Journey to the Center of the Earth (review)

You Must Be This Tall…

For once, here is a movie that does not try to pretend it’s anything other than what it is: a journey to the center of the Earth in 3D. That’s it. It has no pretensions to being anything other than a theme park ride, with the actual theme park ride surely to come to Six Flags parks across the country soon. And that’ll be fine. Because as theme-park-ride movies go, this is a hoot. It’s nothing deep and it’s nothing meaningful and it’s bound to slip from your brain as rapidly as a spin on a roller coaster does, but at least while you’re in the middle of it, it’s diverting.
I concede that my yellow, “wait for DVD” rating is problematic when it comes to this movie. It’s all about the 3D effect, and nothing more, but all that impact will be lost if you watch the movie at home. On the other hand: Good luck finding the film in 3D — so few theaters are ready, technologically speaking, for 3D exhibitions that the “3D” has been dropped from the title of the film. Only about 800 out of the flick’s 2800 or so venues will be able to show the film in 3D. If you can manage to find one, consider my see-it/don’t-see-it advice as a tentative green… but don’t yell at me when you discover the movie is as wispy as a cloud.

It will help, of course, if you go into a 3D theater in your goofy mood, because, well, for starters, this is a Brendan Fraser vehicle (he produced the film, too) and as cute as he is — the 3D Brendan Fraser not at all a chore to look at for 90 minutes, not that the 2D one (Crash, Looney Tunes: Back in Action) ever was — he’s got that lovely ludicrous charm to go with it, and is not at all embarrassed to be giving us a demonstration of, say, his tooth-brushing technique in three dimensions (sorry, but it’ll be pretty pointless in two) while we wait for the film to get to the center of the earth, where there will be giant mushroom plants and dinosaurs and other wonders more suited to blowing our little minds as they jump out of the screen at us. Or try to, anyway.

And the Fraser charm goes a long way toward not making us bored (your mileage may vary, of course, with your level of tolerance for Fraser) while the movie works its way toward Iceland, where entrance to the center of the Earth will accidentally be found. I actually found this bit of the film genuinely thrilling, because the exteriors were in fact shot in Iceland, and I’ve been there and long to return to that magnificently severe landscape again, and seeing it in 3D on a big screen was an almost-satisfying second best. So you can tell yourself that Journey is a little bit educational, if you want. And it’s still very dramatic in 2D, so that’s okay.

Then the movie — the first feature directed by visual FX guy Eric Brevig — gets down to business and dumps Fraser’s dorky college prof, Trevor Anderson, into the interior of the planet, along with his nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson: Firehouse Dog, Bridge to Terabithia), and their Icelandic guide, Hannah Ásgeirsson (Anita Briem: Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion). It’s weird, but for all the outrageousness of this flick, which assumes that Jules Verne was writing nonfiction with that book of the same title about a beautiful but dangerous world under the world, the only thing that rankles me about Journey is the stupidity of giving us an Icelandic woman whose name is Ásgeirsson — it would be Ásgeirsdottir.

But never mind. The totally CGI subterranean realm is a marvel, in a theme-parky way, strange places that are totally fakey looking yet completely photorealistic at the same time — it’s like being in a live-action cartoon, and that’s just fine… and it’s true in 2D as well. There are many cool monsters to leap and chomp at us (including a dinosaur, of course), and rivers of lava, and more. Fraser morphs from dorky college prof to Adventurer Rick O’Connell(TM) fairly fast, which would be ridiculous in any other movie but this one, and there’s a bit of moping about Trevor’s lost college-prof brother (Sean’s father), who appears to have gotten himself lost in this lost world years earlier, but even those tentative hints at sentimentality never develop into anything that threatens the roller coaster ride of it all.

You’ll have completely forgotten the entire experience before the credits are over, but it’s fun while it lasts.

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