Intensive research. Months of planning. Designing and testing cutting edge equipment. Recruiting and training an elite team of crew members. This is the bare minimum necessary when undertaking a mission of exploration into the unknown, whether it be into deep space, the bottom of the ocean or even straight into the center of the Earth. Taking a shortcut on even one of those things will almost certainly lead to disaster! Neglecting all of them? Almost certainly will lead to a cheesy period fantasy movie!
Where Time Began is a Spanish version of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and while it at least delivers the steady stream of absurd oddities (giant wooden mushrooms!) you expect in your “lost world” film, it’s all done without the benefit of a script that has any sort of narrative thrust beyond the main character periodically stating he isn’t turning back after whatever misfortune has just befallen his small group of dimwitted adventurers.
With such a disinterest in telling a compelling story, there’s no rhyme or reason to where they go or what they encounter. There is no real goal to their expedition other than some vague idea that they will “make history”. And when you start wondering whether all of this is building to some type of climax that tests the characters and makes them question their ill-thought out quest (like how in the hell are they ever going to get back to the surface), they are miraculously in the right place when an explosion goes off, solving all their problems for them instantly. But it does have time traveling clones, so you can’t say they weren’t trying!
Professor Lindenbrock comes into possession of an old journal which contains a coded message that gives directions to an entry point to descend to the center of the Earth. As is usual with folks who have PhDs in obscure academic pursuits, but suffer borderline intellectual functioning when it comes to common sense, he immediately sets off for Iceland to find the volcano where the entrance is located.
Along for the trip is his daughter Glauben and her wimpy douchebag soldier boyfriend. Neither of them has any skills and as if to make that painfully clear, the professor tells the soldier that his job on the mission will be to keep a diary of their adventure. (This does lead to the film’s few amusing moments when his voiceover describes himself in a good light, though the action on screen show him being a complete wanker.)
If you’re concerned that Lindebrock’s team is lacking, he is smart enough to hire on a local man to go with them. Sure the local man, Hans, is an out of work shepherd, who has zero skills other than a strong back to haul stuff for the professor, but he does have one overriding quality that makes him the perfect man for the job – he’s willing to let the professor pay him in sheep!
Everything goes according to plan until about five minutes down into the earth when Glauben slips and falls, dropping all of their water down into a chasm. Then a little bit after that, she falls into a mudpit and almost drowns before being rescued by a mysterious stranger. And finally, apparently feeling left out of the action, her boyfriend falls off a cliff and suffers a head injury, though in the least surprising development of the film, it doesn’t impact him at all!
The person who rescued Glauben is revealed to be Olsen, a man who carries a strange gold box with him and is conducting experiments in the center of the Earth. His experiments consist of him turning some knobs on the box and causing explosions which almost kill everyone else because of the poison dust the blast shakes off the tops of the giant mushrooms.
Olsen also has a book which was written several years in the future, talks about time being relative and shows off the secret city hidden in a cave which consists only of copies of himself conducting research. And by the way, he can even heal his own wounds really fast. It’s a hodgepodge of the fantastic and even once we know all this, Olsen is still mysterious since none it ever adds up or is explained in any fashion.
The movie settles into a routine of exploring some area, bumping into monsters and running away from them to their raft, where they sail away until the next such encounter. There’s a sea monster who tries to eat Glauben (why is she swimming in an ocean where no one knows what else is swimming there?) before it gets into fight with another sea monster, there’s a bunch of giant tortoises (this is the sort of film that takes fleeing from turtles very seriously), there’s a giant gorilla that somehow manages to sneak up on the Glauben and her boyfriend (how did they not at least smell that thing ahead of time?) and what would one of these types of movies be without some dinosaurs lurking around?
The special effects are exactly what you expect from this sort of thing – rubber dinosaurs and a guy in a gorilla suit. The giant tortoise shells and mushrooms had an interesting look to them and the film made really good use of its location shooting in a cave and elsewhere, eschewing a fake studio-bound feel for some impressive and expansive outdoor shots that showcased some out of the ordinary scenery.
The limp story and lame characters though consign the mostly low energy and humorless Where Time Began pretty far down the list of 1970s fantasy/adventure films (see also At the Earth’s Core, The Land that Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, Warlords of Atlantis) though watching Hans outrunning an exploding volcano while carrying a sheep to safety is something we never saw in any of those movies.
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