© 2008 Ray Wong
Loosely -- very loosely -- based on Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, the new family film is a modernized throwback to old, silly adventures aimed at families and kids. What sets it apart is the state of the art 3D digital projection.
Professor Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) has been following the footstep of his late brother, Max (who disappeared 10 years before somewhere in Iceland) in geological research, and is on the verge of losing his lab. Meanwhile, his sister just forces him to spend a few days with his nephew, Sean, whom Trevor hasn't seen for six years. Stuck with each other, Trevor and Sean must find a common ground, and it seems like Max is the key. When Trevor discovers Max's notes, as well as strange seismic activities in Iceland, he takes Sean on a field trip in hopes to find out what happened to Max.
Once in Iceland, they enlist the help of local guide Hannah (Anita Briem), whose late father was a "Vernian." Convinced that Max was also a Vernian, Hannah dismisses Trevor's assertion that Max might have found the "center of the Earth" as Vernes described. However, soon they find a portal on top of a volcano, just as Verne said they would. Little do they know, they're going to have an adventure of a lifetime.
After a few years of absence from the action/adventure genre, Brendan Fraser (Crash) is back in full force with two back to back release this summer: Journey and The Mummy sequel. As Trevor, Fraser is a bit too goofy, childish and clueless. Trevor chalks it up as "too much lab and not enough field work." Still, Brendan acts more like Mutt Williams than Indiana Jones.
Josh Hutcherson (Bridge to Terabithia) more or less plays the same role in his previous films: bored, unmotivated preteen boy. But Hutcherson is endearing enough to add certain appeal for the kids. Anita Briem (The Evidence) has more fun as the sole female lead. She's smart, spunky, and resourceful -- in fact, she's more useful than the two male leads combined.
Supporting cast includes Seth Meyers (American Dreamz) as Professor Alan Kitzens, Jean Michel Pare (300) as Max, and Jane Wheeler (I Am Not There) as Elizabeth. They have such peripheral roles that they don't really matter much.
Written by Michael Weiss (War Stories with Oliver North), Jennifer Flackett (Nim's Island) and Mark Levin (Nim's Island), the story uses Jule Verne's famous book as only a reference and launching pad. It has a slow and patchy start, typical of "family films." But once Trevor and Sean sets out to Iceland, the action picks up. Still, there are a lot of null and talky spots that the younger set may find boring. The adventure only becomes fantastical in the second half, what with the horrific piranas, the giant flesh-eating Venus Fly Traps, lava pools, and a vicious T-rex. Well, if you have read Verne's book or seen the James Mason's version of the film, you'd know what to expect. In an era where kids' adventures are filled with gnarly bugs and scary monsters, Verne's creatures may seem a bit tame. The characters and dialogue are rather flat and typical, even for a family film.
Under the direction of David Brevig (Xena: Warrior Princess), however, the film is visually pleasing. The production design is good and the creatures are well rendered. There are scary moments and intense sequences that may frighten small children. For the older ones, the story definitely will whet their imagination. The 3D projection is excellent. In fact, it's one of the most impressive and enjoyable 3D films in recent years.
That alone may be worth the price of admission, since few people can experience 3D movies at home. If you are looking to spend a lazy afternoon with a harmless family adventure, it doesn't hurt to make a journey to your local multiplex for this one.
Stars: Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem, Seth Meyers, Jean Michel Pare, Jane Wheeler
Director: David Brevig
Writers: Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin (loosely based on Jules Verne's novel)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.8 out of 10