Sunday, 19 July 2009

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

This movie is not quite a case of rampant remake-itis, since it is nearly fifty years since the original and still highly entertaining film starring the incomparable and dashing James Mason was released, and this movie was conceived as one of the new wave of 3-D efforts. Since I viewed the film in its two-dimensional foremat, I can't comment on whether that was a good idea or not, but I can say that it is nearly as acceptable as the 1959 movie in terms of offering the not-too-discriminating viewer a good time. Mind you any movie which does not number Pat Boone amongst its cast starts at something of an advantage.

In fact this film is not so much a remake as a movie that takes Jules Verne's original story as a starting point for a slightly different tale. Brendan Fraser -- yes, him again -- is the hangdog college professor trying to protect his dead brother's scientific legacy. The brother was apparently a "Vernean", someone who believed that the original book was based on a real underground adventure. Fraser ends up in Iceland with the 13-year old nephew (Josh Hutcherson -- so very good in "Zathura" and "Bridge to Terabithia") he has reluctantly agreed to mind for the next ten days to save his brother's research lab from being closed down. There they meet up with Anita Briem (actually Icelandic) playing the least athletic-looking mountain guide in the world. Apart from a few very minor characters, the movie is effectively a three-hander for these protagonists and the chemistry between them is believable as they find themselves trapped beneath the earth.

Like a number of fun films it helps if you hang up your brains at the door before viewing the escapades that follow, only some of which seem derivative of better movies, especially the runaway underground mine railway so reminiscent of Indiana Jones. Yes, we have luminescent birds, scary flying fish with big sharp teeth, Nessie-like sea monsters, a rampant dinosaur, a beautiful underground landscape, narrow escapes, and a fine sense of adventure. Just don't expect any of it to make much sense, but let your inner child go with the flow. I especially liked the image of our three heroes returning to the surface in a boat fashioned from a dinosaur-skeleton's jaw. I really don't know who decided that Fraser was cut out to be the action man that he has become, but unlike the third Mummy movie reviewed recently, here at least we can see him as a caring and brave human being rather than your usual run-of-the-mill muscle-bound hero.
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