No doubt any of our readers who have wanted to see the 2008, 3D novelty film version of Journey to the Center of the Earth will have done so already. However, in the interests of those who haven't, we are posting a review out of our usual order. We're ordinarily not on top of reviewing current books and films unless specifically asked to do so, but the problem presented by Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D is that it has practically no redeeming value if not seen in theatres, and because of that, it is not going to be in theatres for very much longer.
This Brendan Fraser vehicle really is a ridiculous film. While watching it and dodging the various things flying at our faces, the thought that kept crossing our minds was that this is a very dorky film. We've never considered a film to be itself dorky. We've been considered dorky - that odd combination of clumsy ineptitude but therein possessing a certain weird charm - for liking certain films, but never considered a film itself to be dorky. Produced by Walden Media, it follows in a line of what we may retroactively recognize as rather dorky films: Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terabitha, The Waterhorse, Holes, and not the least of which, Around the World in 80 Days somehow starring Jackie Chan. Journey is a good chess club fit with this bunch.
Like a dork, it's got a neat little trick, a gimmick. It doesn't do magic tricks nor does it wear a top hat and goggles to the nightclub... It's 3D, and loves throwing that literally in your face. At the beginning of the film, yoyos and books are being tossed out at the viewer in rapid succession, screaming "lookitme! I'm 3D!" But like a dork, it overdoes it. It's not content to just do magic tricks, but has to wear a velvet cape and call itself "Zoltar". It's not content to just wear top hats and goggles, but has to pretend that doing so is a revolutionary lifestyle choice. The 3D effects ironically work best when it's not trying to do anything with them, when the characters are simply walking through a scene with dimensional depth. However, Journey still tries to throw contrived roller coaster mine cart scenes at you lifted directly from Disneyland Paris by way of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Beating beneath the overdone gimmick is the socially awkward heart of the dork. For inexplicable reasons, Brendan Fraser's science hero has to stop and give exposition on how exactly you can calculate the depth of a hole by how long it takes a dropped flare to hit the bottom, or on various rock and mineral types. Journey may have been trying to capture the spirit of Jules Verne by throwing science fact in with the adventure fiction, but it comes of like a... well... dork who knows these little factoids that she tries to interject nonsequiters to impress people with how much she knows, only to either amuse or annoy.
To be fair, or at least to spread things around, the film provides ample opportunity for its viewers to be dorks as well. The boy hero of the age and gender balanced trio running through the rocky plains of inner earth fleeing a Tyrannosaurus, telling himself "I wish I read the book", gives someone who is far too familiar with the source material the chance to whisper under their breath "don't worry, this part wasn't in it." The premise is that the brother of modern scientist Brendan Fraser was a "Vernian", a person who believes that Jules Verne's writings were documentaries, not fiction. Missing 10 years prior, Fraser, his nephew and their hot blonde female Icelandic guide go into the centre of the earth to find him, discovering that he was right.
We cannot imagine that this film is worth seeing without the 3D effects, or even with the 3D effect on a small screen, assuming that the home video version will include the 3D effects and glasses. The only real reason to take it in, in all it's dorkiness, is ultimately for the 3D... Which means if you want to see it, do it now. Low returns and empty theatre seats suggest that the opportunity won't be there much longer.