Journey to the Center of the Earth
These mushrooms get a bad rap, they’re real fun guys! … Oh, come on! I had to!

Theatrical Release Date: 07/11/2008
Director: Eric Brevig
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem, Seth Meyers

Oh, Jules Verne, is there anything you didn’t predict for the future in one of your books? Brendan Fraser playing the hero in a film adaptation of “Journey to the Center of the Earth”? Well, while that cinematic choice might never have been predicted, even by Nostradamus himself, I daresay that it worked … and that it worked well.

Few people (myself included) list Fraser too high on the acting depth chart. Seeing him play Hamlet isn’t on my wish list. However, if you’re going to make an action/adventure film where the intrepid explore needs to be both physical and goofy, the first person to come to mind is Brendan Fraser. Here again, as seemingly unbelievable as it may be for him to be a college professor and expert on volcanic activity, once the journey deep inside the Earth begins, there aren’t too many other actors I’d rather follow along … especially in 3D.

While not every theater is capable of providing the experience, and the ticket cost rises as a result, if you’re going to go out and see this film – spend the extra cash. The current technology that has taken us from the days of flimsy cardboard glasses with one blue lens and one red are gone (with a nostalgic tear in my eye). Here now are more sturdy plastic glasses with clear, tinted lenses – that even fit nicely over glasses if you’re slight visually impaired such as I am.

I admit that for the first 15 to 20 minutes I spent some time adjusting to the experience and many of the close up shots ended up making me feel like I’d gone cross-eyed. Once I was able to gain my 3D legs, so to speak, the extra depth of vision truly allowed for a more rewarding experience.

That’s not to say every film should start being shot this way. I’m not sure romantic comedies would gain much more from the effect and many small, independent or foreign films already employ better scripts to engage the audience on a deeper level than most Hollywood fare. But if you’re going to take people on a trip fraught with peril and wonder, immersing us even further into the action is the way to go.

Joining Fraser’s character on the journey are his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) and a mountain guide (Anita Briem). Hutcherson seems to be the goto kid when it comes to fantasy adventure having played the leads in “Bridge to Terabithia“, “Zathura” and the upcoming “Cirque du Freak“. He has a great presence on-screen for a teenage actor and while his dramatic work isn’t going to win much acclaim, he always gives a film that realistic, natural teenage character that can so often go wrong with someone too wooden or overly-precocious.

Anita Briem is the least experienced actor of the three but holds her own here quite well. Her beauty is obvious but what makes the dynamic between them work is her feisty and authoritative nature that counterbalances Fraser’s goofy arrogance and Hutcherson’s burgeoning love of the fairer sex.

The story itself was also handled quite well by the filmmakers. While outlandish and hard to believe from a scientific point of view quite often (especially in regards to certain events that defy physics and logic), it’s all very fun. That’s the point of it all and I appreciate that not too much time is spent trying to hammer home some lofty message or break from the fairly continuous action.

Enjoying this film boils down to some very simple elements. Do you like Brendan Fraser in roles like this and are you just looking for a pleasant diversion in the third dimension? I know this is going to sound like cinematic sacrilege this summer season, but I honestly enjoyed my time in the theater watching this than the much-lauded “Iron Man” and am openly calling for the sequel alluded to at the end of the film (in 3D of course).

All that praise aside, I’m afraid I can’t hand “Journey to the Center of the Earth” more than a strong 3 out of 5. If it weren’t for the 3D element, this would have been a completely by-the-numbers adventure flick and while that’s fun, not too much else separates it from any other of its genre. Also, many of the more protruding 3D effects are the more mundane, everyday objects being tossed or dropped more for the ability to use 3D than anything else; though I still appreciated the more passive immersion 3D technology provided. All that being said, however, for light-hearted fun and adventure this summer, few films seem prepared to match this one so it all depends on the experience you want inside the theater.