Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 07/11/08 01:17:58

"If you can't see it in 3D, then don't see it all. Seriously."
3 stars (Just Average)

"Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D," a theme park ride masquerading as a feature-length film, is everything you’ve heard and seen in TV commercials and online, an effects-laden, set-piece heavy unplayable video game (don’t worry, the playable version is on its way), thin on character depth, scientific logic, or a compelling storyline, and long on cheeseball dialogue and sentimental character interaction. If, however, you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for approximately ninety minutes and let your inner eight-year old a chance to come out and play, you might find yourself thoroughly immersed in "Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D." Then again, if you tend to take a more analytical attitude toward filmmaking, then "Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D" is definitely not for you.

Loosely (and the operative word here is “loosely”) on Jules Verne’s 19th century scientific romance (the precursor to science fiction), Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D throws us into the action right away, with a man running for his life from a Tyrannosaurus Rex in search of a snack between meals. It turns out to be just a dream, though. The dreamer, Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser), is a geologist with unorthodox views. Like his brother (the man in his dream), Max (Jean Michel Paré), presumed dead after disappearing in Iceland ten years earlier, Trevor suspects that current scientific theories about plate tectonics and volcanoes are, at best, incomplete. Trevor is running out of time and resources. A colleague and rival, Professor Alan Kitzens (Seth Meyers), has an eye on Trevor’s lab space.

With the future looking bleak, Trevor’s day gets worse when his sister-in-law, Elizabeth (Jane Wheeler), drops off his 13-year old nephew and Max’s son, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), at his doorstep. Elizabeth is on her way to Canada to go house-hunting, but expects to return in 10 days or so. Elizabeth also drops off a box of Max’s belongings with Trevor’s. Inside the box, Trevor discovers a beat-up, heavily annotated copy of Verne’s novel. Soon enough, Trevor and Sean are deciphering Max’s notes. To Trevor’s surprise, Max’s notes have accurately predicted volcanic activity, with Iceland as a key hot spot. Trevor decides it’s time for a journey, but with Sean refusing to stay behind, Trevor and Sean end up in Iceland, lost at first, but eventually finding their way to the home of an Icelandic researcher who shared Max and Trevor’s unorthodox theories. There they meet Hannah Ásgeirsson (Anita Briem), the scientist’s daughter and mountain guide.

Of course, nothing goes according to plan (if it did, there’d be no film). A freak lightening storm traps Trevor, Sean, and Hannah in a cave, forcing them into becoming explorers. From there, Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D leaves most of the exposition or character-building scenes behind for one set piece after another (after another). Unafraid (or unconcerned) with borrowing from Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Eric Brevig, a longtime visual effects supervisor taking his first turn behind the camera, and his screenwriters, Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin throw in a mine car scene “inspired” by a similar scene in Temple of Doom. From there, it’s one campy, cheesy scene after another, with Trevor, Sean, and Hannah falling through a volcanic shaft for several minutes (they have time to figure out a plan).

With logic all but ignored, Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D doesn’t skimp on the spectacle, including a scene where the inadvertent adventurers have to fight off piranha-like fish, and, of course, the obligatory, giant, hungry dinosaur. Each scene plays out like a video game (except we’re watching someone else at the controls) and it’s easy to imagine Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D being developed as a film, video game, and even a theme park ride simultaneously. Where’s the heart, where’s the emotion, where are, ultimately, the human beings in all this? Well, if you look hard enough, you’ll notice a running thread involving Trevor and Sean growing to like each and the obligatory romance between Trevor and Hannah, with Sean the noisy, nosy, inappropriate third side of the triangle. No need to worry, though. Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D is rated PG.

If that’s enough to entice you into seeing "Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D," then chances are, the above-average visual effects probably won’t sway you either. Filmed mostly on set in front of greenscreens (with a few exceptions, including the exterior shots of Iceland), Brevig and his visual effects team definitely push the technological envelope when it comes to the quality of the backgrounds and character interactions within virtual environments. Brevig seems to have gone for a hyper-real aesthetic: everything is sharply detailed, from the smallest object to the largest (dinosaur included, of course). Rather than follow what the Wachowski Brothers did with "Speed Racer" recently (where everything is in focus), Brevig went in the opposite direction, layering images and focus to create (mostly realistic) environments. Sure, moviegoers could have benefited from a more polished screenplay, but it’s not likely they’ll care once they put on their 3D eyeglasses to catch the first images jumping out of the screen.

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