Appellate Judge James A. Stewart once took a bus trip to the Center of the Earth. It's even larger than the Mall of America!
Our reviews of Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1999) (published May 30th, 2000), Journey To The Center Of The Earth (2008) (published October 23rd, 2008), Journey To The Center Of The Earth (Blu-Ray) (published October 28th, 2008), and Jules Verne's The Fabulous Journey To The Center Of The Earth (published December 1st, 2006) are also available.
"Men get far too few opportunities for great adventures, Abel. You never know. It could just be true."—Jonathan Brock
What would you expect from an adaptation of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth? Lots of footage of people fleeing strange flora and fauna. You get a little bit of that in this 2008 TV adaptation, but it's a very character-focused story instead of a special-effects adventure.
Jonathan Brock (Rick Schroeder, NYPD Blue) is a professor, but he's first seen in pugilistic pursuits, not in a classroom or a dusty lab. He's trying to raise money for an expedition.
Martha Dennison (Victoria Pratt, Mutant X) offers him a better way to make money: join her on an expedition to find her husband Edward (Peter Fonda, Easy Rider), who disappeared into an opening into the center of the earth. They must go soon, since the hole can only be found when the sun is in the right position.
Martha and Jonathan, joined by Jonathan's nephew Abel (Steven Grayhm, The Five People You Meet in Heaven), head to Alaska. They're soon joined by Sergei (Mike Dopud, Kaya), a Russian explorer whose friends have also disappeared in search of the opening.
The first part of the adventure, as the expedition gets underway, is reasonably entertaining, promising a fun, if not memorable, evening in front of the tube. I found myself expecting that special-effects adventure full of CGI prehistoric dangers.
What this version has that makes it a little bit different is Peter Fonda. When Martha, Jonathan, and their friends meet Edward Dennison, any special effects are forgotten. It's the clashes between Edward and the people who came to rescue him that grabbed my attention.
In the extras, Schroeder and Pratt discuss how much they enjoyed working with Fonda. It shows in the picture. They have a decent chemistry together, but their scenes with Fonda go so much better. Fonda, in the extras, said he was having the time of his life—and gushed with so much enthusiasm that it was unquestionable—and that shows as well. He makes his unlikeable character human, interesting, and a little bit sympathetic. Pratt makes a convincing wife to Fonda, balancing concern and anger.
While the performances are first-rate, the production does suffer from cheapness. The bluish pall over everything in the Alaska scenes may have been a creative decision to contrast the strange brightness of the underground world, but it just seemed too dark; lighting was also problematic in scenes set in a mountainside mine. The story makes up for the lack of special effects, but I'd like to have seen a little more of the strange world beneath the surface.
The cast members mostly exchanged pleasantries in the extras, but the high spirits made the two shorts watchable.
There's another version of Journey to the Center of the Earth coming out this year on the big screen. That version will undoubtedly look better, but the acting here makes this ION television movie worth checking out. I wouldn't run out and buy it, but it's worth renting or at least seeking out next time it's on ION. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
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• "The Journey of a Lifetime: A sit-down interview with Golden Globe winner Peter Fonda"
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