I recently finished reading Jules Verne’s book Journey to the Center of the Earth. I do not remember having read it before, but I may have as a child. I thoroughly enjoyed the book; the plot, characters, and settings all being amazing. The 1959 movie based on the book has always been one of my all-time favorite movies, right up there with The Wizard of Oz.
But as I began to read, I was immediately struck by differences between the movie and the book. As I read on I became increasingly amazed at just how different the movie and book were. It was as if the creators of the movie had as a goal to make the movie as different from the book as possible. From the plot to the characters, there are very few similarities between the two.
Starting with the characters, in the movie we had Professor Lindenbrook, Alec McKuen, Professor Goteborg and his wife Karla, Hans and his pet duck Gertrude, and Count Saknussem and his assistant. In the book there are only three main characters, Professor Lindenbrook, his nephew Axel (note the name change), and Hans, sans Gertrude.
Almost every scene in the movie is either absent in the book or scenes in the book absent in the movie, or drastically altered in some manner. The differences are almost too many to note, but I will endeavor to cite as many of them as I can.
Firstly, the manner in which the secret of Arne Saknussem’s trip to the center of the earth is revealed. In the movie a plum bob with letters etched on it is found inside a piece of lava that is accidentally exploded. In the book it is a piece of parchment with writing that has to be decoded and translated.
The abduction and imprisonment of Professor Lindenbrook and Alec in the movie never happens in the book. The subsequent scenes where they escape and enlist the aid of the widow of murdered Professor Goteborg in order to obtain needed equipment that was stolen is absent in the book.
A significant portion of the book regales the travels of Professor Lindenbrook and Axel to Snefelles where the entrance is to be found. This is glossed over in the movie.
The accidental flooding of the subterranean chambers caused by the removal of a crystal in the movie is actually in the book a deliberately done act by the adventurers in a desperate attempt to find water as they had run out and were dying of thirst.
There is no lost city of Atlantis, no dinosaur fight on the beach of the underground sea, no scene where the magnetic center of the earth caused all the metal on the raft to be drawn away, in the book.
Even the manner in which they finally escaped from the center of the earth was changed. In the movie they were propelled by lava from a volcanic eruption induced when the explorers caused an explosion to remove a giant boulder blocking a volcanic funnel, while in a giant altar stone.
In the book they were propelled by water while on a raft after blowing up a blockage in a tunnel at the edge of the sea. A huge void was opened, drawing them and the ocean in and propelling them upward and eventually out of Mount Etna.
Why the producers of the movie felt it necessary to make a movie that so faintly resembled the original book is unknown to me. I am moved to go back and re-read or read some of the books that were the basis for many of my favorite movies and see how faithfully or unfaithfully they followed the book upon which they were based. I’ll let you know what I find out.