Journey to the Center of the Earth Review
By Karen Dahlstrom
3D Dinos, 1D Humans
"Journey to the Center of the Earth" is a twist on the Jules Verne sci-fi classic. Starring summer blockbuster stalwart Brendan Fraser and directed by visual effects wizard Eric Brevig, it's the first live-action, narrative feature shot in digital 3D ("RealD").
Fraser plays Trevor Anderson, a seismologist of some sort who monitors fissures in the Earth's crust. He's troubled by the disappearance of his brother 10 years ago and by a smarmy department head (Seth Meyers) who threatens to cut his lab's funding. Trevor's the absent-minded professor type, so much so that he forgets he agreed to spend time with his 13-year old nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson). Sean's not crazy about the arrangement, either. Mopey and sullen, he's more interested in playing video games than hanging out with his bookish uncle.
Along with Sean, his mother drops off a box belonging to Trevor's brother, Max. In it, they find a dog-eared copy of Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth", annotated with formulas and coordinates in Max's hand. Realizing that the book contains Max's notes about his last expedition, Trevor decides to retrace his steps in hopes of learning what became of him. Also eager to learn of his father's fate, Sean insists on tagging along. Together, they make their way to Iceland — Max's last known whereabouts.
The trail leads them to Hannah (Anita Briem), a mountain guide whose late father was a colleague of Max's. Like Max, her father was a "Vernian" — someone who believes that the work of Jules Verne was based in fact, not science fiction. Stoic and frosty, Hannah scoffs at the idea, but she agrees to guide Trevor and Sean to Max's coordinates — at 5,000 kroner an hour. While trekking, a storm forces the trio into a mountain cave where they stumble down a shaft leading straight to the center of the earth.
There, they find a "world within the world" — an eerily beautiful prehistoric land with bioluminescent birds, swirling gas clouds and an underground sea. But this world is also fraught with peril. In a non-stop series of fast-paced, 3D effects-laden action sequences, our trio goes on a hair-raising ride down a mine shaft, fends off man-eating plants, giant piranhas and a Tyrannosaurus Rex while they look for a way back to the surface.
In 2D, the film is a bland but serviceable family adventure film. There is little here to offend or to thrill, but there are some comedic moments (provided by Fraser) and a few science lessons thrown in for good measure. In 3D, the movie is transformed into a veritable amusement park ride. The new digital technology is surprisingly clear and life-like, enough to send audiences into fits of squealing and giggling. But even with the improved technology, no one has yet found a way to incorporate 3D elements into the story without being corny and gimmicky. This definitely holds true with "Journey to the Center of the Earth" — gratuitously poking audiences not only with dinosaur teeth and trilobite antennae, but tape measures and yo-yos.
Goofy yet eye-catching, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" is a frothy fantasy that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Like cotton candy, it's an airy, sweet treat that evaporates as soon as it's consumed. Don't bother with the 2D version. 3D is the big draw, here — otherwise, it just falls flat.