Film Review: The Incredible Journey
In 1963, Fletcher Markle released The Incredible Journey, based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Sheila Burnford. Starring Emile Genest, John Drainie, Sandra Scott, Marion Finlayson, Ronald Cohoon, Tommy Tweed, Robert Christie, Beth Lockerbie, Pat Carroll, Eric Clavering, Jan Rubeš, Syme Jago, Muffy the Bull Terrier, Rink the Labrador Retriever and Syn Cat the Siamese cat, the film grossed $4.2 million at the box office.
When James Hunter is offered a visiting fellowship at Oxford University, he and his family leave their two dogs and cat in the care of family friend John Longridge. After a few days, he leaves for the opening day of duck hunting season and puts them in the care of his housekeeper and her husband. Soon Luath, the younger dog, sees geese returning home and wants to do the same. When he leaves, Bodger, the older dog and Tao the cat follow after.
The Incredible Journey is not a good film. What should be a film detailing a harrowing adventure between three pets is boring and unenjoyable to watch. One aspect to this is the narration prevalent throughout the film. It does nothing but distract from what is happening on screen, not letting the audience see what’s going on and make connections for themselves. Multiple times there is action happening right in front of the viewer and the narration surrounds it, talking about what’s happening, why it’s happening, why the end result happened and what is probably going to happen next. The film fails in assuming the audience is not smart enough to pick up on the action without someone spelling it out, taking the concept of “show, don’t tell” and abandoning it in favor of the complete opposite. The end result makes the film feel like a nature documentary rather than a fictional feature.
Moreover, the plot is convoluted and terrible, with so many different actions happening to ensure the animals are in the right place to begin a journey home. The Hunter family can’t bring them along to England so they leave them in the care of a family friend. He’s happy to take care of them until he realizes he can’t take them hunting so he leaves them in the care of his housekeeper. Yet, he doesn’t wait for her to show up and properly explain. Instead he opts to write a note to her, half of which conveniently falls in the fireplace. These are all contrived circumstances meant to get the animals alone and for Luath to watch geese flying home and wanting the same. None of it feels believable in any way. Furthermore, the narration gives the effect of someone knowing what ends up happening to the animals and eradicates any possible tension. This can be seen in one scene where a bear is attacking one of the dogs and the other two rear up to defend their friend. On its own, it would be worth watching and worth investing in emotionally. However, the narration takes the situation and talks about what’s happening in the exact same monotonous tone it’s had the entire time. As such, it gives the impression this scene has nothing special or interesting for the viewer.
In addition, there is no good acting to be found in the film. All the dialogue coming from the adults is wooden and stilted or comes off as if they are reading their lines somewhere off screen. It is obvious this is the first film Carroll acted in as Mrs. Oakes the housekeeper. None of what she says has any feeling behind the words and feels as if she hadn’t read the script prior to filming. As for the children, they seem to be under the impression acting means looking into the camera and screaming as loud as possible. The final scene during Peter’s birthday party is particularly egregious as Cohoon continuously yells out every line of dialogue the whole time. Not only is it off-putting, it creates a feeling of hope for the film to end as soon as possible.
Still, the film is not completely unwatchable as the nature and scenery is interesting to look at. When the narration and other acting becomes unbearable to hear, looking at the scenery in which the animals are traversing helps to make the film easier to take in.