CAPSULE: Fun as thrill ride, but surprisingly poor as film, this is a story of three modern reluctant explorers who find out that the center of the Earth is just as Jules Verne described it with a lot of fast theme-park-like rides. It has even less logic than Verne gave it. Rent the 1959 version. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
The 3D effects of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3D are almost worth the price of admission. That means this film as a whole is almost worth the price of admission. As an adaptation of Jules Verne's novel this film is nearly worthless. In fairness I should say that no Jules Verne novel has ever been translated well to the screen and probably never will be. That is just not how Verne writes generally. Possibly the best film version of a Verne novel is the Disney 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, but that film has a lot of inventing. In the book, after the main characters are brought aboard the Nautilus they mostly just see wonders rather than have adventures. Similarly, in Verne's novel JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH there is not much action. Aside from occasional separations from the main party the characters mostly just see occasionally scary wonders. The 1959 film was one of the highlights of my youth but it made good cinema only because of heavy revisions to Verne's story by the writing team of Walter Reisch and Charles Bracket who had previously written films like NINOTCHKA and TITANIC (1953).
Strictly speaking, the new 3D version of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH is not an adaptation at all. It is an adventure that takes place in our world with characters who are very much aware of the Verne novel. (A similar approach was taken to the 2002 version of THE TIME MACHINE.) This film is more a vehicle to show off 3D effects than it is to tell a real story. Life in the interior of the Earth seems to have aspects of theme park rides, video games, and both Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons. There are some nice renderings of engravings from Jules Verne books into real-looking albeit digital sets.
Trevor Anderson (played by Brendan Fraser) is a scientist who discovers that he has to play host to his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) for two weeks. At the same time he discovers that for some reason he has a limited time to access volcanic chimneys into the center of the Earth. The reason for the rush is unexplained by it has something to do with changing numbers on a computer screen so it must be scientific.
Trevor packs up the nephew and off they head for Iceland. Along the way they pick up Hannah Ásgeirsson (Anita Briem) the daughter of a scientist who worked with Max. Max was Trevor's brother, Sean's father, and a friend of Hannah's late father. The name Ásgeirsson, incidentally, means "Son of Asgeir" and would never be given to a woman. The credits list her father as Sigurbjörn Ásgeirsson so she should have been Hannah Sigurbjörnsdottir. Briem would have known that, being Icelandic herself, but getting things accurate was just not where this film was at. The group came to study the chimneys, but soon they are trapped inside the Earth a long distance below the surface. Which brings us to the falls.
Our hearty band frequently falls distances of many miles and manages to land with no ill effects, like Alice in Wonderland. Two such falls and they make it to the center of the Earth. That saves time and story-telling, but it cuts out most of what would be interesting in the film. Admittedly, how far down the center of the Earth is a moot point. If the center is just a single point it could be a long way down. If "center" refers to a very large region it might not be that far down. (Think of it this way. The center of an inflated balloon is a pocket of compressed air that begins a small fraction of an inch below the surface.)
These are most unusual explorers. They can fall hundreds of miles and land without breaking a bone. Hundreds of miles beneath the surface of the Earth they never seem greatly concerned for how they can get to safety. In 105-degree temperatures they never seem to break a sweat or in the case of Hannah even smear her lipstick. At one point a character is jumping from one rock to the next in a line of rocks floating in air suspended by magnetism. Somehow he manages to do this without imparting any rotational momentum until he gets to the very last rock. It just plays better if only the last rock has a rotational momentum. The travelers brought no food with them and rarely seem to pass much that is edible, but they always seem to be well-fed. The film exempts itself from any laws of physics or logic. Luminous birds that glow like fireflies illuminate the world beneath the earth. These are birds from 150 million years in our past, yet they look more like modern bluebirds than like the archaeopteryx of that period. What is more, the birds seem to understand English and show very human-like expressions like some fugitives from Disney's CINDERELLA. One of the birds adopts the travelers and follows them around like Tinkerbell.
Visually the film has some nice moments, but not all of the images work. There is a large Tyrannosaurus Rex that looks like a digital animation and is not believable as a living animal the way the T-rex in JURASSIC PARK did. Too often the lighting is too dim to really see the dimensional imagery to its full effect. There is some blurring. Frequently the left- and right-eye images do not coalesce. The 3D work, virtually the film's only virtue, is a step down from that of BEOWULF. For me it would be very hard for JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (2008) to match the enjoyment that the 1959 version brought me. However, this film does not even come close. The 3D effects are actually quite nice usually, but see it for the 3D or not at all. I rate the film a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0373051/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper