Journey To The Center Of The Earth

Director: Rusty Lemorande  
Nicola Cowper, Paul Carafotes, Ilan Mitchell-Smith

I try to give my site a vast range of variety, namely by reviewing as many different examples of film genres as possible. But what I also try to do is review as many good movies as the number of bad movies I review. I've been able to do this for a long time, but I have to confess that it isn't easy, the main reason being that there are a lot more bad movies out there than good movies. From what I have learned about the motion picture industry, it is a miracle that any good movies get made at all. There are so many steps in making a motion picture, and even one slip-up can ruin the end results. First, someone in the industry has to come up with an idea for a movie. Although they say that there are no bad ideas, just bad executions of ideas, I've seen a number of movies that have caused me to wonder out loud how anyone could have thought the idea behind the movie was a good one. The next step is for the idea to be written out in a screenplay - here, the screenwriter can ruin things by writing a bad script. Next, a director has to be picked, and there are many hopeless directors out there, or directors who are unsuited to direct certain themes. Then there's the casting process - one famous movie producer once said that most actors are simply terrible at acting, and most of the few remaining talented actors out there are irresponsible or insane enough that their bad behavior can seriously hamper the making of a movie. Then there are other important parts of making a movie, ranging from cinematography to sound recording. Even if one of those things go wrong in the making of a movie, it can damage the end results enough that the movie will be labelled "bad" by most (if not all) viewers.

Still, with your average movie that is labelled "bad" by the majority of moviegoers, I am sure that the moviegoers in most cases would admit that the movie wasn't completely terrible and had one or two redeeming features. I personally find this most of the time I watch a bad movie. But occasionally you'll come across a movie that is so gloriously bad in almost (or totally) every way that it is clear things went very wrong right from the start for the filmmakers and continued that way up to and through the post-production process. The behind-the-scenes stories of these movies are usually fascinating. Let me give you an example of a bad movie that had a chaotic creation, the 1980 update of The Jazz Singer. While it was certainly a dubious idea to have a middle-aged man (played by Neil Diamond) rebelling against tradition and his conservative father, director Richard Fleisher (The Spikes Gang) reported in his memoirs years later that the execution first suffered from the fact that the original director (which several sources suggest was Sidney J. Furie) went crazy. Fleischer stated in his book that the original director shot every scene with five to seven cameras with ten or more takes almost every time, and every take was printed, resulting in dailies taking several hours to screen each day. Scenes were ad-libbed with no plan as to where to put them in the movie. Every day, the original director rewrote the screenplay extensively, so much so that actress Catlin Adams didn't know if her character was married to Diamond's character or not - among other confusing details. With the original director not giving them proper guidance, the cast (including Laurence Olivier) gave awful performances. Finally, the producing company put its foot down and told the original director to come up with a finished screenplay - or else. The original director did, but the submitted script was judged to be not only awful, it would double the original schedule and budget. The original director was fired, and replaced by Fleischer. But while Fleischer had directed some good films in the past, at this stage of his career he was past his prime, and the end results show he was unable to salvage anything from the hoary story, the overacting Olivier, and the underacting Diamond. Except maybe for the soundtrack, this is one movie where everything in front of and behind the scenes went wrong, wrong in a big way.

From what I have said up to this point, you have probably guessed that the movie I am reviewing here - Journey To The Center Of The Earth - is also a movie that goes wrong in so many ways that it's clear that there were a lot of problems behind the scenes. And you'd be right. I first came across the movie Journey To The Center Of The Earthabout twenty years ago, when it was released on VHS to video stores. I rented it because it was a Cannon film, being a fan of the output of the Cannon studio even back then. And I remember being struck dumb when I first watched it. Clearly this production had a lot of problems, but just what happened? My research at the time couldn't come up with much in the way of an explanation. Recently, after finding a copy of the movie on DVD, I subsequently did more research and found out roughly what happened behind the scenes. I'll reveal what I learned later, but first you really need to know just how disastrous the movie is. Journey To The Center Of The Earth starts out with a narrator talking over a blank screen. "For centuries," the narrator announces, "people have speculated on the possible existence of a civilization living in the center of the earth. Man has created countless myths concerning trolls, underground cities and mole men. But could these legends have some basis in fact? Could there be an underground empire? And if there is, are they planning to conquer our world? Is there something sinister going on in the center of the Earth? No one can really say." While the narrator is talking, the first images of the movie start to fade in over the blank screen, and the images are of... stock footage of the landscape of the moon. Yes, the moon. What that has to do with the center of the Earth, I cannot say.

