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Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D
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by Peter Sobczynski

"For Your Four Eyes Only"
3 stars

As those of you of a certain age with long memories and questionable taste in entertainment will recall, the early 1980’s saw a brief revival of one of the silliest of all cinematic crazes--the miracle of 3-D projection. Thanks to the surprise success of an indescribably awful spaghetti western by the name of “Comin at Ya!,” everyone jumped on the stereoscopic bandwagon as quickly as they could and the next couple of years saw the likes of “Friday the 13th Part 3-D,” “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone,” “Jaws 3-D,” “Parasite,” “Treasure of the Four Crowns,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (not the one you are thinking of--this was a comedy in which Steve Guttenberg became invisible for some reason or other), “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn” and the immortal “Amityville 3-D,” not to mention re-releases of two of the most popular multi-dimensional releases from the 1950’s, “House of Wax” and “Dial M for Murder.” Even television, whose entry into the marketplace inspired the development of the process in the first place in order to lure audiences back into the theaters for something that they couldn’t get at home, tried to get in on the madness by broadcasting the likes of “Gorilla at Large” so that you could get the effect at home with glasses specially purchased at your local convenience store. Although there was some wild speculation that 3-D was here to stay--films such as “Day of the Dead,” “Return of the Living Dead” and (if I recall correctly) “Lifeforce” were announced as future productions in the format and there was talk that John Landis and Jack Arnold were going to team up for a remake of the latter’s 1953 classic, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”--alas, the test footage that was shot only inspired executives at Universal to shelve that idea and utilize the technology for “Jaws 3-D” instead--the fad died out after a couple of years and for pretty much the same reasons that it disappeared three decades earlier. For one thing, the movies were terrible--what can you say about a subgenre where “Friday the 13th Part 3-D” is the artistic high-water mark? For another, despite the ballyhoo over the improved technology that eradicated the need for the intricately synched dual-projector systems that the format required back in the day, the effect never worked as well as promised and most audiences left the films feeling vaguely ripped off and often with a splitting headache to boot.

As a barefoot boy with cheek of tan at the time of this revival, I was, needless to say, giddy at the prospect of actually seeing these 3-D movies that I had only heard about and with only a couple of exceptions (such as “Parasite” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There”), I made it a point to see pretty much every film in the format that played in the area using whatever means necessary. I convinced the parents to take me and my younger brother to see “Comin at Ya!” (apparently omitting the fact that it was rated “R”--a fact that became a sore point with my mother, who still lashes out at me to this day whenever I mention the title in her presence), snuck in to see “Friday the 13th Part 3-D” while still managing to scam a pair of glasses from the ticket seller and cheerfully stood in line for nearly 90 minutes to pick up some glasses so that I could see the Son of Svengoolie’s presentation of “Revenge of the Creature, “ a broadcast that would reach a level of local infamy that wouldn’t be exceeded until Geraldo Rivera went digging in Al Capone’s vault. Yes, the films were pretty awful (though the older ones were a blast and “Friday the 13th” had a certain grisly charm thanks to the luridly over-the-top slaughter scenes) and no, the stereoscopic effects rarely worked as well as one might have hoped (the biggest offender being “Jaws 3-D” since the main attraction--a shark leaping off the screen--was simply too large and unwieldy to be even slightly convincing). And yet, despite those flaws and despite the fact that even at that point, my critical faculties were sufficiently developed for me to recognize that these films weren’t going to be getting any better, I still made sure to catch them when they came around--partly because they had a goofy carnival-style ballyhoo to them that I found irresistible and partly because I could always find a way to convince myself that this next one just might be the one that lived up to all the hype. To this day, I still harbor a certain nostalgic fondness for these films and I know in my heart that if some enterprising soul decided to host a revival of these films in their original formats, I would probably be first in line for each of them, even “Comin at Ya!” Who am I kidding--especially “Comin at Ya!”

Now comes “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” a special-effects extravaganza that is being billed as the first full-length, live-action film to be made entirely with the use of digital 3-D equipment. If I were currently that same ten-year-old boy who couldn’t imagine what life would be like without seeing the likes of “Comin at Ya!,” I know in my heart that I would have been anticipating this with the kind of fervor usually saved for Christmas and birthdays. If I had seen it then, I would have loved all of the non-stop 3-D effects being thrown at the screen--everything from toothpaste backwash to yo-yo’s to a swarm of coelacanths--and I would have been especially giddy over the fact that, unlike the 3-D films of my youth, the effects actually worked. And since the violence and the clothing removal stay firmly within the parameters of a PG rating, I can pretty much assume that my mother would have appreciated it as well--at the very least, she wouldn’t take a swat at me whenever the title was invoked for decades to come. The only problem is the inescapable fact that I am no longer ten years old and while I can still revel in the silliness of ducking at things in the darkness while wearing an additional pair of goofy-looking glasses, the somewhat older person that I am now cannot escape the fact that while the technological aspects of bringing 3-D filmmaking to life has certainly improved in the last quarter-century, the creative aspects remain as questionable as ever. This might strike some as a surprise considering the fact that the film is, of course, based on the classic fantasy novel by Jules Verne, albeit in a contemporary post-modern fashion, but amazingly, the filmmakers have taken an extraordinary story and rendered it profoundly ordinary.

