Thursday, August 28, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth

[Note: Spoilers galore]

What an amazing man Arne Saknussem was. Philosopher, physicist, geologist, historian – the man’s intellect knew no bounds. Nor did his courage, as well as his perseverance. Add to that an insatiable curiosity and you have a very special type of man. Immovable object, meet force.

But what was so special about Saknussem? Only that the true spirit of the pioneer was unleashed by him. You see, our master of natural history made a very special journey. They mocked, they scoffed, they harrumphed and they guffawed. But Arne ignored them all, and through shear power of will, aided by his well-honed wits, he became the first man to reach the center of the earth.

Was there a more fabled goal in the steamy mid-nineteenth renaissance? No. Perhaps the moon, but there were serious, profound doubts that the gravitational grip of the earth combined with the harsh vacuum of space could be conquered. All that was required to reach the center of the earth was, well, two functioning feet, a manservant or two, a pack mule, and ample supplies. And Saknussem did it.

Or did he? The incident with the flaming volcanic rock seems to convince Professor Oliver Lindenbrook. Yes, it was overheated by mistake in his library-laboratory in genteel Scotland, but when it cracked on the floor – There! The Runes. Saknussem’s Runes, and that was all the argument Oliver needed to begin his expedition.

With trustful youthful assistant Alec at his side they meet intrigue – and murder – in Iceland, preparing for the descent into the crater. The exact location of which can be determined only by the annual position of the sun through adjoined mountaintops. Fate and foul play conspire to bring the Professor and Alec into uneasy alliance with Madame Goetaborg, and the Lindenbrook Expedition begins with a killer on their trail.

Tumbling boulders, flooding caverns, echoing footsteps not quite in step with their own. These are the immediate concerns facing the Expedition, not to mention Madame’s chafing at Oliver’s somewhat misogynistic machinations to keep the party under his firm control. No Saknussem he, Oliver, but in the putting down of his heavy hand clues escape them, and they unwillingly enter the wrong tunnel, following forged markings of their renaissance predecessor.

Alec gets separated from the others – who also include faithful guide and all-around-strongman Hans and his duck, Gertrude. How easy it is to get lost in the bowels of the earth! While he does not find his compatriots, the young student does, indeed, find someone, someone armed with a gun.

Count Saknussem, Arne’s great-great-great grandson, coming to lay claim to the domain he believes rightly to be his!

Our brave young student takes a flesh wound in the arm from the evil Count, allowing Oliver and the others to zero in on his location via “the last echo”! A showdown ensues and thanks to the old handful-of-sand-in-the-eyes trick the Count is subdued. Professor Lindenbrook pronounces a sentence of death upon the toadlike Saknussem-spawn (who apparently killed Madame’s husband in Iceland), but none are willing to pull the pistol. With reluctance on all parties, the Count joins the expedition.

The electric crank lights fade, but just as they learn about phosphorescence! A mushroom forest – the ocean of the underworld – and, dinosaurs! A makeshift shiitake raft takes them to the movie’s namesake, only to be ruined – or was it only a dream of fetching young Jennie, Alec’s love thirty-five hundred miles straight up in Scotland?

Dream or not, our party washes ashore, exhausted yet exhilarated, seeking only the simple pleasure of sleep in the sand after their near-fateful sea voyage. A hungry Count, hearing Gertrude’s plaintive quacking, takes it upon himself for some on-the-spot foie gras. Hans discovers Gertrude’s absence too late, then soon discovers the feather leading up to a teeth-picking Saknussem, who in turn discovers an enraged Swedish strongman.

And the Count’s deserved death allows the Lindenbrook Expedition to discover …

Atlantis, the Sunken City!

Phenomenon of phenomena! Oliver walks about mouth agape, disbelieving the wonders before his eyes. True, no living survivors (make that, no living human survivors), but the archaeological find of all time. Alec with his youthful exuberance comes across some thousand-year-old bread and some nails. And then, he stumbles across –

Arne Saknussem, the original. Rather, his skeleton. With a broken leg, Professor Lindenbrook observes. He never made it out from the depths of the earth … but wait! Is that, his finger, the bones of his finger, are they … pointing somewhere?

Yes! There’s something of a volcanic chimney before them, blocked with massive rock, but a chamber leading up to the surface no doubt – the flaming match proved it! But how to get out? Arne Saknussem, genius: cradled in the skeleton’s arms is a burlap sack – of gunpowder. Hmmmmmm.

Hans and Alec rig explosives at the chimney blockage while Oliver and Madame – who by this point have been exchanging meaningful looks like a couple of school kids – seek some type of shelter. An overturned dome ought to do it. They light a fuse, they hop in the dome. But the flame goes out. Oliver rushes to relight it, and is rewarded with a giant worm-thing’s tongue lashed about his leg. Quick-thinking Alec pounds one of those thousand-year-old nails into the monster’s flesh and frees his friend. The rock blows, lava flows, Atlantis crumbles and is immolated.

The dome, somehow, is pushed right up to the chimney and sucked out. Sucked out and up, thousands of miles straight into the air and out of an erupting Mount Etna. Madame Goetaborg looks positively orgasmic during the elevator ride up. The party’s deposited into the Mediterranean where they’re picked up by pleasant peasant fisherman. All except Alec. He’s in a tree, naked, surrounded by Italian nuns trying to be helpful but remain true to their vows of chastity at the same time.

A few months go by, Oliver and Madame are married, Alec’s there with a cast on his leg and his girl Jenny on his arm. Hans is there, too, assuring the Professor through a translator that he would journey again with him back to the earth’s center. All the men cheer Oliver Lindenbrook in a rousing chorus, and one of my favorite movies, one of my most beloved movies, of my entire childhood, ends.

[Note: This review refers to the 1959 James Mason version of the Jules Verne classic story.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what is the chorus all the men are singing at the very end of the movie? They are saying KI YI, but I can't make out the other words.