Journey to the Center of the Earth — less an adaptation of Jules Verne’s book and more a follow-up — is one of those movies that will appeal to anyone under the age of ten, but very few over that threshold. It’s a whiz-bang effort of special effects and nothing more, and while it might very well entertain those who care about nothing else in their films, if you’re looking for even a single thing deeper or well-done, you’re going to be disappointed and bored.
I can be okay with movies that look nice and keep you entertained even if they have no brain. Michael Bay’s Transformers is one such film. It has nothing beyond its action and special effects, but it works moderately well because it’s at least interesting or entertaining at every turn. And it looks nice. Journey to the Center of the Earth doesn’t even have that going for it. From the very first moment, in which we see more CGI than many movies can afford, it’s clear that the budget was stretched or the talent wasn’t up for the job. The CGI looks like it was done near the start of the decade, not nearing the end.
The basic plot winds up taking us through the same beats as Verne’s novel, but with the characters discovering that the events described within it weren’t fictional; they actually happened to Lidenbrock, and he managed to escape and tell Verne about them so that the famous book could be written. The lead is Professor Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser), whose brother Max went missing a decade earlier while searching for the center of the Earth. The conditions of the planet are the same at the start of the movie, so he’s going to go figure out what happened.
Accompanying him on this journey is his nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), whom he hadn’t seen in a half-decade but is charged with for 10 days as his mother moves them to Ottawa, as well as Hannah (Anita Briem), a guide and daughter of someone else who believed that Verne’s tale was fact, not fiction. All three wind up falling down a hole, into the center of the Earth, and they have to fight their way out.
This is a very breezy film. There’s really only one part where it drags, and it’s fitting considering how much the scene should affect its characters. They learn something that one can probably guess from the outset, and the film pauses so they can grieve — which they don’t actually do, either because the actors didn’t understand why they should be sad, or the director, Eric Brevig, didn’t want any tears in what’s essentially a relatively high-budget kiddie flick. Either way, this scene stands out because it’s a perfect example of how not to do this kind of thing in a film like this. It grinds Journey to a halt and it never regains its flow.
That’s not to say that it was doing great beforehand, as it was actually kind of boring and not in the least bit involving, but at least it was moving at a quite pace and the action was passable. You were never going to see something incredibly dull because it would be gone in the blink of an eye anyway. After trying to bring emotion into the proceedings, it completely fails at every goal.
Oh, yes, it’s also in 3D, so that has to be taken advantage of with a couple of moments that have been included just so that things can pop out at you from the screen. The 3D does nothing for the picture, although it rarely does. All it does it ensure that you get to see the bad CGI in even more detail than you’d like, and that things that you’d rather not have thrown in your face look a touch closer than they otherwise would. It’s the gimmicky 3D that’s in this film, and if you have to see Journey, watch it in 2D.
Part of the problem is that, even though there’s a bit of creativity and skill to the action scenes, there’s nothing more to overcome than the environment and their relationship troubles. Sean and Trevor don’t initially like one another, so you expect that to gradually be resolved as the film plays. It’s over within the first few minutes. All that’s left is an ever-changing, awful CGI, environment. It’s too safe to ever put its characters in real danger, leading to the film lacking in thrills.
The actors are all fine, especially important because of how often they had to act in front of a green screen — hint: all the time — which is more difficult than when using real sets or shooting on location. This is especially true when dinosaurs and other dangers are present. Can you imagine being chased by a dinosaur for eight hours a day? I figure it would be mentally taxing, which is funny considering how dumb the movie is. It’s “science fiction” and the “science” part is looser than the majority of the films in the genre. Everything — gravity, locations, rules, etc. — changes according to what needs to be accomplished in a certain scene.
Journey to the Center of the Earth will entertain those who don’t care about logic, plot, characters, or good looking CGI, and are only hoping to see something that will pass by quickly on-screen. It does that, but it doesn’t do it with any grace or skill, and will bore most discerning viewers over the age of 10.