Wednesday, 18 January 2012

At the Earth's Core (1976)

In the mid-60s Hammer Films tried their hand at a series of vaguely science fictional adventure movies, with some success. In the mid-70s their great rivals, Amicus Productions, took the same path (fairly successfully also) with a series of Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations, which included At the Earth's Core in 1976.

This was based on the first of Burroughs’ Pellucidar novels.

Eccentric scientist Dr Abner Perry (Peter Cushing) has designed a gigantic manned digging machine, the Iron Mole. This will open up a whole new field of exploration, deep within the Earth. The machine was paid for by one of Dr Perry’s former students, the rather flamboyant David Innes (Doug McClure). He was not one of Dr Perry’ more brilliant students but he did have the advantage of being extremely wealthy, wealthy enough to fund this ambitious project.

A test run has been organised which will see the machine burrow through a hill in Wales. Dr Perry and David Innes will make up the machine’s two-man crew. Things go very wring, the machine gets out of control, and they end up deep beneath the Earth’s surface. Very deep indeed. There they discover the lost world of Pellucidar.

It’s not a very happy world for its human inhabitants. It is ruled by the Mahars, giant bird-like winged creatures with telepathic powers. Their control over Pellucidar is enforced by another species, the human-like but vicious Sagoths.

The humans of Pellucidar are regularly captured and enslaved by the Mahars and our two intrepid explorers get caught in the net as well. David doesn’t take kindly to this and he determines to do what he can to overthrow the reign of the Mahars. He’s a courageous and honourable man but he has an ulterior motive as well - to free the beautiful princess Dia (Caroline Munro).

It’s all played very tongue-in-cheek, with Cushing overdoing it a little as the kindly dotty elderly professor. Given the movie’s target audience he can be forgiven for this. McClure is perfect for the role of David - bluff and blustering but brave and good-natured. As usual Caroline Munro isn’t given enough to do, but as always she gives a certain class to what she does do.

The budget wasn’t really equal to the film’s ambitions but since it’s played strictly as a fun rollicking adventure yarn it gets away with it and even when the special effects aren’t quite up to par they’re still fun. Actually the cheapness of the special effects and the sets adds to the cheese factor which adds to the movie’s charm.

Pure entertainment, and highly recommended.

MGM’s DVD release in their Midnite Movies range is barebones but looks stunning.

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