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It’s a new era for that cinematic marvel called 3D. The process has been refined and vastly improved since its first heyday in the 1950’s when audiences sat in spectacles bearing one red lens and one blue lens enrapt at such epics as Robot Monster, Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space. Not all the offerings were of the sci-fi or B-movie ilk. Master auteur Alfred Hitchcock was fascinated enough to make one of his films, Dial M for Murder, using the 3D process. Today there is RealD, 3D’s hipper grandson. Instead of the old red and blue lenses inside of paper frames, we now watch objects point, fall and get thrown at us with disturbing realness in a smartish pair of faux Ray-Bans with two dark gray lenses. It’s somehow sweet that Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D - a modern-day reinvention of the 1959 Cinemascope confection starring James Mason - uses the novelty technology that was so synonymous with the 1950’s.

The lowdown is pretty much all in the title, folks. No mystery here. If you must have more details, the story begins with a man in a sweltering, arid land running for his life from a very large pointy-toothed lizard. By the scene’s end, we’re unsure if the man has survived or become T-Rex bait. The answer becomes apparent when we meet Trevor Anderson, a college professor who fights to keep his older brother Max’s geological laboratory open. Max disappeared ten years ago on an expedition and is presumed dead by all. The possibility of losing the monument to his bro and the forgotten scheduled visit by his brother’s only son, Sean, throws the affable Trevor into a small tizzy. Sean is aloof and disaffected, more in touch with his PSP than other human beings. The effect of losing a father is clear and Trevor does all he can to engage the unhappy boy. It’s only when their worlds combine in a tattered copy of the eponymous Jules Verne classic dug out of Max’s belongings that Trevor realises his brother was closer to his goal than was ever thought and uncle and nephew set off to pursue Max’s quest. In Iceland, with the help of Hannah, a spunky guide, the intrepid adventurers mistakenly enter a cave where one wrong step sees the trio falling into the middle of the planet, or, the Center of the Earth. See? An entire unknown world exists beneath the earth’s surface, inhabited by luminescent birds, prehistoric sea creatures and the aforementioned very large lizards. Following the notes Max has written in the book and using his science geek smarts, Trevor leads the group first to find where his brother may have wound up, dead or alive, and then attempts to get them all out of there before the volcanic activity at the earth’s core makes them all much crispier.

Cute. Buoyed up mostly by the eye-popping RealD effects and Brendan Frasier’s affable, gung-ho optimism Journey to the Center of the Earth is certainly not the worst time you’ll spend in a cinema. That said, there’s something mildly off about it all. One is never fully engrossed in the film: Sternly kid-friendly, the dangers presented are too remote to really feel like anything could happen to any of the leads and so you watch and enjoy the effects with the distant objectivity of being in a ride at a Universal theme park. The dialog is incredibly hokey and the plot regarding the brother is clichéd to the point of simplistic. Also, it’s probably never advisable to rip a scene out of the worst Indiana Jones movie (- And the Side-Eye goes to … Temple of Doom!), even if it sounds like a roller-coaster ride through a mineshaft might be fun. This isn’t a film to tax anyone’s brain, but the little ones will certainly get a charge out of the T-Rex and flying jumbo piranhas. While you never really struck with awe at what you’re seeing and some sets looking very much like the inside of a studio, other effects are quite pretty and do better; the bioluminescent birds are quite lovely, and Sean playing Frogger on a trail of levitating rocks is a particular highlight.

Few actors can sell affable doof like Brendan Frasier. Perhaps it’s the homey, jocklike quality to him or the sweetness of his face, but his particular agreeable charm goes a long way for this film. Anita Briem plays Hannah, the tough and practical mountain guide has a nice edge to her presence and I’d like to see more from her in a better vehicle. Josh Hutcherson has a nice grasp on the sulky kid role, never becoming unlikable or unbearable, but character development is neither here nor there in this film.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D is not the worst thing you could see in cinemas today and it will certainly provide an engaging babysitter for 90 minutes or so while your small fries are ooh-ing and ahh-ing. I can’t help but wish there had been a cleverer script that would have allowed junior’s mum and dad to enjoy it just as much.

 

 

~Mighty Ganesha

July 10th, 2008

 

 

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(Courtesy of   Warner Brothers Pictures)