BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Jan 19th, 2015 •

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The Burroughs estate must have really been in this one for the bucks. Early on in the commentary track, Director Connor admits that it’s a children’s film. This is a good way to approach AT THE EARTH’S CORE if you want it to make any kind of cinematic sense. For example, two giant horned monsters battle to the death, which would have been thrilling if it were Ray Harryhausen or Willis O’Brien at the helm, or if the filmmakers had even captured a Toho vibe, but these monsters look like rejects from “Where the Wild Things Are,” and I guess maybe they were intended to. Kids should get a kick out of it.

Another way to approach the film, which I’ve heard is the preferred venue for many viewers, is with a group of friends enjoying it as a rousing so-bad-it’s-good experience. Since I saw it alone (I couldn’t rope anyone into joining me for a screening) I can’t vouch for how it might go over in a group environment. Probably it would be fun…occasionally.

Doug McClure (who sounds like he’s being dubbed by someone whose voice I can’t quite pin down…maybe Glenn Ford), is going on a trip with Anorexia-thin, dotty scientist Peter Cushing (flailing about with his prop-umbrella in one of the low point performances of his ordinarily anchored career) in a giant burrowing contraption dubbed “The Mole,” initially on a bet as to who can reach a certain point first – the one going around the mountain via normal transportation, or the one going through the mountain. A minor glitch sends them down instead of across, and when they awaken from dual bouts of heat stroke, they find themselves in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ mythical kingdom of Pellucidar, where stiff, hand-puppet-like birds (pterodactyls…really?) on wires can mentally control the caveman-level population, and where a man-eating plant makes a stupid noise like Hugh Herbert from the old ‘30s screwball comedies when, as then-supposed comic relief, he would shriek ‘Woo Woo’. (The plant’s teeth, by the way, look like carrots stuck in modeling clay.)

I’m on the fence despite the content of the previous paragraphs. A) Caroline Munro never looked better, plus she’s interviewed as a supplemental. B) Mike Vickers’ music is quite nice, ranging from electronic thrumming to an heroic orchestral theme, both of them used during the nicely edited title sequence shot in a smelting factory with molten metal dripping down, supposedly to build the burrowing machine, while also conjuring images of underground rivers of lava. C) The background paintings and miniature work are terrific. D) The print is gorgeous. E) And the commentary is all I hoped it would be, perfectly complimenting the loopy nature of the film.

And though the giant creatures are all pitifully fake, there is at least one thrilling scene featuring a barely-flexible beast – a contest in a stone arena between McClure and a waddling cross between a hippo, a lizard and a rodent. And it moves like the dragon in Douglas Fairbanks’ 1924 THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. The shots of it running up toward the camera (aka McClure’s POV) are actually moderately frightening. This is the closest the film comes to being good fun for us older folk.

As for the other mega-creatures, the first one they flee from is a ten-foot tall wooden-parrot-headed thing, that brought to mind what I’d heard about B-actor Jeff Morrow after attempting to deliver a serious performance in THE GIANT CLAW, then later sitting in a theater in dismay, actually seeing the monster for the first time, which looked like a marionette from the Howdy Doody show. The monster heads in ATEC reminded me of the wooden puppet-heads Houdini carved before he got heavily into magic – all of which now reside in a box in my apartment.

Pellucidar, the underground world, looks like one of the confined sets from the original Star Trek TV series, fake rocks and all. Connor, during the commentary, says the production occupied the largest stage at Pinewood, but it doesn’t seem so in the way Alan Hume’s camera frames the action.

As for the commentary track, an all-business Kevin Connor is cajoled, interrupted and harassed by a gabby, guffawing, hyper chap named Bill Olsen. Connor has really interesting info to impart. McClure married Connor’s production secretary. Cushing built a miniature train for Connor’s son (what that would be worth today on Ebay!). The effects shots were done in-camera with front projection, etc. He often refutes Olsen’s suppositions and misinformation. It’s a rollicking listen, every bit as off-the-wall as the film which, by the way, in the writing of this review, I’ve actually talked myself into liking.

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