After that inauspicious start, the credits start to roll. It probably says a lot that the credits of this movie, like the pre-credits teaser, don't fill the audience with a lot of confidence. During the listing of the actors, the list ends with the following proclamation: "With Kathy Ireland as Wanda Saknussemm". If that doesn't ring a warning bell with you, I'll explain. You see, a year previous to this movie, Kathy Ireland played this character in the movie Alien From L.A., a movie so bad it was subsequently given the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. Yes, they are going to continue her adventures with this new movie. Creeps you out, doesn't it? Incidentally, both Alien From L.A. and this movie were made from the Cannon film company. But as the credits roll on past the actors, Cannon film honchos Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus are not listed in the producer credits. True, not all Cannon movies were produced by Golan and Globus... but could it be possible that the Go-Go boys were so embarrassed by this movie that they took their names off? Something to think about. Anyway, at the end of the credits, it is proclaimed that the movie was directed by a fellow with the name "Rusty Lemorande". Rusty Lemorande? Rusty Lemorande? Who the heck names their child "Rusty Lemorande"? I haven't heard an odder name for a director since I learned about Skip Schoolnik. The name "Rusty Lemorande" makes me think of a pitcher of juice with an old nail lying at the bottom.

Anyway, after the credits the story begins. Thanks to more stock footage, this time of the parliament buildings, we know we are in England. Which is fortunate, because the newly filmed footage of city streets and rooms in this part of the movie is so anonymous-looking that it could have been filmed anywhere. We are introduced to Crystina (played by British actress Nicola Cowper). She has just been fired from her nanny job, and is seeking new employment. So she goes to the business of "Nannies R Us". Just a few seconds after arriving, the business gets a call. Seems someone wants a nanny "who is British and cheap" to fly to Hawaii to look after someone named "Bernard". In a matter of seconds, Crystina is in Hawaii. We know she's in Hawaii due to some stock footage (some of which is of surprisingly poor quality) of Hawaii. As the stock footage unfolds, part of the musical score from American Ninja 2 plays in the background. Crystina reaches the hotel where her client, a rock singer by the name of "Billy Foul" is staying at, and is directed to his room. There, Crystina discovers that Foul's precious Bernard is actually a dog, and is told to take him to another location to get a bath. Of course, all this brings up a lot of questions, like: Why did Billy think he needed someone British? Why did he think he needed a nanny instead of someone who's an expert with pets? Why didn't Billy hire someone local? My head hurts.

As Crystina starts on her journey to the dog bathing place as more American Ninja 2 music plays, she crosses paths with three siblings also staying at the hotel, the teenagers Bryan (Mitchell-Smith, Weird Science) and Richard (Carafotes, Knots Landing), and their little sister Sara (Jaclyn Bernstein). Through circumstances too lame to get into, the siblings take off with Crystina's basket of baby things, forcing Crystina to hire a taxi to follow the siblings to a volcanic park to retrieve her basket. Once there, equally lame circumstances force Crystina to stay at the park and follow the siblings to a nearby volcano. (We earlier learned from an overheard news report that another volcano nearby is erupting, but this news didn't stop the siblings for some reason.) Anyway, the four characters head to the bad matte painting of the volcano, eventually heading into a deep dark cave. As you no doubt are aware of, any time characters are in a deep dark environment, their dog always runs off into the blackness, and that's what happens here. For some reason, Crystina isn't concerned by this, and follows the siblings deeper into the cave. They quickly get to an opening over a great big drop, and within seconds, some bad-looking stock footage of a volcano eruption is seen, causing an earthquake in their area. Sara manages to get to safety, but Crystina, Bryan, and Richard plummet hundreds of feet down when the portion of the cliff they are standing on breaks off. Their fall is cushioned when they jump off and land in a pool of water below. Oddly, when the large piece of rock they were standing on lands in the water a few seconds later, it doesn't make a splash anywhere as big as you might think.

For the next few minutes, the group wanders around the area of the pool. It's here that we get to see some impressive set design - this cave looks pretty authentic, and it's about the only thing positive that can be said about this movie so far. Some comic books are found in this part of the cave system, though there's no explanation as to why they are there. It's around this time that the dog Bernard is seen with them - despite the fact that he was seen with Sara when the cliff broke off. They wander around the cave system for several minutes, occasionally engaging in absolutely inane conversation. Soon they get tired, and Richard announces, "Why don't we all get some sleep so we'll be well rested when the National Guard gets here in the morning?" I never knew that the National Guard was in the business of finding lost people. You learn something new every day. Anyway, the three of them soon get to sleep. And it's here that the movie gets even stranger. We are shown a dream sequence from one of the trio, a dream sequence that takes several minutes of the running time. It shows the characters (with Sara) still in the cave system wearing different clothes, and with two new human characters. They run into creatures that look similar in size and appearance to some of the monsters in the movie Where The Wild Things Are. The humans are captured except for Bryan, who saves the day with a ray gun of sorts. Then they are shown sitting on a rock that seemingly will be projected towards the surface. Then we suddenly see Crystina and Richard alone elsewhere in the cave lamenting about their fate, trapped in the cave forever. But a cute furry creature akin to a kitten appears to comfort them, and Richard tells Crystina that they will survive their plight. The dream ends.

