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Friday, August 30, 2019

At the Earth's Core ( 1976 )

Kevin Connor is best known for directing a series of rather cheesy popcorn sci-fi/adventure film adaptations of Edgar Rice Burrough novels, a series which began with The Land That Time Forgot ( 1975 ).  Most of the films had great casts, adequate special effects and plenty of Jules Verne-ion atmosphere which helped off-set some of the - unfortunately frequent - boring scenes. 

Alas, At the Earth's Core's 89-minute runtime was made up primarily of yawn-inducing moments.  It had a great story premise but, like many of Kevin Connor's movies, was bogged down by too much emphasis on our heroes escape from the primitive tribe that was enslaving them. In this case, the tribe being the Mahars. 

Peter Cushing gives a wonderful performance as the doddering Dr. Perry. This bespeckled British scientist has invented a machine called the Iron Mole which can bore through the Earth. Along with his partner, American financier David Innes ( Doug McClure ), they embark on a journey to the center of the Earth and discover a labyrinth where giant flying reptiles known as the Mahars rule a band of cavemen-like slaves. These slaves help to create tunnels where the Earth's molten lava is channeled away from their underground lair. Every once in awhile the Mahars get hungry and select a sacrificial victim to feast on. Princess Dia ( Caroline Munro ) is chosen to be their next dinner but David intervenes and rescues his newfound sweetheart, destroying the whole tunnel system in the process. 
A simple plot and a good one ( not unlike H.G Wells' First Men in the Moon ) but those darn Mahars were given too much of the film's attention. I am sure the male audience would have preferred the camera to linger on Caroline Munro rather than the giant reptiles. Not that there weren't other creatures to distract.....there were pig-snouted slave-drivers, giant rhino-like dinosaurs, and the mandatory pterodactyl. Yet, combined, they still weren't enough to wake-up the audience. 
It was refreshing to see Peter Cushing play a role so unlike the self-assured professor roles that he usually played in the Hammer films. Dr. Perry is eccentric but endearing and it would have been nice to see this character reappear in another film. Doug McClure gives his usual good performance and Caroline Munro is pleasant on the eyes ( she doesn't have much dialogue ). The remaining cast is obscured behind make-up, with the exception of Godfrey James and Cy Grant. 
At the Earth's Core was riding on the heels of the success of Kevin Connor's last film, The Land That Time Forgot ( 1975 ), and, in spite of its dull script, was very popular at the box-office. Connor would stick with his formula and make two more similiarly-themed films: The People That Time Forgot ( 1977 ) and Warlords of Atlantis ( 1979 ). 

2 comments:

  1. I have to admit I like this movie a lot! I see it as an old-fashioned adventure tale--it does get silly at times, but I think that's part of the movie's charm. It is great to see Peter Cushing present his comic side (this was the film he made directly before "Star Wars") and Caroline Munro (who I got to know during the making of "House of the Gorgon") looks fantastic for someone who has lived under the surface of the Earth for her entire life.

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    1. Ha! Yes, she wasn't pale at all from the lack of sun ( perhaps the molten lava gave her her tan ). I can see how this would be a favorite, I just couldn't get through that middle section without dosing off. I think Kevin Connor could have picked up a few tips from Charles Schneer/Ray Harryhausen about building momentum in a script. Incidently, doesn't Caroline Munro serve on the board of trustees for the Harryhausen Foundation? It must have been great meeting her.

      I too, loved the Victorian atmosphere of this movie. Two of my favorites ( among popcorn adventure flicks ) is Journey to the Center of the Earth and Island at the Top of the World because of their old-fashioned setting.

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