Journey to the Center of the Earth
Directed By: Eric Brevig
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem
Journey to the Center of the Earth tells a modern story of a quest by geology professor Trevor Anderson (Fraser) and his nephew ,Sean (Hutcherson), to investigate global seismic activity that may be related to the disappearance of Trevor's brother/Sean's father, Max, several years previously. Their quest leads them to Iceland where they enlist the aid of mountain guide Hannah Ásgeirsson (Briem) to access a remote sensor installed in a mountainside by Max. While negotiating the mountain, they are trapped inside an old mining cave which leads them to an underground "world beneath our world" filled with strange creatures, surprising discoveries, and mortal dangers.
Fast moving action/adventure movies are often referred to as roller coaster rides, but Journey to the Center of the Earth takes things a bit further than that. It is so unapologetically designed to exploit the 3D process that it could almost literally pass for a theme park attraction. Director Eric Brevig, who comes from a special effects background, fills the film to the brim with one 3D "gag" after another. The purely functional plot serves as nothing more or less than a frame from which various 3D set pieces can be hung.
If one is willing to accept the film on its own unambitious terms, then it qualifies as a success. The use of 3D gags offers a lot of fun for the casual viewer. The plot unfolds at a fast pace offering the audience little time to dwell on the implausibility of the entire enterprise. The cast offer up likeable but slight characterizations completely in step with the film's intentions. The net result is a completely forgettable time passer with a lot of novelty appeal due to its exploitation of 3D effects.
Unfortunately, that novelty disappears almost completely when viewing the film in conventional 2D. The film's heavy reliance on digital effects becomes a hindrance due to the varying quality of the work. For every impressively rendered CGI creature (e.g. the dinosaur), there are dozens of dopey looking ones (e.g. some cartoony killer flying fish). The arrangement of all elements in the frame to strongly establish foreground middle and background perspectives for 3D effects emphasizes weaknesses in the digital compositing of various elements when viewed flat. Without the gee-whiz novelty factor, the thimble deep characters and plot also become even more apparent …and problematic…to the viewer.
For the record, this film has almost nothing to do with the Jules Verne novel from which it derives its title. The novel is meta-referenced in the screenplay in that it is discussed by the characters and used for a plot point, but that is about the extent of it.
This DVD offers three different versions of the film spread across two sides of a DVD-14 "flipper" disc. The double-layered top side of the disc contains a 16:9 enhanced widescreen 2D version of the film, all of the extras, and a 4:3 reformatted 2D version of the film which I did not bother to watch for this review. The single-layered flip side of the disc contains a 16:9 enhanced "red/blue" 3D version of the film. It repeats the available audio commentary track but not any of the other extras.
With 3D presentation being the film's whole raison d'etre, the widescreen red/blue 3D version of the film is definitely the preferred viewing option for viewers with two eyes. This is easily the best red/blue 3D video presentation I have ever seen, with most of the 3D "gags" translating very well in terms of their depth effects. That being said, the presentation is clearly hampered by the limitations of the red/blue 3D process which at best dulls and more often than not distorts the film's color scheme severely. It also has a way of reducing perceived depth of objects that gives it more of a "pop-up book" look than more sophisticated 3D presentations.
The 16:9 enhanced 2D presentation, offers a truer color scheme, but at times appears to be a bit soft. The opening scenes are especially dull because the softness is combined with an intentional desaturation effect applied by the director presumably to create more of a "Kansas/Oz" contrast with the wilder sequences once the characters begin their journey. This softness appears to be largely due to bitrate issues, but [pure speculation alert!] may also stem from some tweaking of the image to make the digitally shot movie look more film-like.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 track supports the intentionally gimmicky visuals well with a similar spirit off immersive dimensionality. It presents a fun and active mix with very good fidelity and dynamics, although there is only so much of Brendan Fraser shouting that one can take at or near reference volume levels. I strongly discourage you from watching this back to back with any film in the "Mummy" series. An alternate Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish dub is also available.
