During a brief break in the intermittent warm Hawaiian cloudbursts that frequently interrupt production of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, director Brad Peyton calls for action from a tented, plastic-covered shelter corner in Oahu’s Wiamea Valley which, doubling as “the Valley of Flowers,” is covered with giant-sized, brightly colored tropical flowers, each bigger than the last. As the cameras roll, 3D technicians make finely tuned adjustments to the state-of-the-art stereoptic monitors than render the scene in three dimensions. Dwayne Johnson and Josh Hutcherson bicker over whose plan will more effectively lead them to the top of the cliff they’re heading for. Before Vanessa Hudgens and Luis Guzman can try to keep the peace, their final companion, Sir Michael Caine, renders their arguments moot by discovering a novel option: He disappears into a thick patch of the towering flowers, wind machines whir to life to create a powerful gust and Johnson, Hutcherson and Hudgens eyes widen in awe and delight.
When audiences see the scene in the movie theater in February, they’ll get a 3D version of what the actors had to imagine: Caine riding out of the jungle on the back of a gigantic bumblebee. “My grandsons are going to say to their friends, ‘Can YOUR granddad do that?'” laughs Caine in between takes.
In fact, there’s a lot of laughter on the set of “Journey 2,” even as the crew slogs through the muddy forest and endures those frequent showers throughout the shooting day. Aside from being paid to work in a tropical paradise, the entire company seems tickled to be creating the seemingly unexpected sequel to Warner Bros.’ surprise 2008 hit Journey to the Center of the Earth, a modern take on Jules Verne’s seminal 19th Century sci-fi novel.
Hutcherson, as lead character Sean Anderson, is the only holdover from the first film, now joined by Johnson playing Sean’s mother’s new boyfriend as they embark on a trek to locate Sean’s missing explorer grandfather, played by Caine, joined along the way by a father-and-daughter tour guide team (Guzman and Hudgens). Throughout the course of the original screen story, the group finds itself exploring an uncharted island which just may have been the basis of three literary classics: Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and Verne’s own “Mysterious Island.” “I like the idea of making a big, fun, adventure-type of movie,” says Johnson. “I read the script, I liked it and thought that we had an opportunity to elevate it and make it bigger, make it better from the first one. I enjoyed the first one – I thought there were elements of the first one that were pretty cool and exciting. And with the team we had put in place for this one, there were a lot of variables that made it easy to say yes.”
“The 3D platform, which for me was an attraction too.” Johnson explains of the film, which was filmed in the true three-dimensional process rather than a conversion. “I’d never made a movie that was in 3D. I like the idea that it was written and made specifically for 3D. The very first movie was the first generation of James Cameron’s technology, which he used for ‘Avatar.’ We are the third generation, so it’s exciting.”
“I’m intrigued by the 3D technology and just that platform,” the leading man continues. “But not only that, I think it’s fascinating when you can look at how the shots are set up and why they are set up specifically for this, for the entertainment for the audience. There’re certain things that you have to look at that I never understood till now making this kind of movie, just in terms of depth and how and where actors are placed within the scene, color pallet of the scene, there’s cool special effects happening, and how everything is framed. I mean, there is a lot of fascinating detail that goes into it. As a performer, I think about that and this is where it’s really important to have a great director who has a great vision and a great sensibility for 3D.”
“There’s no way you can convert this movie,” says director Peyton (“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”). “It HAS to be shot in 3D. You have a jungle in 3D–you’d have to cut out every leaf and it would take six months for one shot. So to me there was no option–I was like ‘We’ll make it work.'” And the helmer says that shooting in the Hawaiian rainforest, with all of its unpredictable elements, has actually resulted in some spontaneous improvements. “One day where initially the scene was going to be nice and sunny, it got rainy and kind of made the scene better, because the actors were kind of like ‘Let’s get out of this scene!’ So it made this urgency to it. You look for that stuff any chance that you get. ‘Yes, exactly – you guys want to get out of this scene and out of the rain!'”
From the beginning, Peyton was convinced that the verisimilitude of shooting on location would be key to infusing the fantasy with a much-valued reality – and one that was in keeping with Verne’s own sensibility. “I knew Jules Verne had written some entries in the encyclopedia,” says Peyton. “He was all about mapping and details and the reality of the world, so a big part of the movie for me was not going to a soundstage but going to a location where it was real, where it was more ‘get into the dirt’ and get that vibe. The other thing is that I just always wanted to do a survival story, an adventure story: I’ve always been kind of attracted to the idea of ‘What does it take to get through a bad situation?'”
