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Where Time Began
(a.k.a. The Fabulous Journey To The Center Of The Earth)
(1977)

Director: Juan Piquer Simon
Cast:
Kenneth More, Pep Munne, Ivonne Sentis


There's a lot in my life that I find quite satisfying, and it makes me feel glad to be living in this day and age. Obviously, one of those satisfying things is motion pictures. I can not only access by various means thousands of motion pictures whenever I want, I can also write about them and have my writings of these motion pictures read by thousands of people all over the world. Also, computers and the Internet have made research and various other aspects of life a heck of a lot easier for mankind. And I don't have to face various diseases that ravaged people in the past, such as smallpox or the bubonic plague. But there's a part of me that's a little unhappy to be living in these modern times. As I have mentioned several times before on this web site, there's a part of me that desires to explore new places and discover new things. Sometimes I wish I lived several hundred years ago, when the world was still being explored and people were discovering new plant and animal life. The feeling of being the first person to lay eyes on new lands and new life would, to me, be the ultimate thrill. Sadly, however, the traditional ways of satisfying that craving for discovery have all but been eliminated. It seems that every little bit of all of the continents has been seen by various people. And scientists have done a pretty good job of cataloguing the various plant and animal life that lives on land. Oh, there are probably a few more plants and animals that have yet not been discovered, but more likely than not they are extremely insignificant, like tiny insects - hardly anything to get the blood pumping pretty hard.

So exploring the surface of the planet seems to not be a viable option for me to quench my thirst for discovery. Finding a previously unexplored island where prehistoric life still exists, which was depicted in movies like King Kong and The Last Dinosaur, is simply not a possibility. What other options are available? Well, although mankind has barely scratched the surface when it comes to outer space, our present level of technology limits us to what we can discover, and this exploring is reserved to only a select few. There is also exploring the world under the surface of the ocean, but the idea of being crammed into the small space of some kind of submarine while thousands of pounds of pressure are squeezing the submarine kind of fills my body with an alternate form of sea sickness. But recently, I figured out a third possible unexplored world that might possibly satisfy my craving for exploration. And that would be to explore what is under ground. Mankind has literally barely scratched the surface when it comes to underground exploration. True, most of what is under the surface of the Earth is solid dirt and rock. But I am sure that if you dig deep enough, you would be able to find caves that currently no person has ever explored. And it is entirely possible that in those caves, you would find some sort of life living there. Even plant life - I once read that a significant percentage of the plant life we already know exists on Earth does not need sunlight. And if there is plant life deep down there, there is also the possibility that there may be some form of animal life as well, animal life that has never been seen before.

All of this sounds intriguing and has endless possibilities. So it should come as no surprise that the motion picture industry over the years has made movies that depict people exploring underground and discovering new kinds of life. Some of these have been horror movies, such at the 2005 Where Time Beganmovies The Descent and The Cave. Whether they are horrific in nature or more serious, most of these underground exploration movies owe a debt to Jules Verne's novel Journey To The Center Of The Earth. The novel itself has been "officially" adapted to motion picture form several times, but these adaptations have been for the most part in-name only. In the past, I reviewed one such so-called direct adaptation, which managed to be utterly insane, so bad that I felt that any other adaptation of the Verne novel had to come across good by comparison. So even though my pre-viewing research of Where Time Began revealed that it was a low budget European production, I felt it had to be better than the Cannon Films' movie. For one thing, the movie sticks a lot closer to the Verne novel than Golan and Globus did. Where Time Began begins with Professor Otto Lidenbrock (Kenneth More, Dark Of The Sun) getting his hands on the writings of the legendary Arne Saknussemm, and after decoding the cryptic writings discovers that Saknessemm apparently made his way to the center of the earth. Like in the Verne novel, the professor is determined to follow Saknussemm's footsteps, so he travels to Iceland with his niece Glauben (Ivonne Sentis, China 9, Liberty 37) and Glauben's fiancÚ Axel (Pep Munne). Lidenbrock also hires shepherd Hans (Frank Brana, Pieces) to help, making a party of four. The four explorers descend into the bowels of the earth though an inactive volcano, and it doesn't take that long for them to discover strange and fascinating life deep down... though they also discover that their discoveries could prove deadly to them if they are not careful or lucky.

