11 July 2008

At the movies: Journey to the Center of the Earth

This latest take on Jules Verne's immortal SciFi classic Journey to the Center of the Earth is a goofy and brisk family adventure that should be diverting and delightful for audiences looking for some refreshing escapism at the multiplex this summer. But this Journey is elevated above merely being a pleasant effort by its 3D incarnation
(opening on a good number of 3D screens throughout the country), which understands the giddy thrills inherent with both this genre and this visual format. Even bad 3D can be worth seeing under certain circumstances, while good 3D is a cause for celebration and automatically elevates itself to must-see status. Case in point: The Polar Express. It was a dreadful film that imaginative 3D effects made into something absolutely essential for viewers.

Thankfully, Journey to the Center of the Earth is an exceptional entertainment, constructed out of 60s action movie aesthetics and old school gimmickry (yo-yos, pointy things, and spitting at the camera making featured appearances). It's a kid-friendly Indiana Jones story that posits the importance of learning, reading, and resourceful thinking even as there is a healthy assortment of explosions and running from dinosaurs.

Star Brendan Fraser is ideal for this kind of role, bringing goofy charisma and a fervent embracing of the material. He's demonstrated this quality before in the Mummy films (with another one of those coming next month) and the affable and generally underrated George of the Jungle, and here, with the added bump of being an executive
producer on the project, he brings his a-game. The kid playing his nephew, Josh Hutcherson (from Bridge to Terabithia), is actually fairly likable (unlike most young actors in similar films), and foxy mountain guide Hannah (Anita Briem, whom eagle-eyed viewers will recognize from Doctor Who) injects just the right balance of pragmatism, earthy sensuality, and skepticism.

It's not brain surgery, but Journey to the Center of the Earth is absolutely worth seeing in 3D. In two dimensions, the film is a pleasant diversion, but in 3D, it's essential for summer viewing. Watching this film in 3D with a packed auditorium full of families and cinemaphiles was like watching a symphony being conducted, but with
giant leaping prehistoric piranha instead of timpani.

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