Friday, July 11, 2008
Movie review: Journey to the Center of the Earth
A rising tide lifts all boats. (Unfortunately, it's a tide of lava.)
If you plan on taking your kids to see Journey to the Center of the Earth - and, frankly, this might be the best justification - make sure you do so at a theater set up to screen it in 3D. (Which requires a special projector. And - of course - the glasses.)
Because seeing it without this added feature would be like visiting Cabo and not getting your feet wet. There's just too much coolness involved in discovering that 3D film technology has finally come of age - which, judging by this experience, it has.
Remember those red and blue-lensed, wax-paper and cardboard specs you donned last time you saw a 3D movie, be it on TV or the big screen? Well, toss those relics away (or sell 'em on eBay). What you'll get when entering the theater to view Journey are a pair of oversized Tom Cruise numbers that are polarized so that only the images flowing from one of the two projection sources is visible through a particular lens of the glasses. Or something like that.
Whatever. The point is, this stuff really does work, with a seamless sense of space between elements at the "front" of the screen and those stretching into the infinite virtual distance.
So when Brendan Fraser's character, Trevor Anderson, launches a yo-yo at the camera (and - trust me - he does), you will probably find yourself ducking. Likewise for the spit-takes (of which there are at least two).
Those grizzled enough to recall seeing House of Wax (the Vincent Price one, not the more recent Paris Hilton version) at the movies will recall similar blatant attempts to milk the effect for all it was worth, which was not much at the time. Now, though, you won't get a headache trying to squint yourself into the zone: amazingly, it just plain works. The choice of a subterranean tunnel-based environment for the application of this projection technology is a clever one, because there's ample visual reference material on which to hitch the 3D wagon.
Narrative-wise, the news is not quite so promising. The filmmakers have pulled the events into the present day rather than going at the original 19th century time period of the tale, which allows them to a) make it more accessible to modern young audiences (?), and b) limit the scope of the story so that it comes in on budget and at a manageable run-time of 92 minutes. Eric Brevig directed; Micheal Weiss, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin crafted the screenplay, which is based loosely on concepts from the Jules Verne novel; and to hear Brendan Fraser tell it, he, too, contributed to the script.
Geology professor Trevor Anderson (Mr. Fraser) is out of favor with his school's administration due to his rather unorthodox theories regarding subterranean cave networks. He's on the point of having the carpet pulled out from under him when one of the beacons set up around the planet at centers of seismic activity (which somehow relate to subterranean cave networks... whatever) goes off spectacularly. This leads Trevor and his visiting nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson, believably discontented at having to bunk with his bachelor uncle) to book passage to Iceland, using - improbably - the contents of a big jar of pocket change.
Once there, they meet up with Hannah Ásgeirsson (played by comely actual Icelander Anita Briem), who contracts out to lead them to the signal-emitting beacon. Which, of course, happens to be inside a cave, the entrance to which of course happens to cave in on the trio once they've taken refuge there to weather a storm. Which of course leads them to search for another way out.
Roll out the Indiana Jones mine cars: in a scene pretty much lifted from Temple of Doom, the adventurers ride off down a twisty, gap-laden track, never minding the fact that gravity, by its nature, is taking them farther and farther away from the surface, to which purportedly they wish to return. (Of course, their hasty exit would make for a lackluster adventure pic, so we'll allow it.)
Upon debarking from their Six Flags-worthy roller coaster ride, our heroes find themselves on a translucent cavern floor which geologist Trevor soon determines is made of - *gasp* - muscovite! - which, he explains to Sean, is a form of mica that will not be bearing up under their weight for too much longer. Which, indeed, it does not.
Sending the three of them into a plunge that begins with them all screaming at the top of their lungs and continues as they hold a rather surprisingly (under the circumstances) droll discussion concerning the various possibilities for their eventual landing. When Trevor notes aloud that "we're still falling!" another round of screaming ensues. Quite amusing, really.
Landing uncatastrophically in or about the center of the Earth, our reluctant explorers begin taking stock of their situation, and it's a grim one:
1) they're in some sort of temporarily temperate pocket surrounded by molten rock
2) it's getting hotter, and will eventually get so hot that they will be fricasseed...
3) if the plesiosaurs and thunder lizards don't get to them first
4) the only thing to eat is trilobite on the half-shell, and
5) they're stranded at the g-damn center of the friggin' Earth
On the bright side, there are bunches of 150 million-year-old (as a species, not individually) phosphorescent tweetie birds flitting about to amuse them and guide them through the caverns.
Highlights of the group's remaining exploits include an encounter with a drooling Tyrannosaur (yuck!), a rafting adventure featuring flying carnivorous fish (leading to an attendant episode of batting practice) and a climactic struggle to dislodge a plug from an underground stream so they may avoid being integrated into the igneous material that makes up our planet's crust. In a geological sense.
Bottom line: wholesome family entertainment without a lot of thinking involved. (And cool 3D!)
I THOUGHT HE WAS THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER?: "Direction is my sixth sense." - Trevor
WELL, YOU DON'T HAVE TO ANNOUNCE IT TO THE WORLD: "Your brother was a Vernian." - Hannah
ALWAYS WITH THE NAGGING: "Eat your trilobite, Sean. You've gotta keep your strength up." - Trevor