Journey to the Center of the Earth
directed by Eric Brevig
(New Line, 2008)

If the trilobite in the opening scene doesn't prove the effectiveness of modern 3D technology, Brendan Fraser's morning spit will.

Journey to the Center of the Earth is not a film version of Jules Verne's classic novel, but the adventures of a modern uncle-and-nephew team who follow in the novel's footsteps. The story begins as Prof. Trevor Anderson (Fraser) takes in his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) for a week. Trevor's brother, and Sean's father, disappeared years before while trying to track down the truth of Verne's mythical passages to a strange world beneath the Earth's crust. A sudden clue to his disappearance sets the pair on a mission to Iceland, where a cave-in puts them and their guide, Hannah Asgeirsson (Anita Briem), en route to the fabled center.

The story is in many ways as hollow as Verne's Earth. But it doesn't really matter, since the star here is the special effects, presented in all their three-dimensional glory. And there's an "oh wow" waiting at each new cinematic marvel.

But that doesn't mean the story and the actors are second-rate. Sure, the science doesn't always make sense, but Journey isn't science, or even science fiction (for all its scientific trappings) -- it's fantasy. And fantasy allows viewers to suspend disbelief and accept blindly a gaseous "sun" deep in the Earth's core, dinosaurs, pre-polished diamonds, floating magnetic rocks and a geyser of steam that doesn't scald the people who ride it in a hollow T-rex skull.

Fraser, of course, is a proven reluctant hero. Briem is a charming, winning, tough mountain guide. And their inevitable romance manages to feel natural, not forced. And Hutcherson acts and reacts exactly like a grumpy teen in his situation probably would.

But let's get back to the effects, which includes a complete and varied subterranean ecosystem. There's a mine-tunnel ride that rivals that in Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. There are amazing luminescent birds (although the Tinkerbell bird was a little much), as well as fierce toothy fish and sea Nessies. Even the droplets of water and dandelion puffballs are a visual treat. And forget the Jurassic Park-caliber dinosaurs -- the dino-drool is revoltingly realistic.

It would have been fairly easy for first-time director Eric Brevig to hook his movie on 3D effects alone. Instead, he crafted a visual sensation that includes a solid cast and a pretty good story, too.

review by
Tom Knapp

23 August 2008

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