Journey to the Center of the Earth
There once was a time when people held out the hope that Walden Media would bring a new kind of filmmaking to Hollywood. Created by a Christian billionaire for the express purpose of bringing classic children's books to the big screen, Walden made a point of connecting with educators and promoting literacy in the classroom. But more often than not, the films produced under their banner—including Hoot, The Seeker and Prince Caspian—have strayed from their source material and been mediocre to boot. One of the earliest Walden films in this vein was a bloated remake of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, a costly flop that starred Jackie Chan and a host of distracting celebrity cameos.
Four years later, Walden has returned to the well and remade another Jules Verne story that was previously adapted for the big screen in the 1950s—and the results this time are not much better, as far as the writing and directing go. But Journey to the Center of the Earth does have one thing going for it, which is that it is being released in 3D in many theatres. The 3D process might be a staple of IMAX presentations and, increasingly, computer-animated cartoons, but it has not yet worn out its welcome in live-action movies released in regular theatres, so there is still something new and exciting about it—even when the movie that uses it is kind of old and stale.
Unlike Around the World in 80 Days, there are very few recognizable movie stars of any sort here: Journey to the Center of the Earth stars Brendan Fraser (The Mummy) as Trevor Anderson, a geologist who thinks he has found evidence of volcanic tubes that go much, much deeper below the surface of the Earth than most scientists believe is possible. The film also stars Josh Hutcherson (Bridge to Terabithia) as Trevor's 13-year-old nephew Sean, who comes along for the ride. And that's about it, apart from one or two faces that might seem familiar if you've watched the right TV shows.
The story is set in the present day this time, but, in a novel twist, the original Jules Verne book is incorporated into the back-story; as Trevor, Sean and their Icelandic guide, Hannah Ásgeirsson (Anita Briem), make their way through the Earth's crust, they turn to Verne's novel as though it were an historical document chronicling the discoveries of an earlier, 19th century explorer. This allows the filmmakers to acknowledge their source material while also keeping it at such a distance that they are free to make up whatever story they like, so long as they use some of the same basic concepts: subterranean beaches lit by gases trapped along the enormous cavern ceiling, the prehistoric beasts that live there, and so on.
Along the way, the three main characters all have their various issues to deal with. Trevor is on the verge of losing funding for his research, so he jumps at the chance to prove that his theories may be correct; he is also motivated by the need to carry on the work of his brother, and Sean's father, Max (Jean Michael Paré), who went missing on a similar journey ten years earlier. Since Max is presumed dead, Sean and his mother are now preparing to move to Ottawa, and the thought of leaving home and becoming a Canadian gives Sean just one more reason to grumble about his life. (As it happens, Fraser grew up partly in Ottawa, and this film was shot in nearby Montreal, so this may be something of an inside joke.) Hannah, meanwhile, is the daughter of a now-dead volcanologist who has never believed in her father's theories—but increasingly, she comes to see that they were true.