A film review by Craig J. Koban

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3D jjj

2008, PG, 92 mins.

Brendan Fraser: Trevor Anderson /Josh Hutcherson: Sean Anderson / Anita Briem: Hannah Asgeirsson / Seth Meyers: professor Alan Kitzens

Directed by Eric Brevig / Written by Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, based on the novel by Jules Verne

New Line Cinema's Journey to the Center of the Earth
SCREENED IN
3D

 

The title alone for this film should be enough of a clue that the original Jules Verne classic will not be faithfully adapted.  JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH: 3D is a stupid film.  But, it’s also a considerable amount of stupid fun, but only if you allow yourself to turn a blind eye to its incredulous, eye rolling elements.  

Pompous windbag cynics and armchair intellectual critics will, no doubt, label this film as a complete bastardization of the classic1864 science fiction novel.  Those narrow-minded people miss the point altogether: This film is not a searing and faithful appropriation of Verne’s work (plllleeeaasse), nor is it a work of scientific accuracy (the science in the film is laughable, but so too was it in Verne’s book, which has not aged gracefully).  JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH: 3D exists as a theme park entertainment ride.  On those levels, the film is silly, jovial, and an enjoyable romp and feast for the eyes.  Beyond that…well…it will will certainly underwhelm rabid Verne-ites. 

The movie – as clearly evident in its title and advertising – is presented in 3D, the very first to actually be entirely shot using RealD Cinema technology.  This is a special digital 3D stereoscopic projection system that is very unlike the standard, old-school, and rudimentary 3D processes of yesteryear (those used two projectors to give the impression of multi-dimensionality to film images).  No, with this new system a high resolution digital projector using Texas Instruments DLP cinema technology is utilized, providing images and spectacle of great clarity and depth.  If anything, this is a far, far cry from the techniques used when the 3D Golden Age was launch in 1952 with the release of the first stereoscopic feature, BWANA DEVIL.  Hee-hee...BWANA DEVIL.

The end results in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH are lively and impressive, without, of course, achieving the transcending heights of the best 3D technology process of the IMAX format (SUPERMAN RETURNS: THE 3D IMAX EXPERIENCE was perhaps the grandest example of the using 3D to heighten and accentuate 2D imagery).  3D, no matter what film it's used it, is most certainly a gimmick that’s used to lure cinema-goers into the theatres, but I guess that it’s no more or less a gimmick than CGI effects, bombastic stunts and action sequences, and wall to wall music tracks.  If done well, 3D – like any other type of movie trickery – can enhance a film experience.  Watching SUPERMAN RETURNS in 3D after an initial viewing in a regular cinema, it was clear that the 3D images had that much more wow factor.

The story to JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH is pure non-sense and hogwash, but this film does not need to excel at storytelling: The plot is essentially a close line for the film’s reasonably opulent, in-your-face digital magic.  If anything, the actual source book is really a secondary character in the film: the heroes essentially use it as a guidebook to trek their own navigation to the uncharted territories of the center of the planet.  In the film we meet a plucky scientist named Trevor (Brendan Fraser) whose soul mission in life is to give legitimacy to his dead brother’s (Max) theory that the center of the earth could be reached through volcanic tubes.  Max, of course, disappeared years ago, presumed dead by Trevor and his other immediate family members.  

Trevor’s investigation is put somewhat on hold by the appearance of his young, teenage nephew named Sean (Josh Hutchinson), who thinks his semi-estranged uncle is really un-cool.  One day while going through some of Max’s possessions he comes across a ragged paperback copy of Jules Verne’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, but inside he finds a series of clues and notes which, yup, just may be the key to discovering how to get to the center of the earth.  Within no time, Trevor and Sean make a trip to Iceland and hire a mountain climber named Hannah (Anita Briem) to help them make the tough journey to one of the volcanic slopes.  After a terrible lightning storm, the trio find themselves in a dark and desolate cave that suddenly collapses from under them.  They then fall down a long – make that very long – chasm and, wouldn’t you know it, find themselves at the center of the earth, which looks a little like Middle Earth-lite. 

The one thing that I kind of admired about the film was its nifty and almost infectious obviousness.  Shots and camera angles are purposely done in order to allow the most mundane occurrences to pop off the screen and into your 3D glasses.  Shots including things as far ranging as a tape measure, to Trevor gargling and spitting into a sink after brushing his teeth, and so on...exist for the filmmakers to show off the scope of the digital process at work here.  The other larger, more fantastical elements are here in abundance too; everything from exotic creatures large and small, animal life, and panoramic vistas of the otherworldly landscapes all have a kid of candy-coated vibrancy about them.  If anything, the film’s technology is spirited. 

The bubbly performances in the film also help.  Brendan Fraser plays a role here that he did to affectionate effect in THE MUMMY films: that of a charismatic, tough n’ rugged, and disarmingly goofy leading man.  He has an easy-going charm and boundless enthusiasm and spunk in the film, and I like how he is able to use humor to underline the sheer absurdity of the film (at one point, while he and his pals fall through what appears to be a bottomless pit, he screams with hilarious obviousness, “We’re still falling!”).   He also has another zinger later in the film when Sean proudly yells at him, “Uncle, you’re da man,” to which Trevor replies, “Geez…I’ve been trying to tell that to the scientific community for years!” 

The other supporting players are decent too and equally likeable.  Josh Hutchinson – who was so very good in a terribly underrated family film from a few years ago, the great BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA – has a lot of sarcastic energy and a dry wit here.  The very fetching Anita Briem brings a lot of smart sassiness and low-key sex appeal (at least as much as the PG rating allows) to her role.  The trio has good chemistry and keeps the audience involved in the proceedings, despite the sheer preposterousness of the film. 

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH: 3D has absolutely no brains in its head, but its heart is always in the right place.  As a very lightweight, unpretentious, and energetic family adventure film, it manages to be a modestly pleasurable diversion.  Its digital 3D images are also a guilty pleasure (the movie is playing in most standard theatres in 2D, but see it in a digital cinema if available, because viewing it any other way would prove completely redundant).  Is there a future for this type of 3D?  I dunno.  Maybe.  There are nearly a dozen of Digital 3D features in development (James Cameron’s long awaited return to directing will be in the form of a digital 3D sci-fi film, and even George Lucas is considering re-releasing the STAR WARS sextet in 3D, which would be astoundingly anticipated if announced).  However, there are serious limitations to this technology and, upon reflection,  I am not totally sure if it will be the next “big” advancement in the history of the movies that sound, color, and the widescreen formats were during their times.  I mean, I don’t think that the works of…say…Jane Austin...lend themselves to 3D digital tinkering…do you?  

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH...yes.  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE...nah.

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