July 17, 2008


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Journey to the Center of the Earth (PG)
Brendan Fraser, a rare bird and a dinosaur come right at you in the 3-D adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth, a movie that also appears to be available in the regular 2-D but, really, don’t bother if you’re not going to go for the extra dimension.

The stuff jumping off the screen is really what elevates this mild little action lark to status of Cineplex event worth seeing, or at least, worth seeing if you’ve seen all the really good movies out in theaters.

Trevor (Fraser) is a geologist frantically trying to piece together the life’s work of his brother — a fellow scientist who went missing some 10 years earlier — before he loses funding. It’s for this reason he forgets about an impending visit by his nephew, that brother’s son, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), a 13-year-old none too delighted to see his uncle nor about an impending move to Ottawa. All sullen and stuff, with the eye rolls and the sarcasm, Sean warms up a bit when Trevor starts looking through a box of his brother’s things, telling the boy stories about the father he doesn’t really remember. And it’s then when Trevor stumbles upon his brother’s old copy of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, which is not only well worn but also heavily annotated. It seems that Trevor’s brother was using the supposedly science fiction story to discover real facts about the Earth’s crust and what might be under it. And, quicker than you can say “let’s just drop by the lab for a moment,” Trevor and Sean are headed to Iceland to check out one of Trevor’s brother’s sensors, which is registering all sorts of exciting sciencey activity.

Naturally, though the boys’ plan is just to have a look at the sensor, they and comely mountain guide (and daughter of a scientist with similar Vernian ideas) Hannah (Anita Briem) quickly find themselves inside a cave system and making their own inner-Earth discoveries.

What discoveries? Basically, a bunch of stuff that comes right at you. Fish, birds, plants, whatever — it hangs mid-air like you could reach out and touch it (and, in some cases, have it bite your finger off for doing so). This isn’t the very best IMAX 3-D, but it’s a pretty decent second, with nice rounded objects that appear to slope gently, naturally back into the distance and aren’t just flat cutouts positioned in front of each other to approximate depth. Falls, jumps and wheel-enhanced trips deeper into the Earth take on a “wheeee!” feel that you wouldn’t get in just a regular, non-3-D movie. Pretty rocks look prettier, scary dinosaurs look scarier (which, you know, you might want to consider if younger kids are on the roster for this trip to the theater).

In a movie where the 3-D is the real star (at one point, the movie was even called Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D), everybody else’s job is really just to stay out of the way. Fraser is a completely affable second-tier action star and, perhaps from years of playing second fiddle to CGI mummies or cartoon monkeys, he’s pretty good at being pleasant while letting the effects take center stage. Hutcherson, who has played the sullen kid in a couple of movies now, has a refreshingly non-hyper approach to playing a kid. When he rolls his eyes, you believe it’s because he’s thinking “lame” and not “if this movie goes big, I’ll get my own Nickelodeon show.” Briem’s job appears to be “be female” and she does that well enough, pulling off the right amount of know-how, strength and pluck for your modern action-movie girl.

Journey to the Center of the Earth is less a movie and more a particularly well-crafted roller coaster that is more or less worth the ride. B-

Rated PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments. Directed by Eric Brevig and written by Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin (adapted from the book by Jules Verne), Journey to the Center of the Earth is an hour and 32 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.