When Professor Otto Lindenbrock (Kenneth More) entered this Hamburg bookseller's in 1898, he could have no concept of what he was about to discover. An elderly gent was trying to persuade the owner to buy three rare journals but he wasn't interested, though Lindenbrock was and purchased them for further examination. It so happened he was involved in a project to explore the underground caverns of the world in the hope the mystery of what actually lay down there would be solved. Some said beneath the Earth's crust was nothing but molten rock...
But that's not going to make much of an adventure, is it? Unless you're a really big fan of The Core, one assumes, but this was drawn from the classic Jules Verne science fiction novel, and pretty much everyone knew how it would go even if they hadn't read the original text, which made the opening half hour of Spaniard Juan Piquer Simón's version something of a slog. That particularly when you took into account it was very close to the 1959 Hollywood incarnation of the text, only on a lower budget, though that did not prevent you from eagerly anticipating the arrival of some dinosaurs on the scene.
More made a fair Lindenbrock, but his co-stars were never more than adequate, not thanks to their acting but more due to the script which made most of them incredibly clumsy in service of advancing the plot. Once the Prof has a handle on the journals, he works out where there's the ideal entry point into the underground world, so off they go to Iceland where he, his daughter Glauben (Ivonne Sentis) and her would-be soldier fiancé Axel (Pep Munné) meet with local Hans (Frank Braña) who agrees to assist on the mission if he can be awarded a flock of sheep for reasons best known to himself and thankfully not shared with the audience. Before long, though it feels longer, this party are exploring the environment within the ground itself.
And dropping things, falling over, and generally coming across as desperately unprepared, though as it turns out they're not alone down there. No, there's a shadowy figure who watches from behind the rocks and even helps Flauben out of a hole filled with mud only to flee, leaving Lindenbrock telling her she was hallucinating in her stress. She wasn't of course, but quite who this fellow is is left a mystery in spite of him getting introduced properly later on as Olsen (Jack Taylor), an adventurer who drops hints he has arcane knowledge and may even be from the future. Quite what drove Simón to that development is oddly unexplained too, though the film claims to be a tribute to the earliest pioneers of science fiction in the movies.
But what you really want to see are the monsters, and as if Simón was admitting it was those British Amicus Edgar Rice Burroughs movies of the day such as The Land That Time Forgot or (more obviously) At The Earth's Core he was influenced by, we see some hand puppet creations when the explorers get deep enough to reach an ocean which handily resembles an ocean from the surface, complete with clouds in the sky. To show he was trashier than his competitors, the director depicts dinosaurs ripping one another's throats out and when he runs out of them he has a man in a gorilla costume show up for King Kong impressions. These creatures were rather meagrely doled out as if the budget wouldn't stretch too far, or not as far as the audience might have appreciated. Though the most baffling aspect is the sci-fi city they see from afar, but decide not to investigate! It was selected items of craziness like that which made this Verne adaptation slightly less of a waste of time than it might initially appear.