(2D and Limited Edition 3D)
The Show - out of
Journey to the Center of the Earth is the perfect movie to extend the popularity of the new wave of 3D movies. Popcorn adventure, family warmth and silly fun filled with characters that aren’t too deep, a brisk pace and a happy ending. That doesn’t mean it is a perfect movie, far from it, but it does mean that the fun of the greatly improved cinematic 3D technology is reaching the audience in the right way and, along with the intriguing Beowulf, the kid friendly pop ride Hanna Montana concert film (and even U2-3D), it is making a cornball but playful ‘gimmick’ from the past a viable enticement for theater goers.
Brendan Fraser stars as Trevor Anderson, a nerdy professor with dwindling appeal (his classroom attendance is embarrassingly low). Still reeling from the death of his brother Max, with the laboratory of his brother’s namesake on the verge of being turned into a storage room and his disinterested nephew Sean coming to stay for ten days with him while his sister-in-law (Max’s widow) heads to Canada to find them a new place to live, Trevor is more than a little befuddled. Looking through some of Max’s possessions, Trevor and Sean (Josh Hutcherson) come across a copy of Max’s favorite book, Jules Verne’s classic ‘A Journey to the Center of the Earth’. Leafing through the pages of the book, they discover numbers and locations that correspond to geological events, volcanic activity readings, seen in Trevor’s lab. With a hint that what Max was pursuing, proof that the world within a world described in Verne’s book was real, Trevor and Sean set off to Iceland chasing a lead. They hook up with a mountain hiking guide, Hanna (Anita Briem), the daughter of a Vernian (member of a society who believe Verne’s work to be non-fiction) and head straight into the path of adventure when they explore a tunnel and fall to the center of the earth. They encounter incredible wonders and terrifying danger, fighting deadly rising temperatures, flying piranha’s, man-eating plants and even supposedly extinct dinosaurs.
So what works? This is clearly a family film in the vein of park rides and largely works in that capacity. It isn’t deep, doesn’t pause for more than the perfunctory emotional moments that you can expect to see and zips through action sequences quickly, taking a quick breath and rolling right on into the next. Brenden Fraser is likeable, serving as an imperfect action hero who steps up just when he needs to in order to help save the day (while being saved a few times as well). The kid in the film, Sean, isn’t too hip or unreasonably defiant against parental influence and certainly doesn’t fall into the trapping of saccharin tainted annoyance. Another plus for the film is the visual effects. Not perfect, but at times they are first rate (the T-Rex for example is superb). That might be because Journey’s director, Eric Brevig, is a former visual effects expert. His familiarity with effects work serves the film, even when the effects aren’t top notch. He knows how to move the camera in and around the effects, keeping the action moving, playful and exciting.
And what doesn’t work? Well, for the Blu-ray version, the 3D effects suffer greatly. The new state of 3D effects in films while superb theatrically, don’t translate very well in the home and despite the effective depth and dimension sometimes achieved, most effects fall flat with the green/magenta shifts in full view, failing to hit the nail on the head for the many 3D gags that director Brevig delivers. The reliance on those gags also limits the films 2D appeal on DVD and Blu-Ray since the 3D effect doesn’t convert that well. The story uses the Jules Verne tale as a springboard and a plot element, but the sense of adventure and wonder from that literary work is never quite reached here and would, I believe, have worked nicely as the idea for this film. Admittedly the use of Verne’s book is a little bit clever, but a great film based on that book has yet to be made and this film could have tried for that.
If you don’t expect too much from Journey to the Center of the Earth, it won’t disappoint you. It will entertain to the extent you don’t imagine that you will be getting anything more than a string of exciting visual effects sequences linked loosely with a family friendly core and pace that won’t give you time to look at your watch, get up and make popcorn (you should do that before the movie starts) or spend anytime commenting on what you’re seeing.
Both a 3D and traditional 2D version of the film are available in 1080p High Definition on the same disc (a digital copy is also available on the 2nd disc found with this release) and are just pretty good. The image, framed at 1.85:1, 16X9 enhanced, for the 3D version is hard to review. The nature of the 3D affects the color palette. The shaky quality of the effects used in conjunction with the ‘green and magenta’ glasses (of which this release comes with 4 sets) affects how you see the clarity of the image, the sharpness of the details and the crispness overall that we expect to see with a newer release like this. The 2D version however is far easier to critique. The color palette once we reach the center of the earth is bright and lively. The blues of the waters are crisp with grey overtones and the CGI environments are sharp. However, this isn’t a great Hi-Def release as the opening 20 or so minutes seem soft and muted – perhaps by choice – but it makes for a less than impressive opening. It does improve and become suitable enough quality. The first wondrous image of the world within a world looking suspiciously like the effect the ‘Genesis’ device had inside the moon where Kirk and team get stranded in The Wrath of Khan. It’s good enough even though it is about average.
Coming with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, it is immediately noticeable that a film like this could have rocked an uncompressed audio track. New Line, which is releasing Journey to the Center of the Earth has released movies with incredible audio tracks on Blu (The Orphanage in particular), and a DTS-HD Master Audio track would have been great. But what we do get does the job just fine. The surround effects are flexed well and the bass during the action sequences (the runaway train car, the T-Rex) rumble with sufficient growl to bring you into the film. It doesn’t have the clarity and fidelity of better audio tracks, but what you get here does the job okay.
Audio Commentary by Brendan Fraser and Director Eric Brevig – A fun commentary. Brendan Fraser has a good sense of humor and enough self deprecating remarks to keep you entertained. It is interesting to hear how the actors worked with blue-screen sets and how they dealt with some of the difficult Icelandic conditions. Comments are made where other footage could have been, trimmed for pacing etc, and they are constant enough with their input and observations to be worth spinning with these guys chatting.
‘A World Within Our World’: Various Historical ‘Hollow Earth Theories” About What Lies Beneath Our Planet Earth – (10:09) – Anita Briem narrates a fun look at the history of people’s ideas of life existing at the core of the earth. This is quite a good feature and could very well have been expanded into a much more complete mini-documentary.
‘Being Josh’: Profiling 12 Year Old Co-Star Josh Hutcherson – (6:00) – Cleary a special feature for the younger audience. A behind the scenes look at a day of filming with Josh Hutcherson featuring the filming of the magnetic floating rock sequence. We peak at his preparation for scenes and his schooling in this very brief special feature.
‘How To Make Dinosaurs Drool’ – (2:47) – A peak at the prop effect of the dino drool that splats on Sean’s head when he comes face to face with the big gnarling Rex.
Journey to the Center of the Earth did rather well theatrically. Certainly enough to bring us a sequel one of these days and, if the action is upped, the innovation in effects kept in step and with a story of more depth, could solidify a genuine franchise. This is a predictable but fun film. Brendan Fraser has become an expert at being the explorer whose wits have to make up for his clumsiness and he does very well with these roles. The rest of the cast does fine and in many ways, the film reminds me of the first National Treasure film, a trio in search of something – with chases, threats and effects helping excite the story. There are flaws and it doesn’t excel in plot, acting or story – but it is fun and it will be enjoyed by those that are open enough to give it a try in the first place.