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At The Earth's Core (1976)

Courtesy of Canal+ Image UK ltd

Main image of At The Earth's Core (1976)
35mm, 90 minutes, colour
DirectorKevin Connor
Production CompanyAmicus Productions
ProducerJohn Dark
ScreenplayMilton Subotsky
Original novelEdgar Rice Burroughs
CinematographyAlan Hume

Cast: Doug McClure (David Innes); Peter Cushing (Doctor Abner Perry); Caroline Munro (Dia); Cy Grant (Ra); Godfrey James (Ghak)

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Two victorian scientists, experimenting in their 'Iron Mole' drilling machine, enter the lost world of Pellucidar at the centre of the Earth. Taken captive by the subterranean Sagoths, they are forced to work in the city of the Meyhas, a tyrannical race of flying creatures who feast on women.

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At the Earth's Core is the second film adaptation of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel by the team of director Kevin Connor, producer John Dark, actor Doug McClure and British production house Amicus. It is not part of Burroughs' 'Caprona' book trilogy, on which Connor's other films, The Land that Time Forgot (1975) and The People that Time Forgot (1977) were based, but deals nevertheless with the theme of a lost and hidden world where the protagonists encounter humans and creatures from an ancient time.

Unlike the two Caprona films, which set the action during World War I, At the Earth's Core takes place during Victorian times, and the first ten minutes of the film pay homage to the technical prowess and ambition that we have come to associate with that age. The giant mole, quite believable in its rendition, reminds us that technology and progress are integral to science fiction, and the way the film draws on this relationship recalls the work of both H.G. Wells and that other SF pioneer, Jules Verne.

But the more-or-less plausible scenario of the first 10 minutes of the film is quickly abandoned in favour of a tongue-in-cheek 'B' movie. In the absence of an adequate budget - a pity for a story featuring such a visually rich and artificial world - cast and crew emphasise comedy and entertainment, and target an undemanding, mostly young audience.

Peter Cushing takes on the role of the absent-minded English professor, and it is hard to tell whether he is enjoying the role or just doesn't know what to do with it. Doug McClure gives another stiff but, for the material, perfectly adequate performance, and Caroline Munro, as the barely dressed Princess Dia, despite her modest acting talent, remains for many the film's most memorable aspect - alongside the latex-suit dinosaurs.

Extravagant, colourful and thoroughly preposterous, At the Earth's Core is utterly without pretension but has the exuberant charm of the best of its decade.

Eric Mahleb

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Video Clips
1. Under the Earth (2:00)
2. Slave march (3:52)
3. Fire-breathing monster (3:33)
Original poster
Production stills
Land That Time Forgot, The (1974)
Cushing, Peter (1913-1994)
Subotsky, Milton (1921-1991)
Amicus Productions
Science Fiction