Peyton believes he sold himself to the studio with his intimate familiarity of the source material. “I really love Jules Verne and grew up with a mom who only read science fiction and horror and there was always that stuff around in my house,” he recalls. “All my friends were sci-fi nerds and I just grew up with that stuff. So part of it was when I came into the room [with the studios], two things came together: I could talk to them about the difference between H.G. Wells and how he thought fantasy came from other worlds and how Jules Verne thought fantasy came from our world. I could talk with that perspective, and about branding the material with that perspective.
Caine’s interest in the project was also quite personal. “I now have three new grandchildren, so I wanted to do a family film,” the Oscar-winner reveals. “I’ve done adventure films, but not for small children. This is really fancy. I mean, this afternoon, we were riding around on bumblebees! I don’t really work a lot now, so I only do something I’m going to enjoy for a specific reason. I work about once every two years, and it’s been about two movies since the last movie I did. This is very cute and quite clever. I was amazed at how clever the script was.”
Caine, who admits he’s never even watched a movie in 3D despite claiming to have seen practically “every movie ever made,” is forthright about his approach to acting in a film that has him astride a giant floating insect. “It’s not bloody King Lear!” he chuckles. “You have to put in the attention to detail in what you’re doing, because everything is for effect. It’s either comedy or drama or something is going to come up. I disappeared behind a load of flowers, but I don’t know if they’re going to do the bumblebee scene here because I think it’s done in green screen. They’re worrying how to get up this cliff, and I say ‘I have a great idea’ and I disappear into all those flowers. Then, eventually, he comes up riding a bumblebee and he says, ‘You’ve all got to get one. When you mount them, it’s very easy, but don’t look at them in the eye.’ It’s comedy and comedy is very difficult to do, to time right. It’s more technical than emotional.”
Peyton says his cast has practically hurled themselves into the action whenever it’s been deemed safe enough to let them. “Josh could be a stunt guy if he wasn’t already such a great actor,” says the director. “He does all his own stunts. I’m like ‘Josh, I want you to run up the hillside.’ ‘No problem, Brad!’ ZING! There’s like a trail of dust behind him. And Dwayne loves action – he’s like a real fan. When I sit down with him and say ‘Remember in “Predator”…’ ‘Remember in “Aliens” when Vasquez says this…’ He knows all those movies – that’s what he loves. And Michael Caine, too. They’re all 100% embracing it.” “I love doing stunts, sure,” says Johnson. “I’m a physical guy, so as long as it’s safe. We always have great stunt coordinators–I’ve worked with some of the best in the business–and they always provide a safe environment for us to work in. But for me personally, as long as I’m able to do it and I think that it adds to the movie, then I’ll do it. I love doing it, for sure.”
Hutcherson says there are certain risk factors to the actors’ gung-ho attitudes. “We were doing a scene at this place called Eternity Beach, which is a beautiful location, and there’s this little cave that we kind of go in and check out,” he relates. “We got into the cave and did that scene and cut and coming back out they were like, ‘Watch your heads?’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’m not that tall. I’m not going to hit on anything,’ but I stepped on a little bump, I guess, and then I hit the top of my head so hard I fell straight to the ground. I didn’t remember the fall and stuff. I just remember hitting my head and then being on the ground. Then Dwayne was like, ‘Oh, my God, are you okay?'”
Hudgens watched Hutcherson’s spill and had her own mini-calamity. “I was a few feet away and heard a massive thump,” she says with a shudder. “That’s never a good thing! Then we were shooting a scene down on the same beach and there are just lava rocks everywhere. I was walking backwards. Very smart. Before I knew I was on the floor. I got up and brushed it off like nothing happened and then later on someone pointed at my leg and said, ‘Is that real blood or fake blood?’ Now I have a beautiful scar to show for it. We’ll always remember this movie. It’ll always be a part of me.”
Even Caine was ready to do whatever it took to be a septuagenarian action hero. “Well, I’m 77, but I live on the side of a hill in England, and I walk about four or five miles a day and I don’t smoke or do any of those silly things, so it’s not very challenging for me, physically,” he says. “I take care of myself very well, and whenever I look around, there’s always a chair next to me in case I fall down.”
“It’s really fun,” adds Hutcherson. “We’ve been covered in mud now for most of the entire movie, which sounds like fun at the beginning, but then after about day thirty of being in mud it’s like, ‘I’m sort of over it.’ But we’ve been all these beautiful places and it’s usually really nice out. For me, I’m personally a huge fan of rainy weather, so I’m loving this right now.”
You can read the full interviews with Dwayne Johnson, Josh Hutcherson and Vanessa Hudgens by clicking the links below!
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island opens in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D theaters on February 10.