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Journey to the Center of the Earth: A 1,2,3-D Trick Pony

Posted by goldwriting on July 22, 2008

Are they still here? — I think so…—Are they awake?—I don’t know, you poke them!

In every summer there are those movies which arrive in your closest multiplex and you know the only reason to see them is to shut off your brain and look at all the pretty moving pictures. The special effects driven popcorn films are not meant to move the soul, deepen your understanding of the universe or make your heart go pitter-patter (although drop a few attractive people into the cast and you’ll at least get the pitter, maybe not the patter). Although it might seem like I’m talking down to these movies, I am most certainly not. We need them as much as we need all the others. We need to be able to walk into those darkened halls of cinematic experiences and let everything go, not be dragged through the emotional wringer, but calmly sit back and grin without even really understanding why we are. So, in that vein of movie making, we get the newest reincarnation of Journey to the Center of the Earth, and this time it’s in 3-D, ready to pop off the screen and into your box of Raisenettes.

Following closely enough to the original Jules Verne story, it details the journey of a small group as they travel down through a volcano into a world within the world. This time, they actually have a new piece of ammunition not previously available in earlier versions, the Jules Verne book itself. The story is contemporized by creating the idea that there is a semi-secret society of people who believe Verne didn’t really write the original story as much as transcribe it from real life experiences. Brendan Fraser plays our heroic professor who lost his brother ten years ago on an expedition and when those exact same geographic circumstances arrive once again, Brendan rushes off to see if he can gather clues as to what happened. Throwing a small wrench in the plan is his nephew, played by Josh Hutcherson (previously seen in RV, Zathura and Bridge to Terabithia), who gets dropped off to spend some quality time with his rarely seen uncle. The cast is rounded out by their deceptively skilled mountain guide played by Anita Briem (previously seen in Showtime’s The Tudors), which combined with Brendan helped bring about some pitter or patter for both sides of the audience.

Not expecting there to be much going on storywise, I wasn’t disappointed. Everything plays along a pretty straight line and even the laziest in the crowd could call all the shots well before they arrived, but we weren’t really there for that. We wanted to be wowed, amazed, transfixed by the new Real 3-D technology and feel the sensation of being enveloped in this mystical world. How did that work out? About 50-50. The 3-D effects we’ve been raised on mostly deal with things poking out of the screen at you, looking like they’re going to rub up against your cheek, giving you that unconscious tingle up your spine, but that mostly happened early on in the film and felt extremely forced. There is a visual tool presented quickly with a yo-yo that Josh plays with, but his constant winging of the old fashioned toy out into the audience caused not a single “ooh” or “ahh”. Saving some of the magic we were expecting is not what comes out of the screen, but what goes into it. The Real 3-D technology really shows its chops during expansive scenery shots where you can really see and feel the depth of the world on screen. The movie at that moment transforms into a window that more than ever you feel like you could just reach through and touch the rivers, streams and, not my personal recommendation, the lava flowing right on the other side. During those moments I was actually impressed with how far we’ve come in the 3-D space since Jaws 3 (but don’t ask me to see that one again, screaming like a girl once in a crowd was enough for me).

No matter how many special effects you toss at a crowd, we still need to be drawn into the movie by the characters and the actors portraying them. Josh and Anita both bring there own special something to their roles, but we all knew going in that this all rested on the well tempered shoulders of Brendan Fraser. He has become a poster boy for the wide-eyed, pure hearted hero who always finds himself in situations way beyond his comprehension. I give him full merits, he does those roles well, starting from his first major role in Encino Man through George of the Jungle, Blast From the Past, and of course, the Mummy trilogy. My only worry is in this film it’s starting to play a little thin. The same delivery, the same determined stare, it all rings way too familiar now and begins to seem like he has nothing else to give. I don’t believe he’s done showing his strengths yet as an actor, but to get some of that credibility back I think he needs to show his skills as he did in School Ties and Gods and Monsters. He is truly one of the few people who can transition from the big budget action genre into the indie drama space, but I would just like to see him do it more often.

The final verdict, since it is a 3-D film, if it has any chance of entertaining you it will have to be on the big screen, so don’t bother waiting for DVD, unless you have a sweet home entertainment setup. If that’s the case, tell me when to show up. I’ll bring the Raisenettes.

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