Friday, November 4, 2011

Take the journey

If you're looking for a really dumb but enjoyable film, I highly recommend the 1959 version of Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth." The setup is great. A recently-knighted geologist at the University of Edinburgh (James Mason) is presented with an unusually heavy volcanic rock by his graduate student (Pat Boone, at the height of his "safe Elvis" fame). Mason, like any good scientist, blows the rock up and finds a man-made object inside, marked with the writings of a Swedish geologist who's been dead for centuries. This, of course, proves that it's possible for people to travel to the center of the Earth, which Mason and Boone then proceed to do, along with the widow of a rival geologist, a giant Icelander name Hans, and a duck named Gertrude. I am not making this up.

The film is great for all the expected reasons -- cheesy effects, tacky dinosaurs, bad science, absurd sexual politics, selectively-employed Scottish accents -- but there are a few other gems I particularly enjoyed. One is the portrayal of academic life. Mason's character, chancing upon an important discovery, decides to skip teaching classes for several weeks to devote himself to his research. When his dean comes knocking to find out what's up, he explains the importance of the research and says he simply can't be bothered to lecture to undergrads right now. Awesome! There's also a legitimately clever scene where the two brilliant scientists are trying to interpret the coded transmissions of what turns out to be Gertrude the aforementioned duck.

One of Boone's many shirtless scenes.
Another thing I loved was that the film was, at least at some points, a borderline musical. Mason's students sing to him in class when he gets knighted. (My students don't do that.) And Pat Boone never misses an opportunity to burst into song. (Even though they had to carry a year's worth of provisions on their backs, Boone still managed to find room for a concertina.) And for whatever reason, Boone slowly disrobes over the course of the film. He spends at least half the film shirtless, and by the final scenes, he is quite literally naked, holding up a sheep to cover his genitalia. I swear I am not making this up.

At least for now, Xfinity On-Demand is offering this film for free. I'd recommend taking them up on the offer.

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