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journeypicforIC.jpgFirst and foremost, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” is *categorically* a movie for the kids. “Journey” has no interest in being taken seriously or leaving behind a single droplet of memorable dialogue. It is only concerned with having a blast and looking great doing it, and in this regard the movie is a monumental success. In other words, the young ‘uns are gonna love it. The older kids (like those in their late-20s, like, say, me) might have to be convinced to drop $12 on something like this, but if you have a child of your own or a nephew or younger cousin you can borrow for the afternoon as a good excuse to see this roller coaster ride, you won’t regret it.
“Journey” is the latest from Walden Media, the family-film producing powerhouse that first took the spotlight with the 2005 blockbuster, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Walden has gone on to produce such high-end and respectable family entertainment as “The Bridge to Terabithia,” “The Water Horse,” and “Charlotte’s Web”.
The movie itself takes a clever approach to the source material. Not an adaptation so much as an homage (the actual Jules Verne novel is central to the movie’s plot), this “Journey” is to the original as the “Da Vinci Code” is to the works of the Master Leonardo and Catholic history (minus Dan Brown’s tenuous relationship with facts and actual history).


The story is as follows: Trevor (Brendan Fraser), a volcanology professor, is struggling to keep his lab open at the university. Trevor’s brother Max went missing several years ago while exploring the mountains of Iceland and is presumed dead. Max was a devoted follower of Jules Verne and apparently part of a secret organization that believed that Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” was an actual account of the exploits of Prof. Lindenbrook rather than a science fiction novel. When Trevor’s widowed sister-in-law drops of his surly, jaded 13-year-old nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), for the week, she leaves Trevor a box of Max’s old possessions, including a copy of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” which is filled with mysterious notes. Trevor and Sean begin to bond a little, and when they finally find the professor’s lab, his daughter, Hannah (Anita Briem), informs them he has been dead for two years, but offers to take them into the mountains to solve the mystery of Max’s fate.
And then the plot essentially ends (only to pop up once every fifteen minutes or so) and the considerably impressive set pieces take over. The movie seems in a rush to get to the action, and that’s not a bad thing. One gets the impression that the screenwriters considered dialogue a burden and would rather just stick to a lot of jumping, falling, and frantic calling-out-of-names. Character development is an afterthought at best, and it’s not a spoiler to say that Hannah and Trevor wind up falling in love and that Sean learns to love his uncle as a surrogate father. The only time that “Journey” veers off course is when Trevor and Hannah find Max’s body and Trevor give Max a proper funeral. “Journey” isn’t really equipped to deal with a teenage boy accepting his father’s death. For the most part, Sean’s coming-of-age is actually quite nicely managed as the heart of the movie, but this particular moment comes off as gratuitous and tonally awkward.
Not a shred of this information would be the least bit relevant if the movie didn’t work as an adventure, and it absolutely does. The REAL-D 3-D presentation is absolutely gorgeous, and among “Journey”‘s many nods to classic black and white horror/sci-fi B-movies are those “3D moments,” where someone (I’m thinking Vincent Price…) would, say, “show” an enormous spider to the camera, just to freak out the audience. But “Journey” goes even further. It was absolutely refreshing to see such a lush, imaginative world that never felt the need to look the least bit real and instead focused on feeling imagined, like something out of a dream. Thank first-time feature director Eric Brevig, a long time visual effects artist on such landmark effects films as “The Abyss,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and P.J. Hogan’s insanely underrated “Peter Pan,” for that. In fact, the visual style is very similar to that of “Peter Pan”– the throwback to the surreal, trippy painted backdrops and fantastically exaggerated foregrounds of Technicolor classics. In this respect, “Journey” has a lot more in common with “The Wizard of Oz” or the wonderful Wolfgang Peterson “The Neverending Story” adaptation than it does with, say, “Agent Cody Banks”…thank goodness. And logistically the 3-D works to great effect, too, especially in scenes like the one in which Sean has to navigate a “bridge” of magnetized rocks, floating hundreds of feet above ground, by jumping from on to the next. There is a real feeling of peril and dread, and I may or may not have let out a very nervous “oh my god” at more than one point in the sequence.
Best of all, the movie will make kids want to read Jules Verne’s original and timeless novel, as it quite slyly sets itself up as a kind of “companion piece” to that very novel. It creates a whole new mystique around Verne’s classic, and I suspect a lot of kids will want to find it ASAP, see what bits the movie was referencing, and wonder for themselves, “What if…?”
–written by John Brooks

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