in the image seen briefly at 54:30. Film artefacts are very rare thanks to the magnificent level of restoration that has been done to this film over the years. This takes the 1998 laserdisc master, which was the best known print up until now, up a few notches in quality.

    This disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change at approximately 79:27 mid scene. It was not noticeable on my Denon player but on a Toshiba Tecra 9100 DVD-ROM I could hear the laser change over at this point (+/- 3 seconds due to possible RAM buffering in effect). At this point, the Professor runs behind a rock so slow players that do pause here would probably not be overly disruptive anyway. It would just seem as if the Professor took a little longer to run out from behind the other side of the rock.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio, whilst clear, suffers from a few problems which I will detail below. Unfortunately, all of the restoration budget for this movie must have gone towards the video restoration.

    There are a total of four audio tracks on this DVD with English Dolby Digital 4.0 being the default, in a Left, Centre, Right and Surround configuration. The other tracks available are French Dolby Digital 2.0, German Dolby Digital 2.0 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times with no apparent hiss. The only problem with the dialogue was that it was not placed correctly across the front soundstage. Instead, it seemed to float between the three front speakers out of kilter with the on-screen action. Go to 7:30 for one early example, or listen to 13:47 when Sir Oliver is in the centre of the screen but his voice is projected from the front left channel. Thankfully, it is less noticeable at other times but this does take some getting used to.

    Audio sync was not a problem at all with this transfer, and was completely spot on.

    The musical score by Bernard Herrmann is wonderful and in a style that only Herrmann can do. It is no secret that many Directors credit this man for making their films even better due to his unusual choices of instruments and the way in which he brings them together. The volume levels did not drown out the dialogue at any point during the movie.

    The surround channels were really only used for musical ambience and there is very little in the way of directional sound effects piped through them. The music is truly enveloping and is a real pleasure to listen to. At 50:11, the sound of horses is quite loud coming from the rear soundstage, but no other instances of surround sound usage really stand out.

    The subwoofer was not specifically encoded into this soundtrack, but there is a large amount of bass provided through the other channels regardless. This may cause small speakers some problems, particularly in the introduction and again at 93:49 where there is a high amount of bass directed across the front soundstage.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     There are only two extras on this disc but both are worthy of inclusion.

Menu

    The menu design is themed around the movie but is a static image with no sound.

Theatrical Trailer (3:13)

    This is of poor quality and is full of film artefacts. It does show how much movie trailers have improved over the years, though. It is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded sound.

Restoration Comparison (3:38)

   This is short feature which shows before and after restoration shots by cutting the screen into two and showing the same scene from different masters. The image shown in the first part of the Video section of this review is one example of what you will see in this restoration comparison extra. Quite an interesting section and well worth a look but in my opinion, it was simply too short. At 0:50, there are 4 seconds of black which at first I thought was the end, so don't hit the stop button until you are returned to the menu if you want to see the entire length of this featurette. It is presented in varying aspect ratios, with the video material presented 1.33:1 windowboxed and the film footage presented at the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This featurette has Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

   The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

Summary

     This is the best version that I have ever seen of this particular movie. Unfortunately, this does not equate to being the best version that I have ever heard.

    The video quality is a marvellous testament to what good quality restoration work can do.

    The audio suffered from directional sound being out of kilter with the on-screen action as far as dialogue was concerned. While this annoyance did seem to settle down considerably after the first 60 minutes, it was still annoying and disappointing.

    The extras are worth watching but are rather light in content. With such a popular movie crossing so many generations, there should be a small warehouse full of material that could have been dusted off and included here. I guess the authors did not want to invest the money.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Peter Mellor (read my bio)
Friday, July 04, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersWhatmough Classic Series C31 (Mains); C06 (Centre); M10 (Rears); Magnat Vector Needle Sub25A Active SubWoofer

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