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Where Time Began (1977)

More than a year ago, I let our son know that we’d see several variations on the classic Jules Verne tale Journey to the Center of the Earth. If the one with James Mason was too long, and it was, here’s a leaner 90-minute version that gets to where it needs to go in a comparative rush, and then adds lots more dinosaurs, among other things.

I saw Where Time Began six or seven times on HBO in 1979 or 1980 and gradually forgot that the film existed. It’s a Spanish film directed by Juan Piquer Simón and these days it usually trades under a title that’s a closer translation of the original name: Viaje al centro de la Tierra, or The Fabulous Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The movie stars Kenneth More along with Pep Munné, Ivonne Sentis, and Jack Taylor, which is why this film got a recharge in my memory circuits. About a year and a half ago, I was reading up on the films of Jess Franco, and Taylor, who starred in at least three of Franco’s movies, got a little sidebar. I then remembered Where Time Began, kind of. I mainly remembered it as the movie with the giant tortoises and the poisonous dust, which is very surprising because these are unbelievably minor plot points. The movie spends about fifty seconds total on the two things!

Our son enjoyed this more than I was expecting. Some of these older films don’t quite have the punch with him that I thought that they might. The faster pace and gee-wow effects of modern movies just appeal more to kids. But he didn’t see through the really hopeless monster effects of this movie at all. Two sea monsters get into a bloody battle and he was riveted. If you’ve got a six or seven year-old at home, this is definitely one to consider watching, because ours was fascinated by everything in it: quicksand, caves, sea monsters, dinosaur graveyards, giant tortoises, whirlpools, volcanoes, and, apparently because the 1976 King Kong was making giant apes trendy again, there’s a thirty foot tall gorilla as well. That’s not in Verne’s novel, is it?

There’s one little addition to the movie’s sequence of events that really did surprise me. It’s a small scene that doesn’t seem to have a great deal of impact on the narrative, but it’s almost as weird as that “what the heck did I just watch” finale of The Black Hole. In this version, Professor Lindenbrock’s party meets just one other person underground, a taciturn man named Orson played by Jack Taylor. He keeps to himself and speaks briefly about his own experiments, and after the giant gorilla business, he shows Munné and Sentis something downright weird. Miles beneath the Earth’s surface, there’s a bizarre super-scientific city. Through a telescope, the young people see that the people in the city are all identical to Orson. He swears them to secrecy and the odd sight is indeed never mentioned again.

A lot of this movie seems like the director was throwing everything at the screen to see what would stick. We were never bored, but it did feel like some of the danger was a little too distant. We see some monsters only very briefly, and some never menace our heroes at all, as though the film didn’t have the resources to actually do anything with them. But this is a movie for kids to watch and to enjoy safe little frights. Just having the crocodile-like head of some beast roar and retreat is all that’s needed for some viewers. If you’re a grownup, you might want to obtain the service of a kid before watching this version!

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