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.

Brendan Fraser as Trevor, Josh Hutcherson as Sean

Brendan Fraser as Trevor, Josh Hutcherson as Sean

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.

Anita Briem as Hannah

Anita Briem as Hannah

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Ásgeirsson (Anita Briem), make their way through the Earth's crust, they turn to Verne's novel as though it were an historical document chronicling the discoveries of an earlier, 19th century explorer.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.

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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.

Trevor on the run from a big bad beast

Trevor on the run from a big bad beast

It's impossible to take any of the character development all that seriously, though, since the film as a whole is pretty dumb. At times, the script, written by Michael Weiss (The Butterfly Effect 2), Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin (Nim's Island), has an enjoyably stupid feel, but at other times, it is simply stupid, period. On the enjoyably stupid side, there is the scene where Trevor, Sean and Hannah stand on a fragile rock floor that suddenly shatters and sends them dropping, dropping, and dropping—until they reach a sort of natural waterslide that breaks their fall. Whereas the novel had the characters hiking for months, the film uses this silly shortcut so that the adventure can be over within, oh, a week or so—but at least it has fun with the silliness. Case in point: the way the characters react to the length of their fall.

On the simply stupid side, there is a sequence in which the three adventurers are trapped on a raft in the middle of a storm and fighting off a swarm of giant, toothy fish.Suddenly, Sean's cell phone rings. Not only is this physically impossible—the film never even tries to explain how the phone could have gotten reception so far below the Earth's surface—but Sean's reaction is psychologically implausible, too. Not only does he take time out from fighting for his life to answer a phone call, he also neglects to say anything to his mother that a person on the verge of possible death might be inclined to say. Instead, he just tries to make it sound like the time he's been spending with Uncle Trevor is as dull and routine as they thought it would be. It's a gag, sure, but one that bends credulity to the breaking point.

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We thought it was a summer movie. Apparently it's a fall movie

We thought it was a summer movie. Apparently it's a fall movie

But why go after the film for its artistic shortcomings when there is all the 3D stuff to look at? Many of the more impressive scenes involve computer-generated backgrounds and other kinds of special effects, such as a sequence involving a loose bridge of levitating rocks that stretches across a deep, deep chasm. But there is wonder and awe to be had in some of the natural scenery, too. As Trevor, Sean and Hannah hike up an Icelandic volcano near the beginning of the film, we can see the other mountains and the landscape stretch for miles around them, and it's almost enough to make you wonder what an epic, scenic film like, say, Lawrence of Arabia could have looked like if it had been produced in 3D.

There is also plenty of gimmickry, too. Carnivorous fish and carnivorous plants snap at the camera, people hold important objects right up to the lens, trilobites wave their eyestalks right into the viewer's eyeballs, and there are no less than three scenes of people or animals spitting or drooling straight at the audience. The film is directed by Eric Brevig, who has spent decades as a special-effects technician but has no previous experience at the helm of a feature film. So, it's not too surprising that all the creative energy seems to have gone into the effects sequences, while some of the more dramatic scenes fall flat and the actors sometimes recite their lines as though they're not quite sure what to do with them.

Given that the characters themselves wave copies of Jules Verne's book around, it is possible that the folks at Walden are hoping the film will inspire kids to pick up the book and read it for themselves. Or maybe they hope to inspire a new generation of geologists. But for the most part, this film is nothing more than a roller-coaster ride—and as such, it's not that bad, but it will almost certainly be forgotten by the time the next ride comes along.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Have you ever tried to follow in someone's footsteps, after they failed, the way Trevor and Sean try to follow in Max's footsteps? How did you do it? Did you do it to learn what the other person experienced? Did you do it succeed where they failed?
  2. Sean and Hannah both have ideas about their fathers that are challenged on this trip. What ideas have you had about your own parents that were challenged by later experiences? Did you ever find your doubt or skepticism turning to belief? Why or why not?
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  1. What do you think the center of the Earth is like? What does studying the center of the Earth tell us about our planet and the way God made it? Does it fill you with awe? Leave you cold? How do you think it would compare to, say, outer space or the deepest oceans?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Journey to the Center of the Earth is rated PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments, including people falling great distances, being chased by a dinosaur, being attacked by leaping fish with big sharp teeth, and being attacked by carnivorous plants. One character also mishears the word "shist," which refers to a certain kind of metamorphic rock, but no one ever actually says the four-letter word that it reminds them of.

What other Christian critics are saying:

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(4 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
Not Rated (for intense adventure action and some scary moments)
Directed By
Eric Brevig
Run Time
1 hour 33 minutes
Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Aníta Briem
Theatre Release
July 11, 2008 by New Line Cinema
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