“Journey to the Center of the Earth” is a bit of an exaggeration, as the intrepid exploring trio plummet down a hole for about 15 seconds before landing (without suffering a scratch, of course). I guess “Journey Less Than One Percent of the Way to the Center of the Earth” is a bit much to fit on the marquee – and as a journey anywhere near the center would bubble your brains in seconds, perhaps it would have been difficult to retain that PG rating.
So the science in this film of Jules Verne's science fiction classic is ludicrous. Well, how's the fiction?
Not terrible. The setup is rudimentary: A scientist and his estranged nephew (Brendan Fraser and Josh Hutcherson) use notes left by their late brother/dad to explore an Icelandic cave under the tutelage of a mountain guide (Icelandic native Anita Briem).
When the floor gives way, plunging them down perhaps a mile, they end up in a world full of oxygen, drinkable water and temperatures hovering around 100. They realize Verne's book is fact-based, because illustrations correspond with nearby flora. That means they'll have to escape before lava overflows, if they can elude carnivorous fish and a rogue thunder lizard. (The screenwriters take many liberties with Verne's 1864 novel, written before anyone saw a bone from a T-Rex.)
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The key question – how are the special effects? – is one I may not be able to answer for you, as only two theaters in the area can show 3-D prints (Northlake and Stonecrest).
I had a good time watching people point yo-yos and tape measures at the camera, and the three spitting jokes were childishly entertaining when the water seemed about to cascade over us. But in a “flat” version, the 3-D effects I enjoyed may not come off well, and things that were annoying will remain so: There's a luminescent bluebird that leads the teenager to safety, and it's as chirpily twerpy as an animated Disney sidekick.
Critics often describe summer blockbusters as roller-coaster rides, but this is the first film I remember that has a segment designed to be repeated literally at theme parks: We rocket with the explorers up and down tracks in a deserted mine. As long as that sort of thing goes on, the movie's manic, superficial energy remains easy to enjoy.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers pay virtually no attention to details. Characters wet to the bone dry out within two minutes, yet they don't sweat in 105-degree weather while assembling a wooden raft.
After traveling underground for perhaps two days, they emerge from the Earth – hope I didn't spoil the ending for anyone who thought they'd be buried alive – in Italy, almost 2,000 miles away. I don't suppose geography-impaired Americans will notice.