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journey to the center of the earth
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Journey to the Center of the Earth

Starring Brendan Fraser; Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem
Screenplay by
Based on the novel by by Jules Verne
Directed by Eric Brevig

IN SHORT: Just OK. [Rated PG for Intense Adventure Action and Some Scary Moments. 92 minutes]

From Cranky's Total Honesty Department: As crazy as we drove our maternal parental unit by sneaking banned comic books into the house back in our teen age years, we also buried our nose in books by writers like Robert E. Howard, Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne. Mom wasn't thrilled about pulp fiction but, as long as there weren't four color pictures on every page, they were tolerated.

This movie version of Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth tries its best to be all things to all in the family; we tried very hard to lose our self in a story which tries to be as much thriller as family friendly fantasy epic. That we were distracted by an audience filled with antsy 5 year olds who couldn't sit still for ninety minutes -- the film begins  with a "terrifying" opening scene of flying bugs coming out of the screen into the audience (this is 3D, remember) and later continues with other kinds of carnivorous menaces, both animal and vegetable -- is our problem, not yours.  But we'll get to that in a bit.

It's been decades since we cracked open a Jules Verne novel but, given that we don't compare to Source Material, that's no problem. We will emphasize that Verne's novels should still be a staple of young teen kids (at least when their heads aren't neck deep in their PSPs or Gameboys or what have you) so, one way or another, if this film gets a kidlet to crack open a book, that's a good thing.

This story begins with one Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser), a scientist and college professor whose older brother Max went missing a decade earlier while trying to duplicate the "fictional" journey described in the Jules Verne novel. There are, according to this film's story, a substantial number of "Verne-ites" who believe that the classic novels are not fiction at all. That's neither here not there. This story's hero notices some sort of geological synchronicity of events that exactly duplicate what had occurred at the time of  his brother's disappearance, so he packs up nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) and heads for Iceland. We'll not explain the story stuff involved in that last sentence. Let's just say that Trevor goes looking for an old scientist to and instead finds the old guy's fox of a daughter, Hannah (Anita Briem), who agrees to show the pair around the local caves. For a hefty sum.

That was the idea, at least. A lightning storm seals the trio inside one of those caves. Trying to find a way out by venturing deeper into said cave kicks off a story packed with thrills and chills in a very inhospitable environment; deadly plot twists and collapsing volcanic tunnel floors; hidden oceans and killer vegetation popping out of the 3D screen. We sat in front of a row of little kids -- granted the screening was not as full as we'd have liked -- and the numbers of oo's and ah's was (probably) far below what the film creators would have liked. This film's story and effects may be a wee bit too scary for your average four or five year old.

As far as Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D goes, 2D would have been fine. Then again, Cranky's been in glasses since age 6 so the extra 3D pair, as always, was a nuisance. While we preferred the "normal" scenes in the 3D film, the effects shots were very much of the old 50s, 3D thing -- characters (spitting) "out" from the screen, characters falling  hundreds of feet down a "volcanic tunnel" and so forth.

We don't put the usual "dollar rating" on family films. To say that Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D is "just OK" is to be fairly accurate. It isn't a bad sit. But trying to be all things to all ages of a family unit is an almost impossible task, even with the easy sell of Verne's name in the title.

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