A film review by Craig J. Koban
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE
2008, PG, 92 mins.
2008, PG, 92 mins.
Brendan Fraser: Trevor Anderson /Josh Hutcherson: Sean
Anderson / Anita Briem: Hannah Asgeirsson / Seth Meyers:
professor Alan Kitzens
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
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
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
that…well…it will will certainly underwhelm rabid Verne-ites.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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...yes. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE...nah.