Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D

I didn’t expect to be that excited about Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, so when Director Eric Brevig and Executive Producer/Star Brendan Fraser introduced it as being the first step into the next era of movie-making, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Nothing felt revolutionary – the trailers all looked par for the course – some goofy family moments with action sequences intense enough to bring a five year old to. I checked my vital signs in the theater, and everything was working fine. Heart rate normal, eyes averagely dilated. And then the New Line logo came arching toward me. I still wasn’t sure what the two men meant by the time the credits rolled, but I was definitely starting to.

Trevor (Brendan Fraser) has a lot on his plate. He’s running a seismic lab program that’s about to get shut down, his missing brother’s radical life’s work is about to be erased from the science tomes, and he’s getting saddled with his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) for ten awkward days. When they notice some strange volcanic activity, both head to Iceland where they team up with uber-capable mountain guide Hannah (Anita Briem) and travel deep into the core of the Earth where they discover an incredible lost eco-system.

For the three of you out there that read (present company definitely not included), this isn’t the Jules Verne story exactly. It references Verne’s work within the story as a catalyst, the characters are different, but the environment they explore is very similar. For the most part, it’s a fun ride filled with some dangerous adventure, some snarky comments from Trevor and an oddly plausible scientific explanation for the existence of a terrarium at the center of the planet. With a dash of suspension of disbelief, or a shovel-full, the movie is an exciting time.

This isn’t a perfect movie. Like most first steps, it teeters from time to time, unsure of its own footing. The plotline is fairly standard although fantastical. The acting is solid, but not earth-shattering. The whole thing seems so overwhelmingly normal.

Except that it’s in 3D. With new technology that has some of the first gateless cameras being put to good use, the visuals are incredible. But it’s not pure spectacle. If it was only interesting to look at, the movie wouldn’t be worth the free geeky glasses at the door.

You do care about the characters, that concern just doesn’t run incredibly deep. Fraser plays strong as Trevor, but he’s a blend of Indiana Jones and Dr. Robert Langdon from The Da Vinci Code. Part adventurer-scientist, part complete waste of space. His hindrances to their survival go from mildly comical to frustrating. It will be enough to force some viewers to wish Anita Briem’s buff mountain guide Hannah was the main character. Overall, everyone involved does well, but no one besides the 3D is doing much to drop your jaw.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D

So here’s the dilemma we all face:

Journey isn’t what I would call a must-see movie, not one that you necessarily need to shell out your hard-earned government stimulus check for. But to get the full effect on the 3D, you’ll need to see it in theaters.

If you have children, it’s a no-brainer. The movie is tailor-made for ten year olds with its graphic glee, T-Rex chases and a plot that comes in candy-coated pill form. If you don’t have children, the question of seeing this one becomes much, much harder.

But fear not, according to director Eric Brevig, the DVD version will be compatible with brand-spanking-new television sets that have 3D capabilities. How awesome is that? As I’ve said before, the future was three years ago. The bad news: you’ll have to buy a 3D television set. The other good news: If there was more 3D programming, owning one would rule.

I also got to ask Brevig if there were any specific design challenges to overcome with working in three dimensions, and he brought up the concept of cheating. For those of you actually in film schools, take note – when working in 3D, you can’t use flats or matte paintings that cost far less than building your entire world in practicals. Knowing that the world they created for the movie actually exists beyond fake paintings or CGI makes the movie that much more respectable in a retro way. The fact that they made it with cutting edge technology and an eye for the future adds even more.

So I hate that the big story for this movie is what’s behind the scenes, but despite some decent characters and a fairly exciting adventure, Journey to the Center of the Earth is average except for the package it comes in. It’s unassuming in almost every way, but something Brendan Fraser said made me believe there’s something deeper going on with this film – he said that the purpose of it was to recreate a classic communal theater-going experience. He and Brevig wanted to see people coming back to the theater despite the onslaught of new media readily available whether through a television, an IPhone or a computer screen.

Looking around the theater, I realized that they had accomplished this in a small way. The audience had laughed at the right parts, had cheered together and had shared an experience that seems lacking in modern mega-plexes where crying babies and cell phone glares dot the landscape. Like I said before, this movie isn’t a blockbuster and won’t be up for any awards, but by the time the credits were rolling, I was beginning to understand what made Brevig and Fraser so excited about it. If you get a chance to see it in 3D, maybe you will, too.

The Upside: Fantastic 3D and a fun action-adventure for kids (and adults).

The Downside: A run-of-the mill story with acting and writing that could have been a lot stronger.

On the Side: This is the first live-action drama shot in 3D. Fraser claimed that he expected more movies would be shot in 3D now that the tools are so readily available. If so, perhaps those movies will move beyond pure spectacle and become fantastic pieces of art that happen to surround the viewer instead of laying flat on the screen.

Grade: B-

Journey to the Center of the Earth will hit theaters in standard and 3D versions on July 11, 2008. It is rated PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments and has a running time of 92 minutes. Click here to watch the trailer.


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