by TOM NIXON
You know the drill. Down-on-his-luck everyman scientist Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) is burdened with his bratty nephew Sean and gets a glare for thinking a PSP is a Gameboy, but eventually wins the kid round by finding some common ground – namely Sean’s missing, presumed-dead father Max. The glare becomes a frown, the frown becomes an unsure smile, and on we go. This tired opening, which serves only to frame the film’s not so molten core, highlights the predictable problem with Journey to the Center of the Earth: it exists primarily to take you on a 3D CGI rollercoaster. At one point quite literally.
Trevor and Sean end up rushing off to an Icelandic mountain with the belief that Max must have gone there ten years prior, and there’s a sense that they can’t get there fast enough for director Eric Brevig (an ex-visual effects supervisor – who would’ve guessed?). There aren’t many opportunities for crrrrazy special effects above ground, you see, and so soon enough the duo are trapped in a cave along with obligatory female mountain guide and potential love interest Hannah Asgeirsson (Anita Briem), ultimately happening on the center of the earth and an array of trials and tribulations in their attempts to escape.
3D is kind of impressive, don’t get me wrong. Lots of stuff leaping out of the screen and whatnot. But it stops being impressive amazingly quickly, especially when the seasoned Jurassic Park watcher in me starts rearing its ugly head asking why every modern CGI creature looks like it’s made out of water. That piranha can jump right into my face if it likes, I doubt I’d even feel anything. Some of the more kinetic scenes get the pulse racing a little faster, but surely this is a prerequisite for any adventure movie – ultimately the cheap thrills are of a similar brand to any other film of its ilk, and there’s nothing of lasting substance beneath them.
Brendan Fraser has the ultimate everyman face, you just want to give him a hug and a slap all at once. If you’ve seen The Mummy you’ll already be aware of his wisecracking self-aware heroics; he’s like a goofy Indiana Jones, freshening up clichés by reacting to them with irony and comic vulnerability. Quite fitting for a film which uses Jules Verne’s source material as a plot device, helping them out of a few holes as they loosely retrace its story. The kid asks ‘was this part in the book’ and Fraser replies ‘I don’t think so.’ Cute little in-jokes like this, and the one where they hold a rational conversation whilst plummeting through mid-air, go on throughout, and it’s this awareness of its own place in adventure canon which keeps Journey… more watchable than rubbish like, say, The Golden Compass. Shame it’s too uniformly blockbuster ever to become incisive satire, and not nearly ingenious or original enough to be a memorable adventure.