Review of “At the Earth’s Core” (1977)

From Youtube

Svengoolie was a rerun once again, so we went to Mystery Science Theater for this gem, an adaptation of an Edgar Rice Burroughs work. 
 
Plot:  
 
Against a backdrop of Victorian Great Britain, scientist Dr. Abner Perry (Peter Cushing) oversees the building of a giant earth-boring machine, “the iron mole.” Accompanying him on its test run through some Welsh hills is former student David Innes (Doug McClure), who has financed the venture.  
 
The local people come to watch the demonstration, along with the press and a marching band. First contact between drill and hillside produces sparks and smoke and jostles our heroes around in their leather-upholstered swivel chairs. The crowd applauds. 
 
As soon as Perry and Innes are underground, things go wrong. First, the borer heads down rather than straight ahead through the mountain. Our heroes have no control. On an analog indicator, the crew watches as the machine digs through the earth’s crust and the upper mantle. They faint from the heat. The machine keeps boring through the lower mantle and skirting the earth’s core. When Perry and Innes revive, they find frost covering their instruments and their persons. The ice outside the ship becomes water—they’re in an underground lake. They find themselves on land. The ship halts and goes dark. Innes strikes a match and lights a cigar, providing the only light inside the “mole.” 
 
“Total power failure,” says Perry. “How very disappointing. It must have been the water. I didn’t allow for that contingency. I’ll just get my umbrella. The weather seems so changeable.” 
 
They exit the machine and find themselves in a jungle. 
 
“This can’t be the other side of the hill—unless it’s changed dramatically,” Perry tells the younger man. 
 
There is no attempt to explain the outside light source. Perry immediately recognizes some of the plant species. He’s only seen fossilized form.  
 
They come to understand they’re not on the earth but in it. Their explorations are interrupted by a giant parrot/eagle stomping through the jungle. Our heroes flee. Perry even tries to shoo it away with his umbrella.  
 
The real trouble starts when they’re rescued, however. Beings that resemble apes with slicked-backed hair drag Perry and Innes to a group of humans, chained together, making their way to the city of the Mahars as slaves. 
 
Thoughts
 
From the opening shots of gentlemen in 19th-century garb holding planning specs to the marching band spoiling the publicity picture, I knew this would be a delightfully goofy flick. It did not disappoint. It has much in common with works like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Time Machine.  
 
The special effects are, um, quaint. That is, guys in pterodactyl costumes enslave humans by using telepathic powers. Their eyes light up when they’ve got their mojo working. They hang out on rocks with a bit of fog. They have a written language. 
 
Guys in upright rhinoceros fight each other.  
 
Innes falls for one of the slave women, the lovely Dia (Caroline Munro), but he offends her in some complicated culture-specific way, and she won’t talk to him anymore. Ah, yes. The course of true love never did run smooth, even if those people speak English. Maybe that British Empire went farther than even the British knew.  
 
Our heroes wouldn’t be heroes if they didn’t liberate the oppressed from their oppressors—an idea that apparently didn’t cross their poor benighted minds until the plucky Brits arrived.  
 
The best lines come from Peter Cushing’s character, Abner Perry. In defying the telepathic Mahar, he insists, “You cannot mesmerize me! I’m British!” 
 
No one will confuse this with great cinematic art, but it is silly and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I enjoyed it. 
 
The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films nominated At the Earth’s Core for its 1977 Golden Scroll Best Fantasy Film. 
 
At the Earth’s Core can be watched here
 
Title: At the Earth’s Core (1976) 
 
Directed by 
Kevin Connor 
 
Writing Credits 
Edgar Rice Burroughs…(based upon the novel by) 
Milton Subotsky…(screenplay) 
 
Cast (in credits order) 
Doug McClure…David Innes 
Peter Cushing…Dr. Abner Perry 
Caroline Munro…Dia 
Cy Grant…Ra 
Godfrey James…Ghak 
Sean Lynch…Hoojah 
 
Released: 1976 
Length: 1 hour, 29 minutes 
Rated: PG

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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