Let’s take a journey for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column to the great science fiction. Where? Why, the center of the Earth, or course.
Naturally, I’m talking about the 1959 classic, ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, based off of the novel by Jules Verne. Though, perhaps when I say based off, I should say it has a passing resemblance to it. Both feature a man named Professor Lindenbrock, and his scientific journey to the center of the Earth, but other than that… very little else. The movie includes two evil scientists trying to steal Lindenbrock’s work, a widow of one of those rival scientists, and Icelandic man who does not speak English, and his beloved duck… which is really just much more fun, even if the movie doesn’t have the astounding imagery of giant humans living in a proto-civilization that herds mastodons. Instead, it has lizards on greenscreen that our fair heroes must escape.
So, is ‘Journey to the Center of Earth’ good science fiction?
Not really. I mean, it is entertaining, and it kept me in front of a television screen over and over as a seven-year-old, but it is not good science, and certainly not good science fiction. Namely, the scientist who journeys to the center of the Earth does so after not teaching any of his classes for weeks. Oh wait. Come to think of it, after working for a university… this may be accurate.
But still, its science is not very strong. Maybe in Jules Verne’s time, they didn’t know that it got hotter as you went to toward the center of the Earth, but by 1959 they certainly did, even if it was new science then. Science also isn’t just collecting things without noting where you got them.
Even the fiction element of the science fiction is wrong. While it is fiction, science fiction tries to at least be plausible and visionary. By this time, there was usually some notion of gender equality and an attempt to treat woman as human beings in science fiction… but in this movie, the main character does nothing but disparage the one female member of their party, and somehow they fell in love. No science can explain that.
However, what it does speak to is old naturalist science, where there were competitions to be the first to see something, or discover something, even if it’s not done very scientifically. There were wars between paleontologists (called the Dinosaur Wars, if you want to look it up) after all where each man tried to sabotage the other’s work in order to make sure they made the discoveries.
Basically, the movie has a lot of glaring errors. A lot. But it’s fun. After all, for some reason, there is a duck in their party. Even better, it’s for revenge of the duck that the antagonist eats that ultimately leads to his destruction.
They also escape the center of the Earth by exploding out of a volcano, and while I know that doesn’t make it very good science fiction, it still appeals to the part of me that loves campy unbelievability.
This is usually the part where I insist you go see this classic, but I’ll probably just say, if you want good old fashion movie mayhem and adventure in the way only the 1950s can deliver, this is the movie for you. If not, we’ll see what I dig up for next Throwback Thursday, and see if that entices you at all.