Take this, movie snobs.
“Journey to the Center of the Earth” may not glitter and glow with accomplished direction and top-notch gadgets, but with its playful 3-D effects, it is, for kids especially, more enjoyable than any other summer adventure now playing, and yes, Spielbergites, I include “Raiders” in that second tier.
This updated and much improved version of a 1959 film spins off the Jules Verne novel and stars Brendan Fraser as the erstwhile seismologist Trevor, who has lost his big brother Max to an expedition into Verne’s territory.
Trevor is teaching at a middling college when his nephew Sean, played by Josh Hutcherson, shows up for a 10-day stay. When Uncle Trevor discovers his brother’s (Sean’s father’s) notes in a copy of Verne’s tome, both head off to Iceland on a journey of discovery. There they encounter Hannah (Anita Briem), the daughter of a deceased scientist who, like Daddy Max, also harbors theories about an alternate cavernous universe.
Off on adventure
You know what is about to ensue. Off they go into the wild, volcanic yonder discovering, then zipping and cascading into another universe by boat, coaster, mine cart and flying raft, all of the above enhanced by 3-D magic. Coasters and debris fall into our laps, sundry objects whiz past our faces, and in the most perilous of moments, jaws of piranhas come this close to snapping our noses off.
By strict technical standards, this is simple stuff; no one will laud this 3-D “Journey” as an example of groundbreaking cinema. But to echo the words of many a sidewalk philosopher, “It is what it is.” It does not pretend to be anything but a family thriller, more exciting than scary, and most important, spirited entertainment for kids kindergarten and up.
Eric Brevig’s creation is very much an extension of a theme park fun ride, a kind of modern throwback to the ’50s B movie adventure. Though slim, the plot does offer the salubrious theme of male bonding between a good-natured uncle and his mildly rebellious nephew.
True to formula, there’s Hannah as the girl who will fall for Trevor, the indomitable explorer who just does fit into the uptight world of academia. If the performances are not exceptional, they are good and hearty. Fraser especially has the finely honed ability to deliver a funny line with perfect timing.
“Journey” does not possess the sophistication of a movie like “Back to the Future,” but if it is not a classic, it fits quite cozily into the niche of summer fun. Purists might take umbrage at my enthusiasm, but in the dead of summer surrender I am thinking here not of cinematic excellence, but of good, decent, rousing entertainment for kids and for adults who accompany them. Better a movie as theme ride than a polished, pedigreed opus in love with its hollow virtuosity.
On the way out of a promotional screening, I heard a tyke brag to his mother that he would be keeping his 3-D glasses on forever. For some, inexplicable reason, I kept mine, too.
‘Journey to the Center of the Earth: 3-D
DIRECTED BY Eric Brevig
SCREENPLAY BY Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin
STARRING Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson and Anita Briem
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes