Friday, November 21, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth (New Line Cinema, 2008)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The feature we picked was the 2008 version of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, a combination remake and sequel which manages to be both by being set in the present day and featuring Brendan Fraser as Trevor Anderson, a geology professor whose institute for studying a non-mainstream version of plate tectonics is about to be shut down by his university to make way for a parking garage. Trevor’s late brother, Maxwell Anderson (an interesting in-joke on the name of the once-famous playwright!), was convinced that the events in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth had actually occurred, and he has annotated his copy with elaborate mathematical formulae and geological observations that predict that the same geological conditions that made the original journey possible are about to recur.

Together with his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson, who’s playing the stereotypical obnoxious movie kid instead of the stereotypical sticky-sweet movie kid but still turns in a marvelous performance), Trevor flies to Iceland and meets Hannah Ásgeirsson (Anita Briem), whose father also died seeking to replicate the events of Verne’s novel. The three of them set off on an expedition down what Trevor calls a “volcanic tube,” and a sudden eruption seals the entrance and forces them to retrace the exploration of Verne’s novel in order to get out again. That’s about all the plot there is to it, but there are plenty of opportunities for exciting action — made even more exciting by the use of 3-D.

The DVD offered the film in your choice of three versions — a pan-and-scan 2-D, letterboxed 2-D and pan-and-scan 3-D — and quite naturally we watched the latter. The package included four pair of 3-D glasses (the red-and-blue colored kind rather than the more expensive polarized kind they probably used in the theatres) and the effect was pretty good; at times objects in medium-shot looked blurry and out of register, but I suspect that’s more the fault of my eyes than of the process itself. It was also used relatively creatively — though there were a few objects arbitrarily thrown at the camera in the worst manner of the early 1950’s (including a yo-yo, which is cast in our faces the way the famous paddle-balls were in House of Wax), a number of shots actually used the dimensional effect to show objects falling away from the characters. What the 3-D effect did that was less than entertaining was screw up the film’s color balance; much of it looked almost sepia (and this wasn’t my eyes acting up on me since Charles had the same complaint) and here, as with the registration, I suspect I would have enjoyed this aspect of the film a lot more if we’d seen it theatrically.

Be that as it may, the 2008 Journey to the Center of the Earth is a genuinely entertaining movie, deliberately kept light in tone (when Brendan Fraser is your star you can hardly help but keep it light in tone; as charming as he’s been in action roles like this he’s not an actor of great range or depth), though the scene in which he and his nephew discover the body of Maxwell Anderson is genuinely moving and played with great warmth and pathos. Other than that, the film is full of action — rocks that crumble under our protagonists’ feet, dinosaurs and sea monsters that leap up seemingly out of nowhere, volcanoes, geysers, a bird that becomes Sean’s mascot and seems to be talking to him, and even a ripoff of the famous runaway mine cars scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. (This film’s tongue-in-cheek approach to action clearly owes a lot to the Indiana Jones movies, though here it’s pushed even farther.)

At the end Trevor and Hannah are brought together rather arbitrarily and perfunctorily (obviously the movie was being aimed at pre-teens who even now, in our highly sexualized age, probably still go through a “Girls — yuck!” phase, so they weren’t going to waste much time on the romance!) and the three are reading another book, this one about Atlantis (are they dropping a hint for a sequel?). Journey to the Center of the Earth is hardly a great movie even within the limits of the light-hearted action-adventure genre, but it’s a pleasant time-filler and at 92 minutes it’s too short to wear out its welcome, which is nice especially considering how many movies these days are too long for their own good!