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February 9, 2009

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Movie Review – Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

by Master Pillow

Reminiscing about the past might be spurred by nostalgia about a certain place or event that happened in one’s life but it sometimes does have a negative side effect of re-evaluating said event. It happens to everyone. Things that you remember liking suddenly become sour with the passing of years. I vividly recall playing some video games that I thought had photorealistic graphics and proclaiming to the world that it would never be beaten in my lifetime! How could it get any better than Pac Man? Thankfully, I was very wrong. Playing those old games again made me realize the rose coloured glasses I had been wearing. I will always cherish those old memories and feelings but at least I can be more analytical now.

Journey to the Center of the Earth is one of those films that I might have liked if I was much younger. Say, a tender age of 10 or less. It’s full of action, humour, likeable actors and dinosaurs. I mean really, how can you go wrong with a T-Rex rampaging across the screen? Aimed at kids, the movie is more amusement ride than coherent retelling of Jules Verne’s seminal science fiction book.

Brandon Fraser plays Trevor Anderson, your typical scatterbrained university professor who has a penchant for saving coins in large jars and keeping his house in a state of perpetual clutter. A volcanologist by trade, Trevor is informed that his lab and his work will soon be repossessed and reassigned to a smirking compatriot. Upset at this turn of events things get even more complicated when his 13 year old nephew, Sean, played by John Hutcherson, is suddenly thrust upon him for the duration of his vacation.

By a stroke of luck the duo discover an old copy of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and in it are written cryptic notes by Max, Trevor’s long lost brother and Sean’s dad. This find propels our heroes to fly to Iceland where they bumble upon Hannah, a guide who conveniently is the only daughter of a local professor who knew Max. Don’t you love it when things magically come together?

During a field trip the trio find themselves trapped in an underground cavern that, yet again conveniently, leads them to the “center of the earth.” Now, I don’t think I’m ruining the story for anyone as the title of the film basically gives the entire synopsis away.

Kids will probably revel in their journey as it unveils with numerous effects sequences. Older audiences though are going to be struck with a large wave of déjà vu as the movie takes great license in basically lifting these sequences from other popular movie franchises. There’s the ubiquitous mine cart ride as our trio screams and yells as the carts go careening through a maze that really makes little sense – since when would anyone design a system that resembles more a gigantic roller coaster than functional strip mine? Then there’s the lost at sea on a rickety raft set piece where thunder, lighting, high winds and crashing waves appear as if on cue. To be fair, this movie throws in carnivorous fish which I haven’t seen before in such a sequence. I already mentioned the rampaging T-Rex but there’s also your man eating Venus fly traps and floating rocks that have to be traversed over a deep chasm.

This makes the movie feel like a cheap imitation of other films and the exposition linking these scenes together falls only into two categories: 1) Light comedy highlighted by childish banter between our heroes 2) Minimalist exposition on their predicament also buttressed by childish banter between our heroes. Just about every piece of dialogue is either a setup line or the payoff joke. It gets increasingly irritating as this verbal back and forth goes on without a significant break. The only solemn part of the movie actually seems completely out of place since the comedy routine is broken for a scant few minutes.

Journey To The Center of the Earth was filmed with 3D technology and heavily marketed to highlight this selling point. Even if you watch this in regular 2D the camera shots and angles where the 3D elements should be are incredibly telegraphed. I realize that the director, Eric Brevig, is shooting this film with 3D in mind but there’s not even one original shot that utilizes the 3D effect well. Instead we get endless shots that don’t even affect the story but are meant to just shock the audience into thinking something is coming straight at them like the mouth of the T-Rex or as infantile as Brandon Fraser spitting out water right into the camera. You might shudder if you see a yo-yo fly towards you but it in no way effects the story in the least.

