Warner Bros. // 2008 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // October 23rd, 2008
"It'll be good for him being with you. Who knows? Maybe it'll be good for you, too."
When I was growing up, one of the local TV stations put on a series of 3-D movies, stuff like Gorilla at Large and Revenge of the Creature. I put on 3-D glasses over my glasses and watched gorillas and sea monsters pop out of my TV screen.
It's an old gimmick, made popular in the 1950s as movie theaters tried to compete with the new medium of television. Still, an old gimmick is a good gimmick, and 3-D movies -- and those glasses -- make a comeback every once in a while. The latest is a new version of Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D, with four pairs of 3-D glasses included. If you don't want to watch it in 3-D, there are two 2-D versions, in widescreen and full frame. You can even get a digital copy. No word on beaming the movie directly into your eyeballs, but I'd guess that's next.
College professor Trevor (Brendan Fraser, The Mummy) has devoted his life to carrying on his brother's research into plate tectonics and boring students in his class on continental drift.
Trevor's an absent-minded professor, forgetting that he promised to watch his brother's son while his sister-in-law looks for new digs in Ottawa. Also arriving at Trevor's doorstep is a box of brother Max's stuff, including a copy of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth with a lot of notations.
When Trevor takes his bored nephew to the lab to see his life's work, young Sean (Josh Hutcherson, RV) notices that a new reading has popped up on Trevor's computer screen. So they're off to Iceland in search of answers. They meet Hannah (Anita Briem, The Tudors), a lovely mountain guide who's the daughter of Max's partner in Vernian exploration. Vernian exploration? Yeah, Max and his friends believed that Jules Verne's stories were fact, not fiction.
The trio goes climbing to check out a remote sensor and takes refuge from a storm in a cave. Naturally, the cave mouth collapses, trapping them inside. When they go looking for another exit, they find a passage to the center of the Earth. Turns out Verne's stories were fact, after all. Just one problem: Will they get out alive?
Let's put the first question first: How does Journey to the Center of the Earth stack up as a 3-D movie? At times, it looks like a pop-up book with motion, while at others it can look quite beautiful and exciting. A measuring tape jumping out at the audience early on just looked kind of strange, but the effects get more interesting as the story progresses. By the end of Journey, you get to see a roller coaster ride in mine cars on a track with a few gaps, water droplets shooting up at the explorers as they fall down a hole, luminescent birds, wind catching the sail of a raft, an attack by flying fish, a magnetic field, and a fierce dinosaur. Even a yo-yo accident that sends things flying in Trevor's house looks great.
Now let's get to the question that quibblers will ask: How does Journey to the Center of the Earth stack up as a movie? As you might have guessed about a Brendan Fraser movie that has an idea like Vernians lurking about, it feels a lot like The Mummy with some National Treasure thrown in, with a plot that's even more perfunctory. Effects-laden action scenes abound, so there aren't really any slow spots. It was fun, but I don't expect to remember much about it by the time the review comes out.
One scene pretty much sums up the tone of the movie. It finds the trio on a raft being attacked by flying fish. Sean starts batting the fish away, like he was playing baseball, and is interrupted by a cell phone call that reaches him all the way down there.
As you'd expect, Brendan Fraser is a goofball and a reluctant adventurer, but gets the job done when he has to. Anita Briem makes a reasonably levelheaded plucky heroine. Josh Hutcherson plays both bored kid and excited explorer reasonably well. The character transitions as Hannah falls for Trevor and the adventure gives Sean new energy and direction are shallow, but that's to leave room for action. All of them do a lot of screaming that could get on your nerves, but I doubt you were expecting Shakespearean wordplay anyway. If you were, the closest it gets is Sean referring to giant fossilized mushrooms as "humongous fungus."
How does it stack up as a family film? Not bad. The PG's for action, since a kid being chased by a dinosaur or a woman being attacked by carnivorous plants could be scary. Mostly, though, the movie shoots for CGI whimsy rather than realistic scares. Hannah kisses Trevor once. A brief scene in which Sean comes to terms with his father's death is handled tastefully. Despite all the silly screaming, you won't rush out of the room screaming yourself.
Now to the nuts-and-bolts questions: How does Journey to the Center of the Earth look in 2-D? Not bad. It's a bit more obvious that you're looking at CGI effects and actors working against a blue screen. There's also the occasional flaring. The screams certainly came across loud and clear.
Are the extras any good? What's there is decent, but you'll want more. "A World Within Our World" looks at the various people, including Sir Edmund Halley of comet fame, who believed in a hollow Earth even before Jules Verne wrote his novel. "Being Josh" is the typical set tour, with a few scenes of the young actor doing a scene involving a magnetic field. "How to Make Dino Drool" is self-explanatory. What's lacking here is a feature just on effects or information on the 3-D process.
What about the commentary? Brendan Fraser and director Eric Brevig team up in a routine but entertaining mix of goofing around and providing filming details. They point out a neat cameo by a stereopticon.
And now for the last question: How are the games? Yes, there are games, listed in the menu as "Adventure at the Center of the Earth." You can "Ride the Mine Car" or "Bat the Fish." Well, maybe you can. I can crash the mine car or get attacked by the fish. This one does serve an important purpose, though. Since they're almost certain to crash the mine car or get attacked by the fish, it'll be good for draining any adventurous spirit out of your tykes.
Sometimes you have to see a movie in the theater to get the full effect. This is one of those times. While Journey can be fun, I can see how exciting it must have been in IMAX. You might still be able to catch this one at the bargain house; it's a good idea.
While I enjoyed this Journey to the Center of the Earth, the made-for-TV adaptation, also out this year, hews closer to the novel and has a strong performance by Peter Fonda that has no match in the movie version.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is fun, especially if you enjoyed those 3-D movies on TV years ago. It feels more like a theme park ride than a movie at times, though.
Not guilty. I've got some more practicing on "Bat the Fish" to do, though.
Review content copyright © 2008 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "A World Within Our World"
* "Being Josh"
* "How to Make Dino Drool"
* "Adventure at the Center of the Earth" Games
* 3-D Glasses
* Digital Copy