powered by AFI
Fearing the use of atomic weapons and energy will inevitably lead to the extinction of civilization, famed geologist Dr. Jeremiah Morley creates "The Society to Save Civilization," which includes geophysicist Dr. Max A. Bauer, meteorological engineer Dr. James Paxton, physician Dr. Joan Lindsey, soil conservationist Dr. George Coleman and explosives expert Andrew Ostengaard. The group proposes to find a safe haven for humanity deep under the earth's crust using an underground vehicle called a cyclotram, which can withstand the earth's heat and pressure. After many unsuccessful attempts to secure funding for the journey, the group accept money from wealthy, jaded playboy Wright Thompson, Jr., in trade for his being included on the expedition. After construction of the cyclotram is complete, the group begin their journey at the crater of Mt. Neleh, an extinct volcano near Alaska. After drilling into the earth several miles below sea level, they find a cavern filled with 200-million-year-old limestone formations. As they travel another 100 miles below sea level, the group feel suffocated, depressed and alone, "like the last chord with humanity has been cut." When Paxton, disgruntled by the others' pessimism, leaves to investigate the surroundings, Coleman follows him. Soon after, toxic gas levels suddenly rise outside the ship, which kill Coleman and Paxton. After burying them, the group discovers the water supply has been poisoned due to Thompson's carelessness. Furious, Andy picks a fight with Thompson, but Morley refocuses the group on finding water. After a desperate search, the group discovers steam that condenses into drinkable water. The dire circumstances prompt the group to vote on whether to continue the trip. Bauer agrees with Thompson that finding suitable living conditions for humans remains unattainable, but Joan, Morley and Andy want to continue. Back on board the ship, Thompson attempts to romance Joan, but she believes his advances are due to her being the only woman on the trip. As they near 850 miles, the cyclotram is submerged in water, then floats up into a huge lake. Despite the water being drinkable, the scientists are not sure that the "valley of the shadows" could be a shelter for humanity. Though the site has a transient beauty, the lack of light depresses them. Animosity between Thompson and Andy continues, causing them to separate while exploring the surrounding area on foot. When Thompson slides down a precipice and calls for help, Andy helps him to safety, but falls to his death when the rope snaps. Committed to continuing on in Andy's memory, Thompson convinces Morley, Bauer and Joan to forge ahead. At 1,640 miles, they stop to investigate a light source and find a magnificent waterfall in a vast and radiant cavern along the shore of an underground sea. A wind blows, while vapors form luminous clouds in a sky of phosphorescent light. After several days of experiments, the scientists are excited to discover the area is rich in minerals and can be irrigated to sustain crops. Despite no real sunlight, the scientists agree that crops can be scientifically adjusted, but wonder if humans can survive. The group stays at the site for several weeks while Joan collects data to see how they adjust to their environment. Though the initial results appear positive, the babies from rabbits bred on site are born dead. The scientists conclude that only one generation of humans could survive there. While considering the fate of humanity, each traveler contemplates his or her own place in the world. Thompson, Bauer and Joan reveal that they have run away from the problems in their lives; however, Joan wants to return to the earth's surface to fight for women's equality and find a means to preserve human life there. Morley, a survivor of two world wars, is weary of human mistakes and violence. Suddenly lightening strikes and an avalanche of rocks falls to the ground. Surrounding volcanoes burst into flames, causing the sea to boil. Forced to make a quick decision, Thompson, Joan and Bauer rush to the ship, while Morley calmly remains behind. Once on board, the sea submerges the cyclotram, which descends out of the group's control. At 2,500 miles below sea level, the group believe they are doomed; however, with sudden buoyancy, the craft ascends until they reach the channel to one of the earth's upper oceans. From out of their window they recognize familiar oceanic life and realize the earth is still in harmony. Once they rise to the surface and spot a seagull, Thompson, full of reverence for life on earth, comments, "I feel like I'll live forever."