Journey to the Center of the Earth
Director : Eric Brevig
Screenplay : Michael Weiss and Jennifer Flackett & Mark Levin (based on the novel by Jules Verne)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Brendan Fraser (Trevor Anderson), Josh Hutcherson (Sean Anderson), Anita Briem (Hannah Ásgeirsson), Seth Meyers (Professor Alan Kitzens), Jean Michel Paré (Max Anderson), Jane Wheeler (Elizabeth), Frank Fontaine (Old Man), Giancarlo Caltabiano (Leonard)
Journey to the Center of the Earth, which is no less than the eighth time Jules Verne’s 1864 novel has been adapted to the screen either large or small, has a clever twist that breathes some precious new life into the old material. Rather than being a straight adaptation of the novel, the movie posits the idea that there is a group of people known as Vernenites who believe that ol’ Jules wasn’t just a science fiction novelist, but rather a visionary whose fantastical adventure stories were actually true travel tales in the guise of fiction. Thus, his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth not only appears in the movie, but becomes a sort of guide for the intrepid modern adventurers as they make their way through the heretofore unseen wonders millions of feet beneath the earth’s crust. This also helps to make Verne’s 19th-century wonders, including snapping plants, giant mushrooms, sea monsters, and rampaging dinosaurs, seem a little less hokey.
Of course, there is no getting around the inherently hokey premise of the story, which was borne out five years ago by the failed attempt of the 2003 film The Core to present a realistic take on the idea of people drilling to the center of the earth, which was presented there as a scientifically acceptable ball of molten lava. Luckily for our heroes here, you don’t have to drill, but simply fall through hidden volcano tubes that take you straight to the heart of the planet, which turns out to be its own scientifically unacceptable wonderworld of oceans, deserts, and foliage. But, those looking for science don’t usually immerse themselves in retellings of 19th-century science fiction, and if you’re willing to go for the ride (or, at least, if your inner 8-year-old is), it’s not half-bad.
Brendan Fraser brings his well-worn self-deprecating adventurer persona to the role of Trevor Anderson, a geoscientist who is carrying on his late brother’s work studying plate tectonics and seismic activity. When some of his seismic monitors in Iceland start going crazy, he heads north with Sean (Josh Hutcherson), his 13-year-old nephew, in tow. Helped by a pretty mountain guide named Hannah (Anita Briem), who also happens to be the skeptical daughter of a deceased scientist with whom Trevoir’s brother had worked, they set off to find the monitor, but ultimately succeed in falling to the center of the earth. The set-up is quick and efficient, and once they are well below the surface, the film is content to set up a continually escalating series of dangers the trio must navigate before they can see sunlight again. Some of it seems almost blatantly stolen from other films (a runaway mine-car ride is little more than a digitally enhanced version of a similar sequence from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which together really challenges one to explain why miners build their mine-car tracks like roller-coasters). Nevertheless, the action has a casually effective intensity, which is enhanced by the goofy in-your-lap digital 3-D in which the film is being projected in some theaters.
Journey to the Center of the Earth marks the directorial debut of Industrial Light & Magic visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig, who proves to be an able hand with old material. He allows Fraser (who also co-produced) plenty of room to work his corny comic relief, but he also knows when to turn up the heat (literally at one point) and let the action dictate the pace. Not everything works as well as it should and it’s hard to get away from the feeling that the film is little more than a 3-D theme-park ride expanded to feature length, but you might just find yourself won over by its amiable lack of cynicism and generally beguiling take on old-fashioned action-adventure.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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