Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

Some months back I mentioned in my review of Coraline that seeing the movie in 3D did not any value. I recently finished Journey to the Center of the Earth in plain old 2D. After finishing the movie, I realized that seeing it in 3D would actually improve it.

Unfortunately, the reason Journey to the Center of the Earth is a better movie in 3D is because it made such a mediocre 2D movie. Moreover, after seeing it in 2D it becomes clear that because of all the obvious effects that in 3D it might cause you to lose your lunch the movie is meant to be seen in only in 3D. In 2D, you just realize just how full of nothing this movie actually is.

Blessedly, the movie clocks in at only 93 minutes, so you won’t have to sit in your seat too long. Still, the movie is about 33 minutes longer than it needs to be. It is clear from the plot at exactly whom this movie is targeted: boys on the cusp of pubescence. This is clear not only from the shallow plot and predictable special effects, but by the presence of child actor Josh Hutcherson, who plays Sean Anderson, a 13-year old boy. Sean spends his days lost in his handheld computer. His life gets considerably more interesting shortly after his mother drops him off at his Uncle Trevor’s house. Here is another sign that this is not going to be any A List movie: Uncle Trevor is played by famed B-movie actor Brendan Fraser, probably best known for his many Mummy movies. Fortunately, Fraser gets to sleepwalk through this movie. In this movie, he plays a vulcanologist, rather than Rick O’Connell of the French Foreign Legion. He might as well be O’Connell of the 21st century, because he is playing a similar character.

It seems Sean’s father disappeared underground a decade ago and is presumed dead. What a coincidence; Sean’s father was a vulcanologist too, and Trevor is the younger brother following in his footsteps. In any event, Trevor inherits a box of his brother’s belongings and in it is the Jules Verne novel with scrawlings around the margins by his late brother. Curiously, at the very same time his nephew is visiting, seismic activities are happening that mirror those that occurred when his brother disappeared, so he and Sean are soon hopping Iceland Air to Iceland. There they quickly encounter Hannah (Anita Briem), who offers to take them into Iceland’s mountains so they can do some pressure measurements.

Briem is the best thing about this movie, such as it is, as she is great eye candy and her character Hannah has a mild acerbic sense of humor. Naturally they are hardly astride the mountain when a thunderstorm appears, they rush into a cave, and find themselves trapped in the cave. The only way out appears to be down.

Not to worry, Hannah has supplies. You might think it would take a long time to get to the center of the earth but fall down the right lava tube (which they quickly do) and you can get there in no time. Oddly, it has normal gravity. Sure enough, everything they encounter down there is right out of Verne’s novel! Apparently, it was all real and Verne was simply writing it down. Moreover, they find signs of Trevor’s brother down there. Could he still be living?

I would like to say they encounter everything in the novel, but there is not time for the whole novel. There is time for parts of it, including giant mushrooms, luminous blue underground CGI-animated birds, and a voyage on an underground sea where they are attacked by vicious CGI sea serpents and huge piranha-like fish. One thing is for sure: there is a lot of florescent material down there; you don’t need a flashlight. Just when you reach the point where you are feeling slightly engaged they find themselves in another lava tube ascending from the center of the earth and are deposited in Sicily, just like in the novel. Not to worry Sean’s mother. He is back in time before school restarts.

This is a film even the American Family Association can love. There is no swearing in the entire movie. The closest allusion to sex is that both Sean and Trevor claim dibs on the sexy Hannah. There is some slimy and mucous-like stuff in the movie that might have vaguely Freudian undertones. Mostly this movie is just mindless eye candy.

While pap and predictable, I cannot with honesty say it’s a bad movie, it’s just in no way a good movie. If you like Brendan Fraser, you will probably like his character here too, as it is more of the same. The humor is light but engaging. It feels like a made for TV movie instead of something you were supposed to see in a theater. Hence the need for 3D: to make you feel like you are getting something for your money. After all, the SyFy channel makes crap like this all the time, just with Grade C actors, no 3D and cheaper special effects. I hope that if you saw this in 3D you at least got a mild case of vertigo. You sure won’t get it in 2D.

Unless you enjoy spending ninety minutes ogling an attractive blonde woman, this movie is eminently skippable, so please do. My wife will watch anything with Brendan Fraser. Her fabulous company was my only motivation for seeing the movie. Fortunately, her company and running commentary were so good that I didn’t particular mind this waste of an hour and a half of my life.

2.8 on my 4.0 scale. Move along.

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