This sequence was as jaw-dropping seeing it again as it was the first time I saw it. Obviously, the footage seen in this dream sequence was originally shot to take place later in the movie when the characters were awake. But the production problems of this movie prevented the movie from being completed as originally intended, so instead of throwing out the footage completely, they recycled it as a dream sequence. Talk about chutzpah. And things get worse from here. The trio wakes up and, because they can't travel up, decide to travel further down into the cave system, following a stream. After wandering for several hours, they suddenly realize the stream is gone. How they would manage to not notice that for such a long period is something I don't want to get into. Out of water, they decide to dig for it using Bernard, who can smell water (despite the fact that many scientists in real life say that dogs don't have this ability) When Richard digs for water, he suddenly gets blasted in the face by a big jet of steam, but is miraculously unburned. (While all this is going on, we see several pairs of glowing eyes in the back of the cave passage, but the movie quickly cuts away and forgets about this.) After getting water, the three continue on their journey deeper into the cave. Bryan accidentally gets separated from his companions, steps onto a weak part of the cave floor, and plunges into the depths below. Where does he land? Why, on the junkyard set that was used in the movie Alien From L.A., of course! As Richard and Crystina search for Bryan, Bernard soon follows Bryan down to the junkyard, and Richard is abruptly rescued by his family and the National Guard. Crystina, on the other hand, steps onto another weak portion of the cave floor, and like Bryan plunges to even further depths.

The next few minutes of the movie are devoted to introducing the viewers to this civilized underground world of Atlantis. The movie seems to think that viewers will have already seen Alien From L.A., since there are references to Wanda Saknussemm, the main character from the earlier movie. An Atlantian has retrieved Bryan from the junkyard and smuggled him home, eager to learn more about the surface world that the fascist Atlantian government is still claiming does not exist. Crystina, on the other hand, is stuck in the heavily guarded junkyard, not knowing where to go or what to do. We then are taken elsewhere to another character from Alien From L.A., a scientist by the name of Galba who is in the middle of assembling a special scientific experiment, a transporter that will take people to the surface world. Though Galba suspects that the Atlantian government really wants this transporter so that they can send troops to conquer the surface world. Not long afterwards, Crystina bumps into representatives of the Atlantian government in the junkyard and in her conversation with them indicates that she believes that this underground world of junk is some sort of amusement park. She is quickly seized and locked up. Will Crystina manage to escape from her predicament? Will she be reunited with Bryan? Will the eventual reappearance of Wanda Saknussemm, played by the squeaky-voiced Kathy Ireland, mean that we will have to once again cover our ears when (or if) she speaks? I'll leave it up to you to find out, though I will say there's a happy ending, and subsequently one of the human characters celebrates their freedom by watching a lengthy stretch of Cannon Films' The Delta Force on television, mixing scenes taking place at night with scenes taking place in the daytime. Then, in order to pad out the movie so it reaches an eighty minute length, we subsequently get two minutes of various clips from the movie (as well as some footage not previously used), followed by over six minutes of end credits. Mercifully, the movie ends right after this.

Believe me, while you might think you have a good idea of what watching Journey To The Center Of The Earth might be like from what I have written above, I have given you just a taste of this cinematic insanity. If you were to actually watch it, you would almost certainly be sharing my various thoughts while viewing this mess. Thoughts ranging from, "Who the heck thought this could pass as a feature film?" to "What on earth happened behind the scenes to make the finish product such a mess?" Well, as I said earlier, I did some research on the making of this movie and I came up with some explanation. What I uncovered suggested that the movie was originally intended to focus on the three siblings and the nanny throughout their adventures underground, eventually encountering those creatures seen through the dream sequence. Then, for unclear reasons, (possibly due to Cannon Films' financial problems starting to build at this point), production was shut down before shooting was completed. However, Cannon had pre-sold the movie to several foreign countries, and they owed these countries a movie. Eventually, hack director Albert Pyun (Omega Doom) was apparently hired by Cannon to use the sets built for his Alien From L.A. movie to complete the movie, though in a different direction than what was originally intended. So actors Cowper and Mitchell-Smith were brought back, and the movie was completed, though sold to several territories as a sequel to Alien From L.A. Well, I guess the movie could be considered a sequel, but aside from accomplishing that and showing some impressive cave sets, the finished product manages to be worse than many Albert Pyun movies that Pyun directed from beginning to end. To a degree, seeing how Pyun managed to complete an unfinished movie started by others is interesting, but when it comes to entertaining an audience, that's another story. The first part of the movie looks like it would have been a dumb and annoying adventure if it had been completed with its original vision, and Pyun's part of the movie is simply repeating the dumb and incoherent weirdness from Alien From L.A. Some masochists might find some pleasure here, but most people would find this movie more interesting to read and research about than actually watch.

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See also: America 3000, Neon City, Sinbad Of The Seven Seas