One of the big screenings for exhibitors at this year’s ShoWest was the premiere of New Line and Walden Media’s Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, the directorial debut by Oscar-nominated FX Specialist Eric Brevig (The Abyss, Pearl Harbor). As a fan of the Jules Verne novel, I was excited to see what they would do with it, especially being the first live action movie shot using the latest in 3D technology, and its ShoWest debut was apropos considering how 3D had become the buzz word for this year’s convention.
David Tuckerman, the President of New Line Theatrical Distribution, came out to introduce the movie, and told the audience that it was still planned for a July 11 release, although it will be distributed through Warner Bros. as per the new Time Warner plan. Director Eric Brevig then came out and said a few words and introduced two of the film’s stars, Brendan Fraser and newcomer Anita Briem, who said a few brief words before the movie started with very cool 3D versions of the New Line and Walden Media logos.
It was quickly evident that this wasn’t a direct adaptation of Verne’s novel as much as a modern-day update starring Fraser as Trevor, a geological professor who often refers back to Verne’s novel as he tries to follow the studies done by his brother Max who had disappeared years earlier. Trevor’s teen nephew Sean, played by Josh Hutcherson, has been dumped into the scientist’s lap, but when Trevor has a breakthrough, the two of them head to Iceland where they meet Hannah (Briem), the daughter of one of Max’s collaborators. That’s where their adventure begins for real as they start exploring the nearby mountains for caverns that may lead them to the center of the earth. It’s a fairly fast-paced ride from there, whether the trio are falling down an endless mine shaft or taking a mine cart ride, braving the rough waters of an underground ocean or being chased by a T-Rex, all of which were greatly enhanced by the 3D technology.
That said, the 3D does take some getting used to, maybe since they do a few too many gimmicky Count Floyd type shots of things flying at the camera, as well as a couple of 3D enhanced jump scares that actually did have me jumping a few times. Once the trio enters the underground world, the movie sometimes looks a bit too green screen with its CG, possibly a factor of the 3D, but Brevig and his FX team have done an amazing job building this fantastic underground world with scenes that often leave you truly wowed. The CG creatures aren’t the greatest in terms of design or execution, particularly the piranha-like fish creatures they face, and it’s surprising how primitive they are considering Brevig’s background, but there’s still a great sense of danger, adventure and most of all, fun, throughout the movie, which did make it an enjoyable experience. The end credits are also very cool, utilizing the 3D CG to create a neat recap of some of the film’s best moments.
The film benefits greatly from having such a small cast, and Josh Hutcherson is turning into a fine young actor as he has great chemistry with both Fraser and Briem and they carry the film with their often awkward dynamics. The Icelandic-born beauty is quite the hottie, spending most of the movie in tight shorts that are way too hot for the movie’s PG-rating, but it does give older guys something to enjoy in the movie. Along the way, there’s a bit of silliness that makes the movie implausible like Sean being able to get cell phone service while literally being millions of miles below the earth’s surface, and there are other similar hard-to-believe moments, but let’s face it, this is a fantasy-adventure, and it’s easier to suspend disbelief within this type of environment, especially with the convincing amount of faux-science that’s bandied about throughout.
Overall, this is truly exciting stuff that’ll remind older folks of the old Disney live action movies or those great Amblin adventures from the ’80s, and this already looks like one of those summer surprises, a fun experience that will probably be discovered via word-of-mouth over time and that should play especially well among boys from 5 to 13 who’ll probably want to see it more than once.
Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D is scheduled to open on July 11, and look for interviews with Real-D CEO Michael Lewis and (hopefully) Walden Media CEO Cary Granat talking about the latest 3D technology in the next few weeks.