Subterranean kids’ adventure deserves burial

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Subterranean kids’ adventure deserves burial

Walden Media, the production company behind “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” is known for taking audiences to fantastical lands full of whimsical characters plucked from the imagination.

The company has brought viewers such family-friendly contemporary classics as “Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, both of which were also backed by Disney’s dollars. The special effects in these films were astounding, with woodland giants and forest fauns brought to life through artful computer-generated imagery.

But unfortunately for Journey to the Center of the Earth, Disney isn’t a primary backer this time. And without big bucks from Disney, special effects can end up looking, well, not so special.

Journey to the Center of the Earth, which uses the Jules Verne science-fiction novel of the same name as a plot device, encompasses the otherworldly odyssey of Prof. Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser).

Trevor is a volcanologist whose brother Max, also a scientist, disappeared 10 years ago. And when Sean (Josh Hutcherson), Trevor’s nephew, drops in for an extended visit, the two discover a clue to Max’s whereabouts in the missing man’s old, annotated copy of the Jules Verne novel.

Trevor realizes that current geological conditions exactly match those when Max disappeared, and the two embark on an investigatory adventure to Iceland.

The plot sounds very interesting and clever on paper, which is probably how New Line Cinema got roped into this project. But consider the fact that Walden Media is owned by Christian conservative Philip Anschutz, and the end result is that the story is so watered down it becomes bland and babyish.

Cheesy, childish details abound throughout the film, from a cascade of colorful bouncy balls on Fraser to Hutcherson’s role as snarky, tech-savvy kid hero. Fraser’s dopeyness is to be expected - after all, this is the star of such featherbrained films as “Encino Man” and “George of the Jungle” - but it’s truly disappointing to see a naive child actor take such a misstep.

Hutcherson, who notably added gravitas and sensitivity to the heartfelt Bridge to Terabithia, is woefully misused in this film. He’s got a pretty rich role here as an abandoned son who never got to meet his father, but his real tears seem out of place juxtaposed with Fraser’s rubber-faced slapstick.

With the aid of their Icelandic guide Hannah (Anita Briem), Trevor and Sean end up descending into an underworld miles below the Earth’s crust, but the CGI is utterly unconvincing.

In one scene, where the trio whizzes along the tracks of an abandoned mine shaft, the green screen work is comically bad. Later, Sean ends up in a dinosaur chase scene with a Tyrannosaurus rex crafted from 20-year-old technology. Honestly, the reptiles of 1993’s “Jurassic Park” were far more lifelike.

Epic adventures are supposed to be far from squeaky clean. Take a look at the violence and depraved sexuality of Homer or Euripides. So this Walden brand of action seems fit for only a narrow audience: Have fun at the movies, kids.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Action, Adventure / English

93 min.

Now playing

By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer []

Prof. Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser), his guide Hannah (Anita Briem) and his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) plummet to the center of the earth during an exploratory hike.[MovieWeb]
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