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It's a Bumpy Journey to the Center of the Earth

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Oct 31, 2008
It's a Bumpy <i>Journey to the Center of the Earth</i>

DVD Release Date:  October 28, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  July 11, 2008
Rating:  PG (for intense adventure action and some scary moments)
Genre:  Science Fiction
Run Time:  92 min.
Director:  Eric Brevig
Actors:  Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem, Seth Myers, Garth Gilker

At a crucial point in Walden Media’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, a young boy who finds himself in need of answers to deal with dangers in Verne’s world exclaims, “I really wish I’d read that book!” It’s a sentiment that will be shared by many who choose this filmed adaptation over Verne’s novel.

Films that appeal to the whole family are so rare that whenever one comes along that doesn’t impress as much as it should, it’s tough to break the news. Walden Media’s Journey to the Center of the Earth is such a film. It has some fun moments and a few thrills, all without bad language or overheated romance, while its dangers from creatures and beasts result in minimal bloodshed.

However, a film can’t be recommended based on what it lacks. It has to have certain elements—chiefly, a compelling story, told in an engaging manner. Verne’s novel is a classic, but this screen version of Journey is tedious at times, with one-dimensional characters and hit-and-miss special effects.

Brendan Fraser stars as vulcanologist Trevor Anderson, whose lab is about to be shut down. Trevor has been fruitlessly pursuing the theories of his brother Max, who was a “Vernian”—someone who believed Jules Verne’s writings were more than just science fiction. When Trevor’s nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), comes for a visit, he brings Max’s copy of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, with margin notations that dovetail with Trevor’s theories and the views.

Hoping to salvage his lab and restore the reputation of Max, who disappeared years earlier, Trevor takes Sean on a trip to Iceland, where, thanks to a ridiculous plot twist involving in-flight access to Google, they meet Hannah (Anita Briem), the daughter of another Vernian. She’s skeptical of her late father’s Vernian beliefs but agrees to lead the trio in its search for confirmation of Trevor’s theories.

The group encounters peril and riches inside a volcanic mountain before falling to the center of the earth, where they find confirmation of Max’s theories. Under threat by rising heat levels—the temperature crests 110 degrees Fahrenheit, although the actors barely break a sweat—the group tries to make its way back to earth’s surface.

Journey to the Center of the Earth features multiple freefalls, a wild ride through a mineshaft, and all sorts of strange creatures—some gentle, some menacing. That makes for some fun moments, but the film’s attempts at humor are often painful (in a slow-moving car, a boy says, “I just saw a goat in the passing lane,” while giant mushrooms are dubbed “humongous fungus”). An overactive musical score is competently performed but cueing the audience’s emotional reactions at every turn. There’s also the mystifying matter of Trevor’s collection of quarters. Seen stored in several large glass jars, the total dollar amount of the collection is surely significant, but when it’s used to purchase next-day airfare to Iceland, then to pay a mountain guide the equivalent of 5,000 kronur an hour during the trio’s longer than expected journey, one wonders just how many jars of quarters Trevor must have to cover all those expenses.

Fraser isn’t given much to work with in terms of dialogue—he’s too busy fighting off sea monsters and dinosaurs, falling into the occasional abyss, and going on wild rides in an old dinosaur skull. Hutcherson does OK as the pubescent nephew competing with Fraser for the attention of Hannah, but Briem fails to convince us that she has serious issues with her father’s worldview. Worst of all are a diary-reading episode and funeral involving Max and Sean. Both scenes fall flat.

Of course, dialogue and emotion aren’t strengths of most summer movies. When Journey drops any notion that it’s a thoughtful look into humanity and earth science, and concentrates on being a thrill ride, it succeeds in fits and starts. The lulls, however, only serve to highlight the weakness of the film’s script.

To compensate, Journey to the Center of the Earth is filmed in digital 3-D, and the presentation has its share of “wow” moments—a mouthful of water spit at the camera, a tape measure that appears to extend out into the theater, and the inevitable yo-yo—while the film’s other special effects occasionally rise above the norm.

Nevertheless, a more full-orbed film adaptation of Earth will have to wait for the next attempt.


  • Language:  None.
  • Smoking/Drinking:  None.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Two kisses.
  • Violence:  A man’s dead body is discovered, but not shown; plants attack; flying fish attack; a sea beast attacks; a dinosaur attacks.