The only extra repeating on both sides of the disc is the Commentary by Brendan Fraser and Director Eric Brevig. This is a fairly light commentary that is mildly informative and mildly entertaining. Fraser does nothing to contradict his public persona as a charismatic good-natured goofball, and Brevig has an easy rapport with him in which he works in a modest amount of technical information about the making of the film in between the good natured kidding and happy talk that dominates the track. There are a few too many moments where they slip into watching and/or narrating the film for me to say this is a great commentary, but it is easily the most substantive behind the scenes extra on the disc. One of the more unintentionally funny moments occurs when Fraser seems to confuse/composite actor Seth Meyers with his brother Josh by saying he enjoyed his work on Mad TV and Saturday Night Live.
The top side of the disc also contains a number of brief featurettes, all of which are presented in 4:3 video letterboxed to 16:9 with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.
First up is a A World Within Our World (10:09). Narrated off-camera by Anita Briem, this featurette looks at various hollow-Earth theories dating back to the 17th century from the likes of Sir Edmund Halley, John Cleves Symmes, and Cyrus Teed. It concludes with some discussion of Jules Verne's novel as well as modern proponents of such theories despite overwhelming scientific evidence against them. On-camera comments are provided by Bucknell University Geography Professor Duane Griffin, Hollow Earth Author David Standish, Koreshan State Historic Site Park Services Specialist Mike Heare, and Cal Tech Professor of Planetary Science Dave Stevenson.
Being Josh (6:01) is a "day in the life" featurette which follows juvenile actor Josh Hutcherson around the film set. It offers behind the scenes glimpses of how the magnetically hanging rock sequence was filmed. It also shows him doing school work with his teacher after work and features sit down interview segments where he discusses how he started in movies and his life outside of movies.
How to Make Dino Drool (2:48) is a fairly self explanatory piece that looks at how the goo in question was formulated by the special effects team in collaboration with Brevig including three different "recipes". It also includes behind the scenes footage of the sequence where the goo was dropped on Hutcherson and some on-camera interview comments from both Brevig and Hutcherson.
Finally, Adventure at the Center of the Earth consists of two very similar movie-themed games. Riding the Mine Car has the viewer try to negotiate a rollercoaster like series of twists and turns in a mine car by using the DVD remote to follow on-screen prompts to turn, duck, or go straight at various junctures. Bat the Fish has the viewer swat away carnivorous flying fish attacking from multiple directions by selecting the appropriate button on their DVD remote per on-screen prompts.
When the top side of the disc is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with the following promos. All are presented in 4:3 video (letterboxed when appropriate) with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:
- Anti Piracy PSA with scenes from Casablanca (1:00)
- DVD Trailer for Primeval TV series (1:19)
- DVD Trailer for Get Smart (:33)
- DVD Trailer for Speed Racer (:33)
- Warner Blu-Ray promo (1:09)
- DVD Trailer for Star Wars: The Clone Wars (:32)
The DVD-14 "flipper" disc comes in a standard Amaray case with an insert containing a plastic wrap containing four cardboard-framed red/blue 3D glasses. A second insert includes a code for unlocking a reduced price digital copy for Windows media players only (no iPod or Mac support). The hard case is inserted inside a cardboard slipcase that reproduces the art from the hard case with lenticular 3-D enhancements.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is an unambitious film that offers easy entertainment to undemanding viewers. Those looking for something with a bit more substance, or anyone expecting an adaptation of the Jules Verne novel of the same name, are bound to be disappointed in any version of this film, but the 3D version will likely satisfy those looking for a hybrid cinematic/amusement park experience. It is presented on DVD in both flat (widescreen and 4:3 reformatted) and red-blue 3D (widescreen only) versions both of which have their problems, although the 3D version is the better viewing choice. The immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack supports the gimmicky nature of the visuals. Extras consist of mostly kid-oriented featurettes and games, although a modestly informative audio commentary from the director and star offers some decent behind the scenes information.