Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) Henry Levin
Twilight Time Blu-ray (2015 reissue) (2:12)
I’ll unapologetically admit that I love Henry Levin’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (which is also my favorite Jules Verne novel), offering no justification or defense of the film other than the fact that it reminds me of what it’s like to experience pure wonder and joy while going to the movies. I know that probably sounds trite and old-fashioned, but I don’t care. I also know that the film is often silly and I further admit that a little Pat Boone goes an awfully long way. And yet this is a film that I’ll watch over and over.
Knowing everything that I’ve just told you – and knowing that the last Twilight Time Blu-ray release of the film in 2012 sold out – I decided to purchase the 2015 4k restoration of the film as my “audition” of Twilight Time.
Some explanation is in order. If you aren’t familiar with them, Twilight Time is a company that began in 2011 specializing in releases of classic vintage films on DVD and Blu-ray. The founders of the company, Brian Jamieson and Nick Redman both have extensive experience in the film and music industries. Originally Twilight Time released one film per month, then increased releases steadily over the past few years. Their current new releases page shows nine films in eight releases (one release being a double feature).
Although I’d listen to the guys at Criterion Cast singing their praises nearly every week, I’d never bought a Twilight Time release until last week. Why the holdout? Mainly the price. Twilight Time Blu-rays retail for $29.95. If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, I know what you’re thinking: “Criterion Collection releases retail for $39.95 and you sure don’t seem to have any trouble picking those up.” True, but you can buy most of those discs at 50% off at least twice a year. I’d rarely seen a Twilight Time sale, and when I did, they were usually discounts of films I wasn’t interested in owning.
I also was turned off when I found out the company only prints 3,000 copies of each release, which is all well and good until you’re trying to find a copy of an older release. You can find them, but it’s going to cost you around $60 or more from a third-party seller on Amazon or eBay. Two of the films I most wanted were The Driver (1978, currently $54.89 new on Amazon) and The Train (1964, currently $71 dollars new), both of which are out of print. I found a Studio Canal UK edition of The Driver and an Arrow UK edition of The Train, which (at the time) were together about half the asking price for either Twilight Time release.
So why are Twilight Time Blu-rays so expensive? Why only 3,000 copies?
Here’s the way I understand it: (Criterion Cast guys or anyone else, please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here.) Twilight Time obtains a license from studios to release certain films from those studio catalogs, but only for a limited number of units (usually 3,000) for a limited time (usually three years). Either those studios don’t think releasing the films under their own label would be profitable or there’s not enough demand or both, so it’s a win-win situation for the studio. They allow Twilight Time the rights to release those films for a limited run. Once they sell out or the license runs out, the titles are once again in the complete control of the owning studio. What I’m a little fuzzy on is how much restoration Twilight Time is allowed to carry out and how those deals are worked out. (Again, readers who can fill in the gaps in my info, please feel free to comment below.)
So Twilight Time is working with the stipulations they’ve had placed upon them. You can’t hate ‘em for that, although you can find plenty of haters out there on the web. I decided to at least give these guys a chance and here’s what I found:
First, my order arrived very quickly, which always gets my attention. Second, the packaging looked professional and included a nice 8-page booklet. But the real proof is in the product once you put it in your player.
And wow. I was blown away aurally by the first notes of the Bernard Herrmann soundtrack which literally pushed my head back, but visually I was astounded. The colors, detail, definition and crispness of image just knocked me out from the first frame and never let up. I’m not one of those guys who can give you a complete rundown of all the technical details on why the transfer looks great, but just trust me: this is a spectacular viewing experience. If every Twilight Time transfer is this good, they’re worth every cent of the $34.95 (price with shipping) price tag.
If you’d like to get detailed information, you can find it at High-Def Digest, which ran a comparison between the 2012 and 2015 Twilight Time releases. Another impressive factor in Twilight Time’s favor: they probably didn’t have to improve upon their previous release, but they did. And they didn’t raise the price.
Yet Twilight Time recently announced that it will discontinue their reissue program, so the limited runs of 3,000 copies will be all that’s available. What’s even more distressing is that some people have reported that overall sales at the company are down, which may force them to make only 1,500 copies of each title available.
Clearly, after watching this release, I am on board with these guys. I can’t afford to buy a ton of their releases, but I will definitely buy more and will probably pre-order the ones that interest me most as soon as they’re announced. (Their reissue of The Big Heat will likely be my next one.) If you’re on the fence – even if you’re a hater – I’d urge you to give Twilight Time a try.
(Photos: blu-ray.com, Twilight Time)