‘At the Earth’s Core’ was the final film to be made by Hammer Studio’s rival, Amicus, makers of both ‘Dr. Who and the Daleks’ and ‘Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD’ as well as a personal favorite, ‘The Land that Time Forgot.’ It brings home Amicus’ strategy for completing with Hammer, make it action packed, lurid as possible and on the cheap. It is a semi-faithful adaption of the Burroughs novel of the same name, pulpy and fun with a strange mix of Victorian adventure and a touch of seventies style psychedelia.
The movie wastes no time getting into the action, as Dr. Abner Perry (Peter Cushing), inventor of a tunneling machine along with David Innes (Doug McClure), an American who is financing their expedition deep under the Earth, take off for the depths with some considerable fanfare from a gathered crowd. Dr. Perry does not count on the extreme heat they encounter as they descend and both men pass out, only to come to in strange world with a pink sky and plants that existed millions of years ago. As they explore, they are captured by strange pig men, meet beautiful women and some psychic rhamphorhynchuses who are very into the beautiful women. There are slave revolts, lava, man-eating-plants and exploding dinosaurs, basically everything you want in a movie, ever.
The production looks very good. The whole film alternates from the vibrant and strange wildlife to the dimly lit caverns. The rubber suited monsters are never scary but they all have a lot of personality. There is a lot of model work, and rear projection and the occasional just damn big prop. In particular Doug McClure’s arena battle with a rhino/lizard monster is wonderful mix of live action and rear projection. They acting is pretty solid all around, I do wish Cushing and McClure would have a few more scenes together, they have an enjoyable chemistry. Actually, I wish there were a few more Cushing scenes period; he disappears for a long stretch in the middle of the film.
The music is weird amalgam of traditional symphonic score and more contemporary (for the 1970's anyway) synthesizer music. It’s done to highlight the otherworldly nature of Pellucidar, the world at the core of the Earth. At first it feels a little disjointed to have both styles but ultimately I think it is a very successful way to help highlight the collision of above ground and underground dwellers.
‘At the Center of the Earth’ has a very enjoyable Saturday matinee feel to it. It rarely slows down and feels almost eager to show off the next monster or action sequence. It helps that everything is taken with a healthy dose of humor. It is at the same time a traditional adventure story there are a few touches of more experimental film in its sound and set design. The film has a very good DVD release that brings out the brilliant colors and wide screen compositions. It is a perfect companion film with ‘First Men in the Moon’ (1964) for Victorian adventure double feature.