Worth the Ride
Journey to the Center of the Earth / Agent Bedhead
Film Reviews | July 12, 2008 | Comments ()
There’s something about sitting down in a theater and donning a pair of ill-fitting 3-D glasses that has never really done it for me, and all previous experiences have resulted in strained eyes and an evening of holding an ice bag to my head. This discomfort usually didn’t even result in cinematic payoff either, as those earlier 3-D effects were often gratuitous and tended to push an audience away from, rather than into, the films in question. So, I was rather skeptical about the entertainment value of Journey to the Center of the Earth, which, of course, is based on the novel by Jules Verne. To much relief, I report no lingering physical effects from watching this new version of 3-D that benefits from significant advances of late. As far as a remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth goes, this film version differs significantly from Henry Levin’s 1959 adaptation, which held a certain theatrical charm but added several distracting plot diversions, too many extra characters, and, most disturbingly, a shirtless Pat Boone. Now, director Eric Brevig brings the story to contemporary times and manages to remain, overall, truer to the original Vernian spirit than the 1959 version or any of the other negligible attempts on this story’s life. Here, the final 92-minute product is rather tightly paced and avoids the lengthy expository indulgences within which its predecessor dwelled like a soft-core pornstar writhing away in a protracted money shot.
Admittedly, this film kicks off with some classic 3-D gimmicks while two of the three main characters join up. Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) quickly goes through an oh-so-riveting day as a geology professor, and, if you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to be spit upon by a toothbrushing Brendan Fraser, this will be, hopefully, the closest you’ll ever get to that experience. We learn that Trevor feels guilt for the death of his brother, Max (Jean Michel Paré), a fellow geologist who went missing a decade earlier while prowling for volcanic tubes leading to the fabled center of the Earth. Later, Trevor arrives home to find his brother’s teenage son, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), who has begrudgingly arrived for a ten-day visit. Sean has brought along a dusty box of his father’s belongings, which contains a heavily annotated copy of the Journey to the Center of the Earth novel. Within these barely decipherable scribblings, Trevor finds a clue that leads to a quest for the cause of his brother’s disappearance. Before you can say “geekboy adoration,” Trevor and Sean find themselves following Hannah (Anita Briem), a hiking guide and skeptic of Vernian lore, up the Icelandic mountain that was Max’s last-known destination. At the mountain’s summit, thanks to an over-enthusiastic effort by Trevor to recover a seismic sensor, the trio finds themselves falling towards their inevitable destination.
Underneath the surface, the rest of the story involves the characters’ struggle to get back to fresh air and sunlight. As expected, this a rather preposterous plot but only to the degree necessary for an adaptation of a science-fiction novel. Wisely, the filmmakers even play along with the absurdity of the storyline with a ride on rollercoaster land mine cars and the obligatory chase scene involving a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Surprisingly, the result is an appropriately fantasical affair, and the action is fast-paced and fueled by adrenaline and some wicked-cool effects. Quite simply, these visuals are bloody amazing, and, whether it’s the glowing hummingbirds, man-eating plants, carnivorous fish, or oversized dandelion fluff, you just might find yourself alternatingly reaching out to grab or jump away from these 3-D objects. Now, if you’re expecting something more than exhilarating encounters and breathtaking sights, forget it. There are no large-scale statements about the nature of humanity, and none of the characters reel in the viewer in manner of WALL-E. Yet, this film makes an impressive enough visual impact to justify the rather mindless enjoyment of a summer popcorn flick, and it’s hella good for that purpose.
On a whole, the film’s characters are just believable enough in their unrealistic settings, which is saying something, considering that it took three screenwriters (Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin) to script the dialogue, which mostly involves the trio shouting each other’s names. Oddly, Brendan Fraser is pretty damn ripped for a character that spends most of his waking hours in lecture halls. However, Fraser effectively diffuses the tension of the film’s perilous moments with plenty of well-executed, if not particularly well-written, bits of wry humor. Overall, the script’s awfulness never really distracts from the oohs and aahs involved with the film’s brilliant visuals. If you’re willing to suspend belief and ignore a few glaring continuity errors — Fraser is, apparently, the only cast member with operable sweat glands, and backpacks are often abandoned and automagically reappear a few scenes later — this ride will be worth the inflated 3-D ticket price. As a precaution, the PG nature of the film includes a handful of fearful situations and will be somewhat scary for younger kids, who may indeed be better suited (along with anyone easily prone to motion sickness) for the less jarring 2-D version that is also in heavy rotation. However, if any film of the past few decades has been so well-suited for 3-D, it’s gotta be Journey to the Center of the Earth. If you harbor the slightest interest, you really oughta catch the 3-D version in theaters because once this flick hits DVD players, this visual awesomeness will go *poof* like Keyser Soze himself.
Agent Bedhead (a.k.a. “Kimberly”) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She’s just along for the ride at agentbedhead.com.