Warner Bros. // 2008 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 28th, 2008
Same Planet. Different World.
As a child, I loved reading the works of the great Jules Verne. I enjoyed every one of them, from Around the World in 80 Days to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Most of Verne's books were adapted as big-budget family films during the 1950s and 1960s. I would watch these films intensely so that I could point out to the rest of my family exactly which portions of these films were unfaithful to the book (usually almost every scene in the film). My favorite Verne book was Journey to the Center of the Earth, which was made into a reasonably entertaining film starring James Mason (cool!) and Pat Boone (oh, dear). It's unusual that I was attached to this particular book, as it probably contained the least credible plot of any Verne work. Then again, maybe that explains it.
Anyway, Journey to the Center of the Earth has now been adapted for the big-screen again, and once again the film doesn't share much in common with the book. In fact, this particular version of Journey to the Center of the Earth is set in modern times and stars Brendan Fraser (The Mummy) as Trevor, a scientist with a particular interest in strange seismic activity. Trevor's brother, Max, was also enthusiastic about similar subjects, but Max's research led to a strange disappearance in 1997. Nobody knew where Max went, and Max never returned. However, Trevor is determined not to let all of his brother's research go to waste. He thinks his brother may have been on to something big, and determines to find out what it is.
It turns out that Trevor's brother was a big Jules Verne fan who suspected that Verne's theories presented in Journey to the Center of the Earth may have actually been facts. Before long...yes, you guessed it...Trevor is going on an adventure, taking a trip to the center of the Earth. Thanks to some handy coincidences, he is joined by his 13-year-old nephew (Josh Hutcherson, Zathura) and a pretty blonde tour guide (Anita Briem, The Tudors) who happens to know all sorts of useful things about how to deal with problems in the Earth's core. The action in the film kinda-sorta mirrors the action in the book, and our heroes use their limited memories of the novel in order to work through all kinds of sticky situations. See kids, it pays to read!
The movie is immensely silly, and features all kinds of bad science (much like the Verne novel) and bad plotting (unlike the Verne novel). However, the film is not an annoyance or a bore, thanks to reasonably swift and energetic direction by Eric Brevig and some surprisingly solid performances from the cast. The screenplay seems more or less derived from the National Treasure movies, but this film works a little bit better than either of those. Both are equally dumb, but this one has actors that are appropriate for the occasion. Brendan Fraser is infinitely better at finding convincing ways to deliver painfully bad dialogue than better actors like Harvey Keitel, Ed Harris, and Jon Voight. It is difficult to do Shakespearean drama, but I wonder if it isn't equally difficult to perform much less eloquent material in a believable manner (I'm suddenly reminded of Jeremy Irons in Eragon).
I can't say that I really endorse the movie. I certainly would have preferred for there to be a little more intelligence and thoughtfulness to go along with the cheerfulness and sweetness. However, I can report that I found the film quite watchable, and I imagine viewers younger than me will feel that it is more than just watchable. I saw the film when it was in theatres, and I viewed it in 3-D. Though I am not normally a huge fan of 3-D, I approved in this case. It was reasonably well-done, didn't always concern itself with the usual 3-D tricks, and generally added some nice distractions to an occasionally less-than-fulfilling cinematic experience. However, I recommend watching the traditional 2-D version at home. In the theatre, I was given a sturdy pair of plastic 3-D "sunglasses" that I liked quite a lot. If you want to watch the 3-D version at home, you have to use those cheap red-and-blue paper glasses that are so annoying and screw up your color perception. No thanks, but the kids will undoubtedly want to try it at least one.
The hi-def transfer is very stellar. Though re-viewing the film in 2-D did reveal the sheer cheesiness of many of the special effects, the movie looks good. Blacks are nice and deep, flesh tones are well balanced, and facial detail is excellent. There's nothing to complain about here. Sound is also impressive, spotlighting Andrew Lockington's rich orchestral score. I was just a little disappointed that we get the standard 5.1 stereo rather than lossless sound, but the mix is impressive enough to keep me from complaining too much. In terms of supplements, we get an audio commentary from Brendan Fraser and Eric Brevig, which is a mixed bag. Both guys are pretty likable, and the jokey tone of the track is engaging. However, there is very little here in terms of revealing behind-the-scenes info. The pair is often content to simply describe what we are seeing onscreen. We also get three brief featurettes (presented in hi-def). "A World Within Our World" (10 minutes) is a kid-friendly look at various theories about what is actually at the center of the earth that have been presented over the past few centuries. "Being Josh" (six minutes) is a brief introduction to Josh Hutcherson, the film's young co-star. This one is actually kind of cool, as it offers a look at how the young actor balances work and school. Finally, "How to Make Dino Drool" (two-and-a-half minutes) is a very quick look at one of the film's yucky special effects. Everything here is pretty lightweight, and obviously geared more at kids than at adults. In additional, there's a bonus digital copy for you masochists out there who enjoy watching films on your iPhone.
The film, of course, is also geared at younger kids, which is why I'm having a little bit of trouble with my verdict. Parents and teens may find the film pleasant, but it's not quite a satisfying flick for the whole family (for instance, something like Wall-E or Babe). On the other hand, kids in the 6-12 range will undoubtedly enjoy the movie immensely. Considering that it meets all the requirements of its target audience, considering that the film looks quite good in hi-def and considering that the film was crafted with nothing but good intentions, I find the defendant not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS HD 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG