Journey to the Center of the Earth

Movie Information

The Story: A scientist in search of his lost brother finds himself on his way to the center of the earth. The Lowdown: OK family entertainment that's made more amusing by 3-D effects.
Score:

Genre: Postmodern Literary-Based Sci-Fi Adventure
Director: Eric Brevig
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem, Seth Meyers, Jean Michael Paré, Jane Wheeler
Rated: PG

It’s a toss-up for me as to whether the most impressive 3-D effect in this new take on Journey to the Center of the Earth is Brendan Fraser spitting out toothpaste or a dinosaur dripping mucus. I’m leaning toward the former, but then I’m a sucker for drain-point-of-view shots. This sort of thing makes me think it’s a missed opportunity for an ad campaign. The last time 3-D was set to be the “salvation” of the motion picture industry was 1952, and the first such feature was Bwana Devil, which was touted with, “A lion in your lap! A lover in your arms!” Seems to me that “Toothpaste in your eye! Phlegm in your face!” would have been so much more colorful than the tagline Journey‘s makers settled on: “Same planet. Different world.”

The truth of the matter is that this latest assault on Jules Verne’s 1864 novel is a pleasantly cast mediocrity that scores slightly higher marks in its 3-D incarnation. There’s also a 2-D version, though that wasn’t originally the idea. In fact, the film’s original title was Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D, but it was hastily altered when it turned out that movie theaters with 3-D capability still hover at the 800 mark, meaning that about 2,000 of the theaters playing the film would be showing it in a flat version. So much for the salvation of the movies. The 3-D effect—or gimmick, if you’re less charitable—is, however, the salvation of this film. At least, almost.

The last big-screen incarnation of Verne’s tale was Henry Levin’s big-budget wide-screen 1959 extravaganza starring the bland singing Pat Boone (two of his songs were cut before the film was released), the hammy James Mason, Arlene Dahl as the decorative love interest and a duck named Gertrude. It’s actually one of my earliest moviegoing memories, and I’m still not quite over my youthful horror concerning the villains of the piece eating Gertrude part way through the proceedings. This time, Boone has been replaced by the more charismatic Brendan Fraser, and Arlene Dahl has transformed into the equally decorative TV actress Anita Briem. Neither James Mason’s character nor Gertrude show up at all. The villains are absent, too, but we’re given the generally likable Josh Hutcherson (Zathura) as Fraser’s nephew, who is clearly meant to enhance the PG-rated movie’s kid appeal.

This is a streamlined affair with essentially only three characters: scientist Trevor Anderson (Fraser), nephew Sean (Hutcherson) and Icelandic guide Hannah (Briem). The premise has Anderson discovering that his long-missing brother, Max (Jean Michel Pare, 300), was a “Vernean,” which is to say one of a group of people who believe that Jules Verne’s speculative adventure fiction wasn’t fiction at all (the screenplay insists such folks exist). This knowledge sends Anderson and Sean on a search for, yes, the center of the earth—and possibly the missing Max—with the help of Hannah. Obviously, they find it; otherwise there would be no movie. The subterranean world and the effects are the main points of interest.

Your response to what they find down below will have much to do with your penchant for CGI wonders, 3-D (assuming you see it in that form) and clunky dialogue. If a wild ride on old mining cars (possibly left by the Seven Dwarfs), characters being menaced by a computer-created Tyrannosaurus Rex and prehistoric antisocial leaping fish appeal to you, so will the film. The 3-D is sometimes quite stunning. Though a few of the effects—including some luminous birds the film overuses—are a bit lame and a few more are too dark to be coherent (we are in a cave after all), but they’re nearly all fun. At bottom, that’s all this Journey is about. If you want something with a little—or any—substance, look elsewhere. Rated PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

31 thoughts on “Journey to the Center of the Earth

  1. although not ‘big screen’ (i.e. ‘made for cable’) … there is another “Journey to the Center of the Earth” out this year — this one stars Rick Schroder, Victoria Pratt, and Peter Fonda (the better by far of Henry Fonda’s two movie-making offspring.

    I’ve rented but not yet watched it (I love Verne). But I suspect the Brenden Fraser version will be much better.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Peter Fonda (the better by far of Henry Fonda’s two movie-making offspring.

    Yes, that’s why he’s making made-for-cable movies.

  3. well, look at both him and Jane’s IMDB entries… he’s working regularly and has twice the overall credits than she does and has never betrayed his country (which is perhaps WHY).

    of course, he never married Ted Turner either.

  4. “well, look at both him and Jane’s IMDB entries… he’s working regularly and has twice the overall credits than she does and has never betrayed his country (which is perhaps WHY).”

    I think Jane stopped acting for a reason (marrying a billionaire doesn’t hurt). Is your comment about Peter being better than Jane just on acting credentials alone?

  5. Ken Hanke

    well, look at both him and Jane’s IMDB entries… he’s working regularly and has twice the overall credits than she does and has never betrayed his country (which is perhaps WHY).

    Ralph, we all know how you feel about Jane Fonda. We don’t all entirely share your viewpoint. Moreover, many of her biggest film successes are post-1972 (the year she went to North Vietnam) — including her second Oscar win (1979). Peter has more credits, but how many of those are in exploitation movies, or “B” pictures? How many are supporting roles?

    But more to the point here, this is a thread on the theatrical film Journey to the Center of the Earth and it isn’t a thread about Jane Fonda in any way, shape or form.

  6. well, Ken and Orbit, it was a logical progression since Ken disparaged Peter Fonda. There is more to a successful life and career than just which movies you’ve been in, morality plays a part as does honor and duty.

    but, I’ll agree, enough of that … although many of us veterans would love to see Jane Fonda go to the center of the earth or some other really hot place.

    Anyway, as soon as I get a chance to watch the version I mentioned, I’ll report my take on it.

  7. Ken Hanke

    well, Ken and Orbit, it was a logical progression since Ken disparaged Peter Fonda.

    Only after you found it necessary to editorialize that he is “the better by far of Henry Fonda’s two movie-making offspring.” Don’t play all blameless.

  8. gee, Ken, you really ARE cranky!

    I said I was going to let it drop since you requested that but if you want to keep slugging, please go outside and get started… I may or may not be along later.

  9. but a good movie always has a fight scene …

    I say the greatest movie fight scene of all time is a toss up between Tang Lung vs. Colt in “Return of the Dragon” and Neo vs. Agent Smith in “The Matrix.”

  10. Ken Hanke

    I say the greatest movie fight scene of all time is a toss up between Tang Lung vs. Colt in “Return of the Dragon” and Neo vs. Agent Smith in “The Matrix.”

    May be, but just to be contrary I’m going with Marlene Dietrich and Una Merkel in Destry Rides Again. If that’s too outre, how about John Wayne and Lee Marvin in Donovan’s Reef?

  11. “I say the greatest movie fight scene of all time is a toss up between Tang Lung vs. Colt in “Return of the Dragon” and Neo vs. Agent Smith in “The Matrix.””

    You obviously haven’t seen THEY LIVE.

  12. Dionysis

    “You obviously haven’t seen THEY LIVE.”

    You beat me to it; I would nominate that film. Where else can you find an incredibly long fight scene based upon a white man’s efforts to get a black man to wear sunglasses?

  13. I have seen “The Protector” but not “They Live.”

    ……. okay, I found the fight scene from “They Live” and watched it. Too much talking, too much ado about sunglasses, but it does go on for awhile.

    Also ran across and was reminded of “In the Sweet Pie and Pie” (Three Stooges, 1941) (which I HAVE seen SEVERAL times). Now THAT has one of the funniest pie fights in movie history. Like to see those two idiots in “They Live” trying to make progress against a barrage of lemon cream pies!

  14. tatuaje

    I say the greatest movie fight scene of all time is a toss up between Tang Lung vs. Colt in “Return of the Dragon” and Neo vs. Agent Smith in “The Matrix.”

    Wow, Ralph, I’ll hand it to ya…you get props for throwin’ out the Matrix and a Bruce Lee flick….

    But as a former wildland firefighter, the Pulaski fight in ‘Red Skies of Montana’ is a freakin’ CLASSIC. One long take, thunder, lightning, Pulaskis, AND fire….awesome….

    As for ‘Journey to the Center of…..’…..yeah, I think I’ll pass….Batman on the IMAX in Charleston, however….

  15. TonyRo

    I think the fight scene in The Searchers between John Wayne and Ken Curtis is one of the best put to films, if only because it’s pretty realistic. The moment where they have to pause the fight because of someone’s fiddle is in the way is pretty great.

    I think Brendan Fraser is underrated, as far as comedic-action actors go. He reminds me a lot of Errol Flynn or Cary Grant. I think his role in THE MUMMY ultimately is more memorable than stale acting styling of Keanu Reeves or the overplayed adrenaline rush that Vin Diesel.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Fraser gets a raw deal. He’s not only a pretty good light leading man, but on those occasions when he really gets a choice role — Gods and Monsters, The Quiet American — he’s a good deal more.

  17. TigerShark

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen the Mason version of Journey to the Center of the Earth – although I think one of the cable channels has been showing it frequently this month – but I thought only one villain ate Gertrude?

    And how stupid he was to think he wouldn’t get caught.

  18. Ken Hanke

    but I thought only one villain ate Gertrude?

    If you feel inclined to track it down and sit through it to check, be my guest. I haven’t seen the thing in years. The fact remains that Gertrude was eaten and my four-year-old self was not happy about it.

  19. Louis

    Fraser gets a raw deal. He’s not only a pretty good light leading man, but on those occasions when he really gets a choice role—Gods and Monsters, The Quiet American—he’s a good deal more.

    Oh, Ken, you’re being far too generous. Fraser hasn’t demonstrated one of the tell-tale marks of a great–or even dependable–actor: He doesn’t have the chops to emerge unscathed if the material, or role, is deficient, say, like, Gene Hackman, Jeff Bridges, Greg Kinnear, Heath Ledger, Edward Norton… Nothing wrong with being a purveyor of lightweightness, but you gotta have a charismatic, Teflon-like quality about you to avoid going down with the ship when it hits the proverbial iceberg. If the material stinks, he stinks. That’s okay. But it’s not a picture of reliability. Plus I hold the fact that he chooses such monumentally stupid movies to star in against him. No more free passes.

    Since 2000: BEDAZZLED, THE MUMMY RETURNS, LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION, and now this latest derivative outing? I’m not entirely convinced the guy can ‘carry’ a movie. He’s in the same ‘light’ category as ‘The Rock’–i.e., no earned justification for being taken seriously.

  20. Ken Hanke

    He doesn’t have the chops to emerge unscathed if the material, or role, is deficient, say, like, Gene Hackman, Jeff Bridges, Greg Kinnear, Heath Ledger, Edward Norton…

    The problem with that as an arguing point for me is that neither do any of the guys you just named so far as I’m concerned. Hackman sure didn’t emerge unscathed from Behind Enemy Lines, for example. The Door in the Floor may have been a worthy attempt, but it really doesn’t work and Bridges is part of the reason. Kinnear — Godsend? Bad News Bears? Feast of Love? Heath Ledger — ever sit through Candy? Lords of Dogtown? The Order? I wouldn’t call that unscathed. I’ll opt out on Edward Norton, because I almost never like him.

    Frankly, I think the day of the actor as a reason to see a movie is pretty much over for me. Peter O’Toole (assuming he’s the main character) is about the only exception for me now.

    Plus I hold the fact that he chooses such monumentally stupid movies to star in against him.

    This presupposes that he’s being offered films like Gods and Monsters and The Quiet American on a regular basis. It may be less choosing than taking what’s offered.

    I’m not entirely convinced the guy can ‘carry’ a movie.

    Yes, but that can be said of so many people. It doesn’t mean they’re of no merit.

    He’s in the same ‘light’ category as ‘The Rock’–i.e., no earned justification for being taken seriously.

    When The Rock actually gives a performance anywhere near the ones Fraser gives in the two films I cited, then maybe they’re on equal footing. Till then, no.

  21. Chad Nesbitt

    Loved it! A movie for the whole family.
    Ready to see the sequel “Journey to Atlantis”.

    Looking forward to seeing your take
    on the “Dark Night” Hanke.

  22. Chad Nesbitt

    Funny how Hollywood can’t come up with something original. They keep going back to good books, comics, or remakes of other movies.

    Where are the young and creative minds that can write the stories of imagination?

  23. Ken Hanke

    Where are the young and creative minds that can write the stories of imagination?

    I’d be happy if they’d just go to some books that haven’t been filmed time and again. There’s a cornucopia of material from writers like A. Merrit and Sax Rohmer (not in Fu Manchu mode) that have never been filmed because for years they were pretty much unfilmable. Books like THE FACE IN THE ABYSS, THE MOON POOL, GREY FACE, etc. were just made for CGI — or better still the del Toro (or Christophe Gans) mixture of CGI and traditional effects. Stephen Sommers’ THE MUMMY — which had for more in common with Rohmer than with the 1932 Universal film — hinted at the possibilities of this, but nothing has come of it.

  24. Where are the young and creative minds that can write the stories of imagination?

    Back in the early eighties, when I wrote my first script for a Hollywood producer, I VERY carefully wrote out all the movie cliches in the treatment and the producer, just as carefully, put them back in. As he explained to me, “that’s what our audiences expect.”

    well… no … we don’t. ;-)

    but, hey, I got paid.

  25. I typed in a hurry and you guys still won’t allow us to reedit for typos. ;-(

    But I WANT to SEE E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s works on the big screen. Now there’s some stuff demand REAL scope.

  26. Sean Williams

    I’d be happy if they’d just go to some books that haven’t been filmed time and again.
    Maybe you can list some books you regard as cinematicallly viable in the next Screening Room…. May I suggest a Tim Burton version of Talking Man?

    I can name a lot of merely adequate novels which could become truly spectacular onscreen. New authors frequently use up all of their best ideas in their early novels before they develop serious stylistic skill. But amateur prose wouldn’t hamper a screenplay.

    Cases in point: On My Way to Paradise, Climbing Olympus, Newton’s Cannon, When Gravity Fails… These novels were all potential classics that their respective authors should have delayed writing until their ability equaled their ambition. In particular, Climbing Olympus featured a deeply resonant high concept…one to which Anderson proved wholly unequal in his early phase but to which he could do justice were he to rewrite the book in 2008.

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