This maiden feature-length digital 3-D movie is a breathtaking adaptation of Jules Verne's classic sci-fi novel, filled with eye-pleasing gags and sudden shocks of surprise that fall under the spell of strong performances from its terrific three-person cast.
Icelandic newcomer Anita Briem makes an impressive debut as Hannah, the strong-willed guide who takes scientist Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) and his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) deep inside the planet. Briem serves as an ideal straightman to Fraser's signature Boy Scout delivery of comic physicality.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is a memorable action/adventure movie for kids that has as much respect for its young audience as it does for its exciting sense of spectacle. Giant flying prehistoric piranhas, enormous Venus fly traps and ancient dinosaurs are just some of the discoveries our trio of fearless explorers find even if they never sweat in the scorching conditions at the Earth's core.
The glaring flaw is the constant presence of a heat-measuring device that Trevor and Hannah constantly refer to in gauging their level of danger. It's an unnecessary plot contrivance that could have been edited out without affecting the storyline, especially because no member of the team ever sweats more than a drop or two of perspiration. On the one hand you have unbelievably beautiful set pieces filled with lush colors and impressive creatures, and then you have this ham-fisted attempt to bring in a trace of realism that's constantly negated. It's as if a crew person on the set were ringing a bell every few minutes to remind the audience they're watching actors working against a green screen.
The movie makes no bones about being a showcase for digital 3-D technology, and its primary appeal lies in its fulfillment of those expectations as a cinematic thrill-ride complete with an obligatory rollercoaster sequence on a mineshaft train track of questionable, if steep, stability. There's never a moment of danger as our three proxy explorers hang on for dear life when their rock-hauling cars jump over deep chasms of missing track to land miraculously on a piece of jagged racetrack awaiting their landing. The three do plenty of free falling on their way to the title's destination, and the imagery taps into the nightmares that most of us endure at one time or another of dropping endlessly through space.
The 3-D effects make the experience all the more stomach dropping, and it's in these scenes that the surge and momentum of the movie transports the viewer as if they were on an air-conditioned 21st-century amusement park ride.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is a fun summer movie that gives audiences a chance to enjoy the current state of the quickly advancing 3-D technology that enables viewers to enjoy it without the aid of glasses. But for now, pop on the latest pair of "REALD" spectacles and soak up the action. Grade: B
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