Film: Journey to the Center of the Earth

3-D Journey

filmmakersPhoto: (left to right) Star Anita Briem, director Eric Brevig and star Brendan Fraser on the set of New Line Cinema's release JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. © MMVII New Line Productions, INC. and Walden Media, LLC. Photo credit: Sebastian Raymond/New Line Cinema.

By Madelyn Ritrosky

One of the things I like about the newest version of Jules Verne’s classic tale, Journey to the Center of the Earth, is that the plot is neither straight out of the book nor strangely mangled.

It was also rather fun to see it in 3-D. That’s the new 3-D, where viewers wear normal-looking, plastic glasses instead of cardboard one-red-eye, one-blue-eye ‘glasses’. (Of course, I couldn’t help think of the waste implications – the glasses make for extra waste that no one needs these days.)

Journey to the Center of the Earth, which opens in theaters Friday, July 11, 2008, is faithful to Verne’s fantastic imagination while also situating its characters and their journey in contemporary times. We even see and hear excerpts from the novel as the characters discuss it and, to a large extent, live it.

The premise? Turns out Jules Verne must have talked to an actual, intrepid explorer who made the harrowing journey and returned to tell about it. The current cinematic characters accidentally get trapped and discover they are not the first to venture deep into the strange and ancient world at the center of the earth.

They refer to Verne’s novel on numerous occasions as they find what perhaps two others before them found. Verne’s far-out world is confirmed.

Brendan Fraser plays a geological scientist following up on his deceased brother’s work, only to end up in dinosaur land. But he’s not alone: his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) and their guide (Anita Briem) end up there with him.

And by the way, Josh Hutcherson ended up with us at our screening – now that’s impressive 3-D for you! However, even if you do catch the film in 3-D – and not all theaters will screen it in 3-D – don’t expect 15-year-old Josh Hutcherson (who was 13 when the film was shot) to pop out of the screen that much.

The advance screening that I attended was sponsored by Truly Moving Pictures, which hosts the Heartland Film Festival each October. The film organization has given Journey to the Center of the Earth its Truly Moving Picture Award, which it gives out to deserving theatrical releases throughout the year.

As an event, then, Truly Moving Pictures/Heartland president Jeff Sparks and guest Josh Hutcherson were at the screening.

From Josh, we learned: the film was actually shot two years ago, in Montreal and Iceland; Josh’s favorite roles are this one and the one he just finished filming for Cirque du Freak; he started acting at age 9 by getting an agent; secrets behind some of Journey’s special effects; Brendan Fraser is a ‘6’2” 10-year-old’; and perhaps most importantly, both Brendan and Josh can give mean wedgies.

Interestingly, most of the several screen versions of Journey to the Center of the Earth have been made-for-TV movies or miniseries (or there was a really bad, low-budget, British 1989 film).

So for feature films, you’ve only got the well-known 1959 take on the story with James Mason, Pat Boone, and Arlene Dahl. Having seen that one and the 1999 miniseries (with Treat Williams, Jeremy London, and Bryan Brown), I can tell you that both of those are more or less straight adaptations of the novel (e.g. set in the 1800s).

Now, nearly 50 years later, we finally get another feature film version. Never mind the various details that defy geologic reality. This is fantasy, pure and simple. And it’s summertime fantasy at that. So enjoy one of the first feature films to sport one of the new 3-D technologies. (And keep your glasses for future use.) Even if you see it in regular old 2-D, enjoy with your popcorn.

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