I know that for a lot of people reading this review, the first thing that they probably want me to go into with Where Time Beganis with the eye candy of the movie, with stuff like the sets, props, and special effects. They will want to know if they are passable, or if they are cheap and incompetent enough to be laughable or not. Believe me, there is a place in my heart for cinematic eye candy, but I want to first talk about the characters. A good adventure depends on good characters as much as eye candy, because a human element is needed to make the adventure engaging. However, the characters in this particular adventure are not particularly well developed. The character that comes off best is Professor Lidenbrock. He does not come across as too bumbling or eccentric, approaching situations with reasonable seriousness for the most part. However, he is missing a more human side to his character, not really showing that much compassion or care for his niece or the other characters he interacts with. Glauben, the professor's niece, does show some likeable spunk that at the same time feels believable for this late 19th century set story, and her fiancÚ Axel, while not the smartest man in the world, shows some brains and bravery on occasion. Unfortunately, when they are paired up, the tone of the movie often becomes too cutesy-pie, and other times they temporarily lose their intelligence and wander into danger. As for the character of Hans, his early scenes show some promise, coming across as a mostly silent but thoughtful and brave character. But not long after his introduction, the movie pretty much abandons any idea of using this intriguing character, giving him almost no additional dialogue or anything significant to do.

There is a fifth character that eventually enters the movie, a mysterious man named Olsen (Jack Taylor, The Ninth Gate) that the four explorers stumble upon while exploring the bowels of the Earth. He does not identify what he's doing there at first, and we in the audience then expect there will be a big (and clear) explanation eventually. While I guess there is an eventual explanation, it is far from satisfying, and it raises a lot more questions than answers. That is not the only example of poor writing found in Where Time Began. The movie has more than its share of unanswered questions. In the first part of the movie, there is no clear transition between finding a key ancient manuscript and when it is discussed among several professors. But the movie also has more than its share of plot points that are unbelievable and/or laughable, from 19th century Iceland having a gigantic multi-levelled museum, to characters that talk or shout loudly to people nearby who for some reason can't seem to hear them. Well, as for that last part, it may be because the movie's dubbed audio is so poorly recorded that it sometimes can't be made out. Director Juan Piquer Simon (Pieces) does use a few devices to try and gloss over the rough spots of the script, such as occasional voice over narration. Also, he does direct the whole package in a way that goes from scene to scene pretty quickly, so the audience doesn't dwell on a particular plot stupidity for too long. However, this directorial style does backfire on occasion, particularly the ending of the movie. After the adventurers have completed their adventure, you might expect that they would get a satisfying payoff, and we in the audience would share this payoff with them. However, we only get about a minute or two of post-adventure footage, which is simply not long enough for Simon to give his characters sufficient reward for their long and hard work.

There are additional weaknesses to be found in Simon's direction. Quite often in the movie where there is a moment where there should be excitement or awe, he directs the moment in a way that comes across in a matter-of-fact manner. The initial descent down the inactive volcano that leads into the Earth's interior is way too casual. And later, when the explorers make a raft to explore an underground lake, there's no sense of danger or thrills as this raft floats flatly on water that is obviously just a few feet away from the shore. There is some amusement seeing how this "underground lake" is accomplished by Simon, who was obviously working with a tight special effects budget. In fairness to him, he does manage to generate some decent eye candy despite the limited funds. He managed to shoot much of the movie in an actual and eye-catching cavern. And some of the special effects, such as giant turtles and giant mushrooms, actually don't look too bad. Even the shabbier special effects, like where 1970s Godzilla quality giant puppet water monsters get into a battle (while the wall of the soundstage behind them can be clearly seen), have a certain quaint charm that you don't get nowadays in CGI generated monsters in more modern special effects films. While Where Time Began sometimes has an agreeable old-fashioned charm, its problem is that the rest of the package for the most part is lacking enough spark. It should have either a lot of excitement, or a lot of goofiness to grab viewers. Maybe even both of those things. It seems aimed at younger children who haven't seen more energetic cinematic tales, instead of being a tale that one way or another would entertain people of all ages and cinematic diets.

(Posted October 11, 2022)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
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Check for availability on Amazon for Jules Verne's original novel

See also: Adventures In Dinosaur City, Journey To The Center..., Theodore Rex