REVIEW: Journey to the Center of the Earth [2008]

Score: 3/10 | ★

Rating: PG | Runtime: 93 minutes | Release Date: July 11th, 2008 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Eric Brevig
Writer(s): Michael D. Weiss and Jennifer Flackett & Mark Levin / Jules Verne (novel)

“No one gets dibs on the mountain guide”

I feel really bad for Canada now that the adventure it holds for young Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) and his mother (Jane Wheeler) will never quite live up to the boy’s quick little Journey to the Center of the Earth. Perhaps it can offer something in the way of safety and stability where thin rock formations that crack under your weight cannot, but I doubt it possesses phosphorescent birds. And we all know how awesome those are.

One could say our sister up north was the whole reason Sean became a ‘Vernian’ in the first place as he’d never even consider Jules Verne‘s seminal work as more than a missed school assignment if not for the big move. It’s the ten-day window of mom getting things ready that allow the boy to stumble upon his adventure after Uncle Trevor (Brendan Fraser) discovers an old copy of the novel he hadn’t seen since childhood. Seeing the scrawled handwriting of long disappeared brother Max on the margins of each page, the numbers and locations cause him to remember the identical seismic readings noticed hours before at his lab. A reunion six years in the making, Trevor and Sean soon find themselves on the ultimate male bonding experience through mine shafts, volcanoes, geysers, and Icelandic thunderstorms.

Besides allowing Seth Meyers a couple minutes to be snarky and Fraser the same duration to be depressed, the details of Trevor’s life have really no bearing on the plot. Yes, he’s a scientist like his late brother and that sort of education is lucky to have when lighting flares next to magnesium rock, but the trio of screenwriters could just as easily put a treasure map in Max’s book to lead them to the cave mouth of this world within a world. I wouldn’t have been too upset if they put us in the midst of such dangerous sub-mantle terrain straight away, but then we wouldn’t have roller coaster adventures and horrible green screen work to take full advantage of 3D technology that only look horrid when at home without the gimmick fuzzing up the crisp delineation between real and computer generated.

As it is, though, Journey to the Center of the Earth is a kid’s movie and I’m sure it’s enjoyable for that demographic. Between the glowing birds, a pitch-black minecart race, Tyrannosaurus Rex chases, and both Venus Flytraps with eyes and jumping piranhas seeking dinner, there’s a lot to have fun with if you excuse the corny schist jokes and complete lack of story. Rather than bring a famous piece of literature to life, it’s reduced to a backdrop as the Anderson boys and their guide Hannah (Anita Briem) touch what they shouldn’t and pray for salvation while whatever cool creatures are deemed worthy of an appearance earn five minutes of screen time each. For what promises to be a rollicking good show, there’s more down time in between action than the impressive set pieces trying hard to take control.

But running in at barely 90-minutes with credits, what more can you really expect when a third of it is spent getting to the impossible locale of the title? We’ve barely seen how snotty Hutcherson’s brat can be before a smile breaks out at the sight of his dad’s yo-yo tucked inside a box his mother throws at Trevor without asking the boy if he wants a keepsake of the man he never knew. Adventure somehow seems a good idea for a kid seconds before so engrossed in his product-placed PSP to even acknowledge he’d been dropped off at the home of an uncle who hardly recognized him. I guess the allure of magical fantasy is simply that powerful and a free trip to Iceland, literally off the scientist’s quarter—because a credit card wouldn’t be plausible—is better than watching “Family Guy” on TV.

By the time the Andersons arrive in the land of Scandanavians, names have been thrown about that we don’t need to know and the broad humorous stylings of Fraser have been unleashed to anyone other the age of ten’s chagrin. I understand that we’re to believe Trevor is out of his element with kids and way behind the time as far as technology goes—his research computers have screens that look like an Apple IIe—but tone down the ham a tiny bit before you turn parents off from wanting to take their kids to the foreshadowed sequel. I know I can only handle so much of Fraser’s disproportionate mix of tough guy deep voice and rubber elasticity before I shake my head and wonder what could have been if he stuck to serious work like School Ties. At least The Mummy used all his strengths.

Watching his Trevor grow as an adult overnight while Sean becomes a boy no longer downtrodden by the hand life dealt him is like seeing a switch flipped with no believable evolution of character. But when the only other entities with besides Briem’s lovely self to interact with are figments of our imagination, you can only care so much. The graphics work is horrible without 3D masking its lack of depth and the dangerous chases all end with more whimper than edge of your seat excitement. So, unless you have an adolescent yet to discover the magic of storytelling that you can hopefully make pick up the book after watching its inferior progeny, there really is no reason to take the journey. The only reason I picked it up was to prepare for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and sadly my small anticipation for it has only ended up decreasing as a result.

[1] (left to right) Josh Hutcherson stars as “Sean” and Brendan Fraser stars as “Trevor” in New Line Cinema’s release of Eric Brevig’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Photo: Sebastian Raymond/New Line Cinema. © MMVII New Line Productions, INC. and Walden Media, LLC
[2] (left to right) Josh Hutcherson stars as ‘Sean’, Brendan Fraser stars as ‘Trevor’ and Anita Briem stars as ‘Hannah’ in New Line Cinema’s release of Eric Brevig’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Photo: Sebastian Raymond/New Line Cinema. © MMVII New Line Productions, INC. and Walden Media, LLC
[3] Brendan Fraser stars as ‘Trevor’ in New Line Cinema’s release of Eric Brevig’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Photo: Sebastian Raymond/New Line Cinema. © MMVII New Line Productions, INC. and Walden Media, LLC

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