Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 07/21/08 21:48:18

"One-dimensional characters, three-dimensional fun."
3 stars (Just Average)

“Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D” borrows from Hollywood a little more than it borrows from Jules Verne. From “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” we get a thrilling mine car ride, complete with death-defying jumps; from “The Goonies,” we get a wild water slide; from “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” we get a comically deep hole. And so on. The scenes in this film aren’t so much memories of a classic novel but samples from Action-Adventure’s Greatest Hits.

That doesn’t help this “Journey” - the umpteenth film adaptation of Verne’s book - to be a very good movie, but it does, in a way, help it be a very fun one. The film plays out as one part video game, two parts amusement park ride (I wouldn’t be surprised if a tie-in roller coaster opened soon), and tossing the audience into all of this as part of a 3D experience creates some giddy entertainment.

It should be noted that the movie is also being released into some theaters without the “3D” in the title, but considering the film was made expressly for the format, complete with stuff-coming-at-the-screen gimmickry, watching “Journey” in two dimensions would be like hooking up a Blu-ray player to a 13” analog TV. It’s kinda missing the whole darn point.

Of course, the best 3D movies from the format’s golden age - chief among them “Dial M for Murder,” “House of Wax,” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” - hold up spectacularly when screened in 2D; anyone who’s caught these movies on home video still thrilled to great stories told well. “Journey” falls into the next category down: movies that work well in 3D but are only so-so without the gimmick. Much of the thrills in this film come from watching the digital effects fly by us, and when you remove that rush, you’re left with an average-at-best matinee adventure.

That slightly-okay story finds Dr. Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) and nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) traveling to Iceland on a hunch: recent seismic activity related to Trevor’s research also matches what Trevor’s dad/Sean’s brother was studying before he went missing ten years ago. Clues to his disappearance are found in an old copy of Jules Verne’s novel, a longtime family favorite. With Hannah (Anita Briem), a scientist whose father also went missing, as their guide, the Andersons follow the trail into an abandoned mine - and then down, down, down into the center of the earth. Turns out Verne’s book was a true story.

The bulk of the film then becomes a series of episodes in which the trio attempt to escape from this world beneath the world before it goes through with one of its regular heat waves that will fry our heroes alive. A dinosaur attack, magnetic rocks that float in mid-air, and a dangerous ocean voyage make for bite-sized thrills as rookie director Eric Brevig brings his decades of visual effects experience into play.

Brevig’s not above the cheap 3D gag - things point at, fall toward, or generally fly near the screen - although he and screenwriters Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin are wise enough to make that part of the fun. These filmmakers understand why audiences have put on the 3D glasses, and, using mostly CG-created virtual sets to place the characters in a weird fantasy world, they offer up visual trick after visual trick in hopes of keeping the viewers wowed.

There are moments when the script attempts to reach beyond the notion of theme park joyride, mainly with the subplot involving the fate of Sean’s dad adding a bit of emotion to the proceedings. Despite some clunky dialogue, these scenes actually work, if only on a kid-movie level, and the movie is kept from becoming a series of hastily glued together action bits.

But only barely. The characters are paper-thin and the plot is little more than a ninety minute walkthrough of various video game levels, but there are enough visual thrills that we don’t think about such things until the closing credits start rolling. Or, if you’re a parent stuck paying for the kids’ tickets and popcorn, you do think about such things as they happen but don’t care because, you know: Look! Flying rocks!

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