Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-DReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 07/11/08 14:00:00
(Worth A Look)
3-D as a film gimmick has had a bit of a resurgence recently. After a hiatus that gave IMAX screens a window to perfect the technology, it has been brought back into the mainstream mostly through animated features like Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons. Robert Rodriguez has experimented with partial live-action in Spy Kids 3-D and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. Even the last Harry Potter feature contained 20 minutes of uninspired 3-D in IMAX theatres. But it’s been Robert Zemeckis that’s really blown a few minds with The Polar Express and Beowulf, seemingly eradicating the memory of the red-and-blue glasses for good and adventing a new age in the digital medium. While audiences anxiously wait for James Cameron’s first film in over a decade, 2009’s Avatar, which is expected to rewrite the future of effects filmmaking we’ve been given a nice little appetizer for family audiences that even inspired me to want to go back and rediscover Jules Verne all over again.Transplanting Verne’s 19th century setting to present day, Trevor (Brendan Fraser) is a professor/scientist being downsized at his university on the week his nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson) is being dropped off for an extended visit. Trevor’s brother and Sean’s dad went missing a decade earlier and the box of possessions left by mom might hold the answer. Examining the footnotes made by his brother in a copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth, Trevor sees all the signs aligning for a trip to Iceland where Sean insists on tagging along.
Tracking down an elder scientist with a shared interest in his brother’s trail, Trevor and Sean instead meet his daughter, Hannah (Anita Briem), a mountain guide whom they’re able to hire (thanks to giant jars of coins Trevor has been amassing) even if she’s not one of those nutty “Vernians.” That’s the society of folk who believe Verne’s visionary works of advanced travels were more than simple speculation and flights of fancy. Well, in this world, it’s unlikely they’ll be wrong and after being trapped inside a cave, this trio is about to discover the fantastical “world within a world” written out and illustrated in the very book copy they hold.
Director Eric Brevig has worked for years as a visual effects supervisor on everything from Hook to Pearl Harbor and his use of the 3-D here really exemplifies the still imagery along with the action. Once he’s able to get past the setup that primes us for a more campy excursion, Brevig nicely grabs the story by the collar and pushes it through one nice set piece after another and enough quiet moments to allow a little necessary humanity seep through. A Temple of Doom-inspired mine car run will really charge up the audience but equally good are a rainy raft battle with some deadly fish and a bridge of magnetic rocks that should lose a few nails from the children in the audience. The constant 3-D is never above its ancient landscape of characters pointing through the screen but don’t be too surprised if its superior quality makes even the adults jump more than once.
Fraser has become the perfect go-to guy for this type of material, most notably in The Mummy series but also in Joe Dante’s underappreciated Looney Tunes: Back In Action, and he fills the bill again. Knowing just how far to take his self-aware double taking on the absurdity of the situation, Fraser is able to add equal parts fun and gravity to their discoveries. Hutcherson (of Bridge to Terabithia and Zathura) wisely gets to shed the disgruntled nephew act early on and is allowed to open his eyes to the Vernian world he once set aside on his summer reading list. Newcomer Briem fulfills the film’s “dibs” quotient, especially since she gets to slowly shed a little bit of clothing (and either severely wet or getting hotter due to the cave’s increasing temperature) with every scene bridge, but also maintains a spunky presence that proves she’s capable of matching Fraser’s demeanor.While audiences are inexplicably pouring money over fist into the National Treasure movies and wisely ignoring the extremity bore sore known as Speed Racer, here’s a film with a legitimate chance to spark their imaginations. Now that the Harry Potter series is over (in print form, at least), perhaps kids can siphon something from the giant mushrooms and water-coated stalactites and go back to one of the original 3-D artists and discover giant squids, circumnavigation and travels to the moon. The filmmakers have already hinted at straying from Vernian theory in the potential sequel, but it’s a minor issue in a film that has a lot of potential to be this summer’s sleeper. Light as a feather, but never boring, Journey 3-D, brought me back just a little to my days as a youth watching adventures such as The Goonies and Explorers and for 90 minutes it was a welcome spelunk.
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