The 1989 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth comes with a set of jarring facts. Firstly, it’s a sequel. It (loosely) continues the story told in director Albert Pyun’s Alien from L.A. Next on the list of curiosities is that its fealty to the source material, the book by Jules Verne is thin, to say the very least. The protagonists do fall into a deep hole that takes them to a subterranean world, but it is not inhabited by giant prehistoric fish in vast underground seas. In fact, nearly nothing else from the novel happens.
At the inception of the film, a young, down on her luck, English nanny, Crystina (Nicola Cowper), is called to Hawaii to look after her next charge. Instead of a child, she’s asked to care for a dog named Bernard, owned by a glam rock star, Nimrod (Emo Philips). She agrees to do so, and we are off to the races. Note at this point that the owner of the dog, a famous, eccentric musician, is never mentioned again and has no bearing on anything that follows. That slapdash manufacturing of cause and effect sets the tone for the rest of the narrative, such as it is.
“Our intrepid Scooby gang discovers there’s a plan afoot by the Atlanteans to rise up and take over the surface world…”
One contrived situation after another, including following the dog into a volcanic cave, and soon enough, Crystina is at the ostensible center of the planet with Bernard the dog, and two brothers: Bryan (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), and Richard (Paul Carafotes).
The plot proceeds in this disconnected and bizarre fashion from here on out. The surface-dwelling main characters wander paper mache caverns with the dog. Bryan burns precious flashlight battery power by reading comic books along the way. Richard cozies up to Crystina, who is repulsed by him. There are some gratuitous shots of Crystina with her shirt wet and unbuttoned… pretty standard fan service for the audience of primarily teen boys for whom the film was made. There’s one moment of stand-out weirdness involving a dream sequence that makes even less sense than the rest of the movie. Crystina has a fever-dream in which Bryan uses Elvis karate chops to defeat monsters that look like rejected Dark Crystal Skeksis prototypes from the Jim Henson workshop.
"…monsters that look like rejected...prototypes from the Jim Henson workshop."