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Subj: Sci-Fi Cinema #33 - At The Earth's Core (1976)
Posted: Sun Nov 29, 2020 at 12:49:55 am EST (Viewed 95 times)
At The Earth's Core (1976)
Geologist Dr. Abner Perry (Peter Cushing) and his "worst geology student," mining heir David Innes (Doug McClure) have constructed the Iron Mole, a drill-ship the size of a jet airliner for deep-Earth exploration. Strangely it only has seats for two. With no explanation as to where they are going or what they are trying to accomplish they just start drilling.
They are surprised to find they are burrowing much faster than expected. Some turbulence flings them around and knocks them unconscious (no seat belts, tsk) and when they come to, they have landed darn near the center of the Earth in the land of Pellucidar. Trees and mushrooms are giant, the sky is pink, and they are soon chased by a bird-beaked dinosaur. Next they are captured by the Sagoths, pig-snouted ape-men, and shackled to a group of primitive human slaves (who speak English, of course). David punches out a shifty-eyed human who is making unwanted advances on the pretty Dia (Caroline Munro) and unknowingly initiates a mating ritual.
The prisoners are taken before the Sagoths' masters, the Mahars, a council of telepathic pterodactyl men. They split our heroes up into three groups. David is sent to break rocks on a chain gang. As Roger Ebert said in his review, hard to believe in a world where everything is made of rock that they would need to mine for more rocks. Perry is tasked with transcribing Mahar tablets which for some reason he knows how to read. Dia ends up with the slave women that the Mahars scoop up and fly off with. Are they eating? Raping? Who knows.
David decides it's his duty to rescue Dia and help the humans overthrow their dinosaur masters and soon he's leading a rebellion. There are a lot of cave tunnels to be explored, dino beasts to fight, and allies to be made. I like how every dinosaur explodes when it's defeated. The technology of Pellucidar seems to be lava-based. The Mahars' big secret involves a ceramic egg they are filling with lava, and when the humans destroy it, it causes all of their tunnels and buildings to explode.
At The Earth's Core is based on the 1914 novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the first of seven novels he wrote about Pellucidar. Burroughs is probably best known for creating Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and John Carter of Mars. In one book he even has Tarzan visit Pellucidar and it turns out the Sagoths speak the same language as the apes. This feels like an extension of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth which was a little less fantastic. They didn't have a drilling machine in that one, the heroes descended down the throat of a dormant volcano into a series of underground caves. They found some dinosaurs who had escaped extinction but no humans or telepaths.
At The Earth's Core was directed by Kevin Connor who had previously directed The Land That Time Forgot, also based on a Burroughs novel, about a tropical island near Antarctica where dinosaurs and cavemen had survived. It also starred Doug McClure as the hero. He's a passable hero. Cushing plays Perry as an absent-minded professor type. Unfortunately we don't really have memorable character villains since the Mahars are all guys in rubber suits.
Cushing appears in Star Wars a year after this. This movie feels similar to Star Wars in pacing. It's a rush from one action scene to the next with little explanation. Burroughs explained that the Earth is a hollow ball and Pellucidar was on the inside concave surface. In the center of the hollow space was a miniature sun that provides their light. I'm not sure what keeps people stuck to the surface. The filmmakers probably knew that a 1976 audience wouldn't buy that so they don't try to explain. They just note that the sky is pink and then hey -- quicksand! Dinosaur! Run!
The novel ends with David and Dia married and returning to the surface world to resupply for a return trip. This one has a less certain ending; he goes home without her. Maybe they weren't confident in a sequel? I wondered how the primitive humans erected a scaffolding so quickly for the Mole's return launch but ... never mind.
The reviews for this one are pretty bad, but I found it to be a fun, quaint, disposable throwback and a pretty ripping adventure yarn.
You can watch At The Earth's Core here.
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