JOURNEY TO THE
CENTER OF THE EARTH
STARRING: Brendan Fraser, Josh
Hutcherson, Anita Briem
2008, 92 Minutes, Directed by:
to the Center of the Earth isn't a straight-jacket adaptation of the Jules
Verne classic, but a vague photocopy that eschews daring adventure for cheap,
plastic thrills, tarted up with a sickly glaze of 3-D to help prop up the
anemic screenplay. It's a gimmick-driven movie and it's shocking how much the
final product lacks the source material's intrinsic magic.
Taking care of his distracted
nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson), scientific researcher Trevor (Brendan Fraser) is
stunned to discover clues to the whereabouts of his lost brother in a copy of
the book Journey to the Center of the Earth. Taking Sean with him to Iceland for
further study, Trevor meets up with Hannah (Anita Briem), a tracker and daughter
of a dead scientist who held faith in a land located beneath the planet's crust.
Trekking through the mountains to further unravel the mystery, the trio stumbles
upon the doorway to the center of the Earth, and once arrived in this dangerous
place, they plan immediately for their escape before they become permanent
Journey is a passive
experience at the movies; a woeful synthetic creation that's powered by
sophisticated thrill-ride mechanics and Crayola screenwriting aspirations.
Director Eric Brevig is a long-time special-effects master with a host of Oscars
and ornamental accolades under his belt, but he's at a loss when it comes down
to nurturing even a tuft of human interface. Journey relentlessly dishes
out the action and offers the bespectacled audience plenty of goopy, grabby 3-D
jolts, but it all resembles a run-of- the-mill videogame. Brevig can't shake the
material loose from its unbridled artificiality.
"A woeful synthetic creation that's powered by Crayola
screenwriting aspirations . . ."
It's one thing to use CGI to
further layer fantasy worlds beyond the reach of the human hand, it's another to
bathe a motion picture in computer embellishment to cut corners. Journey
strikes me as the latter.
While the 3-D keeps the overall
image muted and muddy, it's perhaps a better alternative to actually accepting
Brevig's vision: a smothering, limited buffet of overactive CGI and cold studio
environments that provide little to no depth. It's not that the computer work is
shoddy, but more that Brevig doesn't grasp how to direct the actors to respond
naturally to the astonishing sights they should be seeing.
There's a frustrating
disconnect between reaction and bejeweled visual in Journey that's distracting,
and the more the film pumps in cartoonish action set-pieces (flying fish
attacking a raft, a T-Rex encounter, a mine cart race), the more phony
Journey becomes, further accented by the piercingly earnest performances,
which grow more and more aggravating with each passing minute.
If Jules Verne could extract
the wonder of visiting alien landscapes while remaining on Earth, Journey
slowly sucks away that awe by twisting everything into lifeless arcade
aesthetics. The film does have a few genuinely effective moments, but you have
to keep your eyes peeled to find them underneath the ungodly amount of visual
malarkey thrown at the screen to keep the impatient invested.
- Brian Orndorf