Friday, November 2, 2012

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)


In this fairly creative update of the classic Jules Verne story, Brendan Fraser is Trevor, kid brother of the long-missing Max, a vulcanologist who disappeared years before. Now Trevor is following in his brother's footsteps--or he would be, if the university wasn't cutting his funding and converting his lab into storage. Fortunately, Max's wife shows up to drop off 13-year-old Sean (Josh Hutcherson, long before Katniss Everdeen broke his heart) for a visit, and delivering a box of Max's old belongings. Tucked alongside the old baseball mitt and yo-yo is a heavily annotated copy of A Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Trevor soon realizes that Max used it as a field journal to record his findings, and that current volcanic conditions are a perfect match for those recorded in the journal around the time of Max's disappearance--including a long-dormant site in Iceland. So of course, the boys head off to follow in Max's footsteps. With the help of a (conveniently attractive) mountain guide named Hannah--herself the daughter of a vulcanologist--Trevor and Sean trudge up Sneffels and soon find that maybe Verne's story isn't science fiction after all ...

As I said, this is a creative spin on Verne. By sending our characters on a quest to follow one who followed Verne, the writers free themselves to deviate from the original without doing violence to it. The characters can all be modern-day people, and their knowledge of the original text enables them to anticipate obstacles (thereby building suspense) and provides them with a plausible means of concocting a workable solution--they are using means that have been successfully tested in the past. The writers can also replace the rather un-Hollywood team of aging scientist, son-in-law-to-be, and loyal (male) guide with a younger, leading-man-type, a fatherless son on the cusp of manhood, and a hot chick. And since this is not a re-telling of the story but a sequel to it, we don't really mind.

Of course, this being a 'family' movie targeted at younger viewers, it becomes necessary for Sean to be separated from his adult safety net and pit his wits against the hostile surroundings (with the assistance of a new friend, of course). The resulting trek across a series of rock suspended in a magnetic field is harrowing and stressful to watch (or maybe that's just my acrophobia talking).

The trio's adventures are fun and exciting without being scary enough to alienate younger viewers. The effects were likely more impressive when viewed in 3D on the big screen than on my unimpressive television set (though the DVD offers viewers the opportunity to experience the wonder of 3D in the comfort of their own homes--the set includes 2 pairs of paper 3D glasses). Brendan Fraser is his usual over-the-top, rubber-faced self--too goofy to be a realistic leading man in any kind of serious drama, but a natural fit for kiddie fare.  Newcomer (to me) Anita Briem is serviceable enough as the pretty face. Her accent seemed a bit uneven to me, but I am no expert on the nuances of the Icelandic accent, and lo and behold she really is Icelandic, so the fault is clearly mine. Hutcherson is likable enough as the initially sullen but increasingly good-natured Sean--apparently likable enough to net himself a role in the sequel: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and, rumor has it, the upcoming Journey 3: From the Earth to the Moon.

All in all, if you're looking for a fun adventure film to share with the kids, this will do nicely. It won't go down as a timeless classic by any means, but it will pass the time. and it may well convince your kids to give Verne (and other older adventure writers) a try.

Also, the special feature on hollow earth stories is pretty fascinating.

No comments: