New 3-D 'Journey' Sparks A Trip Back To The '50s There's a new Hollywood take on Jules Verne's 1863 novel; seeing it sent Bob Mondello back into the nearer past — to the wide-screen version of the tale he saw when he was a kid. Turns out it's still kinda fun.
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New 3-D 'Journey' Sparks A Trip Back To The '50s

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New 3-D 'Journey' Sparks A Trip Back To The '50s

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Movies

New 3-D 'Journey' Sparks A Trip Back To The '50s

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In the mid-19th century, Jules Verne published the science fiction novel "Journey to the Center of the Earth." In the 20th and 21st century, the story made its way into film and on the TV several different times, but never in 3-D, never until now. This weekend, you can download those funny graphics when "Journey to the Center of the Earth" arrives on movie screens.

And this version has sent critic Bob Mondello on a journey to the center of his childhood.

BOB MONDELLO: Let me start by saying that the 3-D effect in the new film is every bit as cool as you think it'll be.

(Soundbite of movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth")

Mr. BRENDAN FRASER (Actor): (As Trevor Anderson) (Unintelligible) hang on (unintelligible).

MONDELLO: When the explorers reached that unlikely underground sea that Jules Verne put at the center of the Earth and a football-sized fish flew right at my head, I almost broke the arm of the kid in the next seat.

(Soundbite of movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth")

MONDELLO: Seriously cool effect. And there are lots of others. Because the filmmakers want this to be a movie, you'll want to see in theaters, not on video six months from now. But with all due respect to director Eric Brevig and his army of special-effects digitizers, this new "Journey to the Center of the Earth" did not replace the one that's been playing in my head since I was a little kid.

That one I saw on the widest screen I had ever seen because 1959 was also a time when Hollywood wanted to draw people away from TV sets. The TVs back then were tiny and black-and-white, so movies got big and colorful. Scored by Bernard Herrmann, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" played on a screen as wide as Ben-Hur did in 1959. Huge.

And to the delight of not just me but all of my schoolmates, the actors were dwarfed by mushrooms the size of trees, giant lizards that glowed red when you stepped on them, lava that looked a lot like beef chili, and earthquakes and threats of all sorts echoing and rumbling and hugely unpredictable.

(Soundbite of movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth")

Ms. ARLENE DAHL (Actress): (As Carla Goteborg) It seems to be moving away from us.

Mr. PAT BOONE (Actor): (As Alexander 'Alec' McKuen) Madam, in these regions, In these regions, I've never venture to say anything is moving away or coming towards us. The only thing we can be certain of is that danger is always with us. We might as well ignore it.

MONDELLO: Ooh, for shadowing even at 10, I knew saying that was a mistake.

A huge boulder rolling toward our intrepid explores in a narrow passageway no way out. It was that scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," but 20 years before Spielberg thought of it. And who knew back then that a Hollywood boulder was made out of plaster? On a screen that big, and making all that noise, it had to be real.

And miraculously, they escaped, and Professor Lindenbrock landed face-down right on top of what he needed to see.

(Soundbite of "Journey to the Center of the Earth")

Mr. JAMES MASON (Actor): (As Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook): The three notches. The three notches of Arne Saknussemm.

MONDELLO: Explorer Arne Saknussemm, who'd gone to the center of the Earth centuries before them and whose skeleton would point the way when they most needed it.

This movie seemed so cool to me as a kid. I was actually sort of afraid to rent it now and risk finding out that my memory was inflating it. And when I checked on the Web beforehand, it was not reassuring. The director's other film that year was "Where the Boys Are."

And who got top billing here? Not James Mason, who played the professor, but singer Pat Boone, doing a Scottish accent when he remembered to. And once they got close to the hot lava, shirtless and in skimpy shorts, which back then was pretty racy stuff for the teenage girls in the audience.

And, of course, you couldn't put a singing heartthrob in a movie without having him sing a love song, even if you had to shoehorn it into the plot, in this case by providing the professor with a pretty daughter and a piano in the parlor.

(Soundbite of movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth)

Unidentified Woman: (As Character) Is there something you want?

Mr. MASON: (As Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook) A key is stuck.

Unidentified Woman: (As Character) But that's impossible.

Mr. MASON: (As Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook) This one. Can't you see?

Unidentified Woman: (As Character) No, I can't.

Mr. MASON: (As Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook) At least you can see how unhappy I am. You know how I've felt ever since that first day you entered the classroom.

(Singing) My love is like the red, red rose.

MONDELLO: Watching the 1959 version again, I have to say, it's still a hoot. I mean, you'd never accuse Pat Boone of acting, exactly, but he was fun facing down those giant lizards, and faking a fear of heights about every 10 steps, and always putting things in his mouth for some reason. Plunk him down on a salt dune and he'd taste it; put a mushroom in his path, he'd bite it. The guy was an idiot.

The wide-screen stuff still looks pretty amazing - fake but amazing - filmed in Carlsbad Caverns and on soundstages where in those pre-digital days, they actually had to build mushrooms the size of trees.

And I'd totally forgotten the duck.

(Soundbite of movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth)

Unidentified Man: Gertrude.

MONDELLO: Gertrude, who led them into tunnels they hadn't noticed.

(Soundbite of movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth)

Unidentified Man: Madam, (unintelligible).

Ms. ARLENE DAHL: (As Carla Goteborg) He says there's a tunnel on the other side.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible).

Ms. ARLENE DAHL: (As Carla Goteborg) (Unintelligible) downhill, but walkable.

Unidentified Man: Eureka.

MONDELLO: Oh, it was great fun. Still is, even on video.

So okay, enough of memory lane. You want to know about the new "Journey to the Center of the Earth" in 3-D or REAL-D or whatever they're calling it.

It's considerably more real-looking in a differently fakey way. And it's fun too: postmodern and jokey, not old-fashioned and hokey. But definitely fun.

(Soundbite of movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth)

Mr. FRASER: (As Trevor Anderson) Ah. We're still falling. Ah.

MONDELLO: Brendan Fraser has bigger muscles than Pat Boone did, and the lizards now look like T. rexes rather than salamanders, and there's an underground roller coaster that's going to make a great theme park ride if the movie's a hit.

Afraid there's no duck. I miss the duck. But as I say, with the 3-D, you will duck, so maybe that's okay.

And then, after you've seen what special-effects folks can do today, which is spectacular, think about renting the old one to see what they did a half a century ago, which was spectacular. The characters, the effects, the situations all different, so it won't feel like a re-run. It'll just show you what Hollywood used to do, and do well, done well.

I'm Bob Mondello.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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