Review: 'Journey to the Center of the Earth'

Remake of the Jules Verne classic lacks some of the sense of wonder of earlier version despite its splashy special effects.

I'm old enough to fondly remember watching the 1959 "Journey to the Center of the Earth" as a little kid, so I should start out by saying that the new version, in 3-D no less, will never take its place in my heart. But I'd be very surprised if this latest incarnation is a favorite of all the new little kids out there, either.

Not that it's terrible. It has its modicum of suspense, and Brendon Fraser, who stars as intrepid professor Trevor Anderson – who does indeed journey to the center of the Earth – is his usual heroically affable self. (If this movie turns out to deliver another "Mummy"-like franchise for him, he's going to turn into a human action figure.)

But shouldn't there be more of a sense of wonder to this project, or else why attempt to once again reimagine the fabulous Jules Verne book? The 3-D angle seems almost an afterthought. As is so often the case in our movies now, the special effects represent the substitution of technology for true imagination. The 3-D isn't all that stupendous, and I'm one of those people who love the process even when it's subpar. The director Eric Brevig settles for fairly low-grade tricks, like having Trevor gargle in his bathroom and then rinse out right into the camera. Whoa!

Much of "Journey" plays like a thinner version of an "Indiana Jones" movie – a series not noted for its stoutness to begin with. (One difference: Trevor, unlike Indy, hates fieldwork.) Trevor is in search of his lost brother, who years ago disappeared mysteriously while journeying centrically, and takes along on his trek the brother's surly son Sean (Josh Hutcherson) and equally surly Icelandic mountain guide Hannah (Anita Briem).

In this version of Verne, the book is itself a protagonist – a kind of field guide to Earth's interior. This isn't the smartest of plot ploys, since at every leg of the expedition we are clued to anticipate what comes next. The carnivorous plants and T-Rexes arrive boringly on cue. Also cued is the inevitable thawing between Trevor and Sean and, of course, Hannah – who nevertheless looks as if she would need a blowtorch to be fully thawed out.

Here's the best advice I can give. About those 3-D specs: If you keep them, don't use them for sunglasses. Grade: C+ (Rated PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments.)

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