I am an unabashed fan of action movies, preferring explosions and car chases to love scenes and raw emotional drama. But now that I don’t have to sneak into R-rated flicks, I think I’ve forgotten how fun action can be without ten swear words per scene. This is the realm of the family-friendly action movie, the kind of film that you can take the kids to without having to sit through animated talking animals. Journey to the Center of the Earth is this summer’s installment in that genre, complete with starring role filled by Brendan Fraser. But this time they’ve upped the ante by presenting it in Real 3D format, which makes Journey well worth your time.
Like many other family-friendly Fraser-based movies (I’m looking at you, Mummy franchise), Journey is mostly predictable adventuring with a few obvious jokes and running gags. What separates Journey from the pack are the 3D effects. Under no circumstances should anyone view this film in a non-Real 3D theater. Without those nifty glasses you’re walking into a plot whose gist is spilled in the trailer. But dang do those glasses make it worth the script.
Fraser is Professor Trevor Anderson, and under-appreciated geologist at a no-name university. Outside of poorly attended lectures, he is babysitting the seismic monitors of his deceased brother’s experiments which are soon to be closed down by the university. Visiting him is his young nephew, Sean, played aptly by soon-to-be teen heartthrob Josh Hutcherson. In revisiting memories of Sean’s father, they discover that the seismic monitors closely match the writing of Jules Verne in the titular novel. It turns out that the deceased Professor Anderson was a “Vernian,” or one who takes the writings of Verne for hard scientific fact. And thus they hatch the typically hare-brained scheme to follow the dead explorer’s footsteps searching for a tunnel to the center of the Earth.
Their trip takes them into the heart of Iceland, with mountain guide Hannah (Anita Briem) leading them to a volcanic tunnel. Falling into the depths of the Earth, the trio discovers that Verne was dead-on and begin using the novel as a guide to finding a way back to the surface. And so we follow them through a vast underground world of giant mushrooms, flesh-eating fish, and of course, Tyrannosaurs.
Since you can guess the rest of the film using your action movie Mad Libs guide, let me digress by gushing about the 3D effects. The cast is small and the plot is simple so that you can focus on the flock of glowing sparrows flitting past your face and the depths of the long shots as they pan over subterranean caverns. I admit that even being the grown up cynic that I am, I jumped when piranhas lunged at my face and “oohed” and “ahhed” appropriately as a grinning T-Rex growled out of the screen.
There were a few fun moments that were made just for the joy of 3D, especially an early scene of Fraser brushing his teeth. We are graced with an upward-looking shot, and as Fraser spits down into the sink your view is washed with toothpaste spit – a very kid-friendly gross out shot, but still fun for everyone if you take the time to regress back to an eight-year-old.
Despite my enjoyment of the 3D effects, there are indications it is a tricky technology with a few bugs to be worked out. During some of the long shots, especially of the mountains of Iceland, the foreground feels like it is right up against your cheeks. It is jarring to have something so close to your face when it’s not an intentional effect like the flying fish. And for the four-eyed members of the audience like myself it was tricky to have two pairs of glasses on at once. The former can be easily fixed by taking a little extra time framing shots and the latter wasn’t all that bad for the short running time.
Knowing that the small cast was running around a blue screen for most of the film doesn’t stop the fact that well-done CG monsters are always going to be cool, no matter how grown up you are. If ever there was a get-the-kids-out-of-the-heat summer action flick, this one is it. Leave your brain and the last 25 years of your life at the door, scope out the nearest Real 3D-equipped cinema, grab a pair of 3D specs and just go have fun.
– Jennifer Von Freeden