Since this is targeted at kids don’t expect any realism whatsoever as every law of physics and momentum does not apply. It is as if these characters don’t exist in our known universe. People fall what appears to be kilometres without a scratch and those blasted mine carts are going so fast you expect them to pop off the rails at every corner. Characters that should be roasted by hot steam or molten lava just sweat and in Hannah’s case, luminously glow. It is obvious the film’s only goal is to make kids laugh with glee. Then again my intrepid wife quite vocally pointed out that our heroes were quickly losing their clothing as the movie dragged on. Now if this were not a kid’s film…

For a film so heavily reliant on special effects it must be said that they aren’t very special. Now I did only see this movie in the 2D Blu-Ray edition but there were many instances where colours were washed out, with excessive blurs and smears and even the video quality felt like broadcast TV. It’s obvious, save for a few locations, that the whole movie has been shot on a soundstage as a few settings are barely above Star Trek level – that’s the original Star Trek from the 60’s. I almost expected to catch glimpses of barely hidden men swinging the giant Venus Fly traps back and forth that should be menacing but seem more like the plants are dancing in preparation for a luau. The big effects sequences were oddly blocked with some questionable green screen work which made characters feel totally disconnected with their backgrounds.

If you don’t buy into the action then there’s not much else to hang on to. Brandon Fraser channels his usually dopey but fun personality while Anita Briem as Hannah is mere eye candy. About the only element of her casting that is mildly fascinating is that she is in fact Icelandic which, I suppose, is meant to give her more weight as her character also comes from the same country. Then again, Hannah, her character, is the butt of a lot of odd romantic overtones from both Trevor and his nephew Sean. This is expected from the adult Trevor but when Sean calls, “Dibs on the mountain guide,” it’s slightly off-putting. This quasi-macho rivalry over Hannah drags on for huge chunks of the movie even when it is obvious she is falling for the goofy professor. Then again, this is a kid’s movie and I can think of a hundred agencies that would be up in arms if it was even hinted that she and the 13 year old kid had anything going for each other making the inclusion of this plot device wholly unconvincing.

The script never deviates from its light-hearted tone even when things look grim. Everyone is so incessantly cheery and full of confidence that their predicament is no big deal. It’s like one giant picnic except it takes place kilometres under the ground, in a cavern surrounded by molten lava, flammable hot searing gas, man-eating wildlife and gigantic fungi. Oh, I can’t forget the Disney-esque blue birds that glow in the dark, one of which actually seems to understand human speech. If this were animated it might be more palatable. Still, it is definitely good to know a sentient race of glowing birds are our friends if we ever fall down a large hole in the ground. I pity the school teacher who inevitably has to clean up this apparent logic in the classroom.

My advice, if your children really want to see this movie you can be rest assured that the violence is minimal and that they should be entertained for its curt running time. Meanwhile, adults can be free to embark on more pressing activities like washing the laundry, painting the house or getting a root canal. Really, it’s time much better spent as no amount of rose coloured glasses is going to make this movie more than a lump of coal.

*1/2 out of ****

2008, USA, 93 minutes, PG-13, New Line Cinema
Directed by Eric Brevig
Screenplay by Michael D. Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
Based on a book by Jules Verne
Produced by Beau Flynn, Cary Granat, Charlotte Huggins
Executive Producers: Cale Boyter, Michael Disco, Brendan Fraser, W. Mark McNair, Alex Schwartz, Evan Turner, Tripp Vinson
Original Music by Andrew Lockington
Cinematography by Chuck Shuman
Film Editing by Steven Rosenblum, Paul Martin Smith, Dirk Westervelt

Prof. Trevor Anderson: Brendan Fraser
Sean Anderson: Josh Hutcherson
Hannah Ásgeirsson: Anita Briem
Professor Alan Kitzens: Seth Meyers
Max Anderson: Jean Michel Paré
Elizabeth Anderson: Jane Wheeler

© 2009 The Galactic Pillow

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. evie
    Feb 11 2009

    This is definitely a kids & family movie. The adults can turn off their brains and just enjoy the show. I like the roller-coaster mine cart scene, it was quite scary, but fun! I'm sure kids will enjoy this movie more than the adults. I like the dinos. They look quite real actually. This is not near any of the bad, bad movies I've seen. Hahah 😀

    Reply

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