The film stars Brendan Fraser, who is apparently still Hollywood’s go-to guy for action-adventures that emphasize pure silliness over pure adrenaline, as Trevor Anderson, an absent-minded professor whose dedication to continuing the research of his long-missing brother, who disappeared years earlier while researching volcano tubes in a remote portion of Iceland. Amazingly, Trevor stumbles across some data that suggests that the exact geologic details that prefaced his brother’s last journey are about to be replicated and that if he goes to investigate, he might be able to continue his sibling’s research and finally discover what happened to him. The only drawback is that this is precisely the moment when his 13-year-old nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) has been dropped into his lap for a few days while his mom finalizes their emigration to Canada. Without any time to spare, Trevor packs Seas--one of those insolent types who is all about the texting and the sneering disrespect for anything that isn’t cool (at least until he gets his hand on the timeless beauty that is a yo-yo) and jets off the Reykjavik in search of a scientist by the name of Sigurbjorn Asgeirsson whose name appeared in the brother’s notes as someone who helped him on his quest.

When they arrive at the professor’s abode, they meet up with his comely daughter, Hannah (Anita Briem), who informs the two that Trevor’s brother and her father were actually Vernians--a group of people who reverently believed that the works of Jules Verne were actually true accounts of real places and events instead of elaborate fantasy fiction. Luckily, she happens to be a mountain guide and she agrees to take Trevor and Sean, who have both taken a fancy to her in the interim, to the volcano where Trevor’s brother was last known to be. Inevitably, a few disasters occur and the trio find themselves plunging towards, you guessed it, the center of the planet. They surmise that if they can reach one of the volcano tubes at a time when it is about to release the steam that has been building up, the pressure will be great enough to shoot them back up to the surface. The journey to reach the tube is no stroll in the park and along the way, the three finds themselves bailing out of runaway mining carts, ducking man-eating plants that seem straight out of “Little Shop of Horrors,” nasty carnivorous flying fish that look like they came straight out of “Alien” and a lumbering leftover T-Rex from “Jurassic Park.”

Although most 3-D movies are dismissed as useless exploitation trash, a few of them have managed to stand the test of time even in their flat, 2-D incarnations--I’m thinking of the likes of “House of Wax,“ “Dial M for Murder” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”--and this is because in those cases, the filmmakers took the time to tell stories that would still be compelling even if they were stripped of the big visual gimmick. The problem with “Journey to the Center of the Earth” is the same one that has plagued the vast majority of the 3-D movies that have been made to date--the screenwriters seem to have dedicated far more time to trying to shoehorn in as many gags involving things flying off the screen than into trying to come up with an interesting story in which to frame them. Instead of coming up with the idea of having our hero brushing his teeth and spitting his rinse water in our faces, couldn’t they have spent a little more time trying to figure out a way of overcoming the fact that the story that they are telling contains neither a villain to complicate matters (which the infamous 1959 version included in the form of the outrageously hammy James Mason) nor any real sense of urgency to move things along? Another problem is that since this film is obviously being pitched primarily to younger viewers, there is never any real sense of danger and even the most fearsome-sounding monsters have been given a cartoony look that will come as a disappointment to anyone hoping for a little bit of edge--for much of the movie, it seems as if our heroes are trapped in a screen saver instead of at the center of the Earth. (If the film had taken the slightly harder approach that was utilized in the recent “Spiderwick Chronicles,“ it might have made all the difference.)Then there is the fact that this is essentially a three-character piece in which only one of the three, Trevor, is even remotely likable--Hannah is a bit of a cold fish throughout (even after she is supposed to have begun thawing out due to the charms of our hero) and Sean is such an obnoxious little twerp that you may find yourself hoping that he will get dropped in the nearest pool of magma as soon as possible.

Of course, no one goes to a film like “Journey to the Center of the Earth” for the plot or characterizations--they are going to see elaborate 3-D effects and plenty of them. And yet, even on this end, the film is sort of a mixed bag. From a technical perspective, the film is a smashing success as the dimensional illusions are pretty much flawless throughout--even the most cynical viewers may find themselves bobbing, weaving and ducking at the various elements that are flung at our faces or dropped into our laps. At the same time, I found that the sheer perfection of the illusions almost began to work against the film as a whole. Maybe I am just nostalgic for a bygone era but part of the fun of the old 3-D films came from the cheesiness of the effects (such as the way that the process made the wires holding up the things being thrown at the camera even more visible than they might have otherwise been), but I kind of wish that it had gone for a lower-tech approach that might have resulted in less successful effects but a more spontaneous spirit of fun and silliness. As it is, everything is so perfectly realized that after a while, they don’t even begin to really register--not the kind of attitude that you want your audience to be engaged in just before deploying your T-Rex.

I can’t really recommend “Journey to the Center of the Earth” but I don’t want to come down too hard on it because I suspect that if you are part of its presumed audience demographic--a young child who has never seen a 3-D movie before--you may find yourself eating it up as thoroughly as I once did with the likes of “Spacehunter” and “Metalstorm” all those many years ago. Who knows--if it is successful enough, it could inspire a string of sequels inspired by other Verne novels--Fraser and Co. could find themselves 20,000 leagues under the sea or rocketing into outer space. Of course, if they really want to uncover a perplexing mystery, maybe they can solve the case of why Hannah’s last name is Asgeirsson when it is perfectly evident from the amount of clothing that she removes throughout the film (though never enough to jeopardize the PG rating) that she is clearly an Asgeirdottir through and through.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16809&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/11/08 00:16:14
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User Comments

6/10/10 Reality Of Films funny, intriguing, and very underrated 4 stars
6/01/10 Reality of Films Funny 4 stars
6/25/09 joby godd movie .any one knowsname of the car shown in the end scene 4 stars
6/08/09 Lance Trying to find out what kind of car was shown at end of this movie? Yes it was fun. 4 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. the 3D effects are pretty much the only thing good about this. 2 stars
11/27/08 Yvette I own it. The 3D effects could be better and more of them 4 stars
7/27/08 George Barksdale Good family movie worth the look 4 stars
7/27/08 KingNeutron Good for the kids, adults should have fun as well. 4 stars
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  11-Jul-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 28-Oct-2008


  DVD: 28-Oct-2008

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