Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Journey to the Center of the Earth"

Eric Brevig's dopey, uninspired "Journey to the Center of the Earth," the first movie to be shot in Digital 3-D for Digital Projection, is the sort of movie that makes me feel like a grumpy old spoilsport. It's so dumb, high-energy and eager to offer cheap thrills that critics are inexplicably largely giving it a pass, and I desperately wanted to jump on board. I longed to be one of those joyful children-at-heart audience members who could just leave the theater saying "It was fun! That fish jumped out at me!" But, I'm sorry, so much needs to overlooked and excused to proclaim this any sort of worthwhile entertainment. Treacly sentiment disguised as character/plot definition only serves to eat up chunks of running time, while Brendan Fraser gives his umpteenth paycheck-grabbing, mugging-filled performance, cementing him as one of the top actors of our time who truly needs to go away. The 3-D is fun at times, sure, but not nearly enough to sustain an 85-minute running time, and never coming close to numerous other 3-D movie experiences to be released over the last year.

Using Jules Verne's novel of the same name as a jumping off point (this is most definitively NOT an adaptation), the movie follows the adventures of professor Trevor Anderson (Fraser), his little snot teenage nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson), and mountain guide Hannah (Anita Briem) as they travel miles into the Earth for scientific exploration. It's really just lots of typical "adventure" set-piece scenarios pieced together with a "we all miss this dead guy" (Trevor's brother and Sean's dad) vibe hanging over everything. There's a T. Rex, carnivorous plants, magnetic rocks, giant mushrooms and a bottomless pit. Oh, and jumping piranhas and beautiful giant fauna.

The movie showcases the old-fashioned/lazy kind of 3-D (i.e.: just throwing things in the audience's direction), and while the results aren't the least bit inspired, they're easily the most entertaining part of the movie. Still, while some will let it slide due to the 3-D sheen, anyone paying attention won't be able to ignore that the effects themselves truly suck (watch for that T.Rex); best to focus on the gimmicky shenanigans. We get Fraser spitting out mouthwash onto us and an "ewwww"-invoking bit with T. Rex drool on the lower end of the spectrum, where a quick yo-yo moment is fairly cool, and a sequence with jumping fish scared the crap out of everyone in my audience. When things are flying at the camera, it's a fun experience for those who are especially young and/or stoned, but even they're likely to be bored by the filler. I jumped and/or smiled approximately four times, but even in its more 'thrill ride' moments, I just couldn't bring myself down to its level, and I'd imagine most over the age of ten will feel the same way.

For a film utilizing 3-D technology, the script here just barely reaches two dimensions, let alone three. Brevig has said in interviews that he wanted to make the film about more than just the visuals, and create genuine emotion and characters we could connect to, but I wish he just stuck with the cheap visual gimmicks; it still wouldn't be a good movie, but it'd be easier to recommend. Brevig offers us mawkish subplots, a backstory about Hutcherson's dead dad, swelling music and group hugs, but it all seems like it's done out of necessity to try to elevate the intrinsically B-movie material. Despite attempts, there's no real character development and we don't ever buy their relationships; Fraser and Briem climactically kiss at the end of the movie because he's the lead and she's a pretty lady, not because we've seen any sort of chemistry or connection develop between them.

While it's best to ignore logic in this sort of fare, my mouth was often agape at how fucking stupid some of the writing is here. The plot is predicated upon the idea that there are people who believe Jules Verne's writings as fact ("Vernians"), and everything -- from plot elements to performances -- is clearly pitched at those in the audience whose brains haven't fully developed yet. Fraser behaves as if he's a cartoon character the whole movie, and when faced with a carnivorous plant he... punches it. I won't dwell upon the concepts of a character getting cell phone reception in the center of the earth, or Trevor having dreams he's not in, but they don't help matters. But when at a loss for dialogue, the three writers just conveniently plugged in product placement; early on, there's mention of Mountain Dew, TiVo and "Family Guy" all in one line of dialogue.

"Journey to the Center of the Earth" was screened for all press in its 3-D format -- and thus, every review you read will be of the 3-D version -- but it's my understanding that about two-thirds of the theaters playing the film will be showing the 2-D version (most theaters are not yet equipped with Real-D 3-D). As a 3-D movie, you probably shouldn't see it; it's subpar, if watchable. As a 2-D movie, I can only imagine it'd be one of the more excruciating sits of the summer. While the 3-D "Beowulf" was unquestionably the way to see that film, the 2-D version was still a solid entertainment. The movie worked through and through, the 3-D only made it more exciting, visually stunning and enhanced the experience. Here, the only selling point is things flying at the camera, so I can't imagine who would enjoy it in 2-D. The movie is kind of pretty to look at, and fun to an extent (if inarguably for small children), but as a whole, it barely holds together as a movie. The experience most closely resembles a bloated, mawkish Epcot Center ride with lower production values.


Blogger Living_Earth_Fred said...

I guess you will do anything for traffic! The movie is visually stunning and the 3D is excellent. The story is loosely based on the classic "Journey" novel but is intentionally different. There is solid scientific fact here. No not as deep as my favorite - the 1959 film, but still introduces another generation to the world of "Journey". This will inspire some people to seek out the 1959 version and even the 1967 well done animated series of the same name. I will check back here to see if you are "big" enough to allow this comment to become public.

9:17 PM  

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