The one thing about a classic piece of literature is that it can be made into a movie, and then another movie, and another. Case in point would be the classic Jules Verne novel, Journey To The Center Of The Earth. If you were to look this up, you would find 10 different entries for movies or TV films. Granted, one of those movies is the sequel to a B-movie staring Kathy Ireland that has absolutely nothing to do with the novel but the rest do have some basis taken from this book. Today’s movie was actually a two part miniseries based rather loosely on the book so I will go ahead and get started with Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1999).
The plot: In 1875’s Boston, Theodore Lytton, accompanied by his nephew Jonas, is competing in an underground boxing match in order to raise money before he heads off to give a lecture at a nearby lecture hall, where he meets a young woman named Alice Hastings. Joining Alice for dinner, he learns that her reason for seeking him out is to get his help in trying to find her husband, Casper, missing now for 7 years, and gives him a ship’s log that she needs decoded. With the help of Jonas, Theodore finds out that her husband may have found a legendary passage to the center of the earth on New Zealand, and makes plans to head there. Jonas, wishing to rid himself of his fears by facing them head on, decides to accompany him, though his fiance Helen disapproves. When they arrive in New Zealand, they meet a man named McNiff, who offers to guide them to Turonga, and also are surprised by the appearance of Alice Hastings, who plans on accompanying them on their quest. McNiff leads them to a lake, where they meet up with a group of Maori warriors that McNiff was running guns to, and they are taken to the Maori camp. At the camp, Theodore risks his life to save Alice just as government troops attack the camp, which allows the 4 of them to escape. They eventually make their way to Turonga and begin the descent into the caverns. After several close calls and running low on water, they eventually come to a giant cavern containing a vast underground lake and a massive flock of pterodactyls flying overhead. After being chased by some of the pterodactyls, they find evidence that Casper had crossed the lake so they build a raft and follow. After arriving on land and being attacked by a dinosaur, Jonas spies a girl watching them from the cliffs and leads the group up the cliffs after her. Traveling through the jungle, Theodore, Jonas, and McNiff are caught in a trap while Alice is captured by some humanoid dinosaur-men. Theodore goes after he but when he is attacked by one of the dinosaur-men, he is rescued by a group of warriors who leads Theodore, Jonas, and McNiff to their village. At the village, Jonas sees the girl from the cliffs, Ralna, and is surprised to learn that she can speak English but the group is in for an even bigger surprise when they learn that the village chief is Casper Hastings, who wants to know what happened to his wife. That night, the village holds a celebration honoring McNiff’s killing of the raptor, while Casper explains to Theodore the situation between the village he lives in and the sauroids, as well as the exiles, the humans that did not agree with his rise to power. During the course of the night, Jonas ends up with Ralna but this causes a problem with some of the men in her tribe as she is betrothed to a warrior that lives with the exiles. The next day, Casper, Theodore, Jonas, and McNiff lead a rescue party to the sauroid village to rescue Alice but along the way, one of the warriors with them runs to the exile’s village and informs Ralna’s betrothed about what has happened. At the sauroid camp, they manage to rescue Alice, though Jonas is wounded during the escape, and Casper finds out the truth about Theodore’s feelings towards Alice. Back at the village, Casper informs Alice that he had found something more valuable than gold and planned on bringing it back with him which leads to an argument between them. Meanwhile, Ralna uses a healing plant on Jonas’s wounds and he learns that Casper’s group are the exiles, not the other way around like Casper had told them. The next day, Casper leads a small party to the main village to steal some seeds for the medical plant, but a sentry sees them and sets part of the field on fire, causing a paralyzing smoke to incapacitate Casper while the rest of his party flees back to their village. Theodore, Jonas, and McNiff head off to rescue him and Jonas lets himself be captured in order to get Casper out of prison. As the two are attempting to escape, Ralna’s betrothed sees them and attacks Jonas, forcing Jonas to kill him in order to escape. Back at the village, Theodore and Jonas learn that Casper plans to leave in the morning, but McNiff says that he will be staying in the village, as he feels he belongs there. The next day, Theodore, Jonas, Alice, and Casper leave the village but as they are walking through the forest, Ralna, who was following them, is attacked by some sauroids, forcing Jonas and Casper to rescue her. The five people climb a cliff to continue towards the river but when Casper’s pack full of seeds and gold ore drops back to the ground, Casper climbs back down to retrieve it and is killed by the sauroids. The four people proceed in Casper’s raft towards the sea, where Theodore uses some dynamite to clear a passage through the mountain, where they eventually reach an underground river. Ralna senses an earthquake coming and heads back through the tunnel but when Jonas follows, they are separated by a cave in, forcing Ralna to go back to her village alone. At the underground river, they witness a fabled vortex that deposits water from underground rivers into above ground lakes and they are swept up by the vortex and carried back to the surface, where they are rescued by the Maori. Using the last of the herbs, Jonas is able to heal the Maori chief from his wounds, and they are finally able to head back to Boston. However, as Theodore and Jonas are making their presentation to the geological society, Jonas winds up fainting and is unable to wake up for a week. When he wakes up, he learns that Theodore and Alice are getting married and Helen questions him about Ralna, whose name he mentioned when he was asleep. A few days later, Theodore is discussing the parasite that Jonas had picked up at the geological society when Helen hands him a note from Jonas, in which he explains that he is going back to New Zealand to be with Ralna.
Sorry for the long review but this was a total of three hours and I did try to condense it a bit. Anyways, this wasn’t that bad of a mini-series but it was way different than the source material, or even the original movie. The acting was average at best, sometimes the actors were good, sometimes they were boring. Personally I thought that Hugh Keays-Byrne (McNiff) was one of the best characters in the whole miniseries. The story differed a lot from the book, especially the starting from New Zealand instead of Iceland. The action scenes were rather slow-paced but there was some great background effects, primarily the scene with the underground sea. If you want to watch this, I recommend watching it in two parts like it was originally aired, but don’t watch it thinking it will be like the book.
Rating: 2 out of 5