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Even if the Muscle Shoals sound isn't on your iPod, you'll like seeing where it came from —Marty Mapes (review...)

Etta sings in Muscle Shoals

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If I were ten years old, I’d go see Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, and then I’d go see it again, and again, and again.

An Excuse for Adventure

A few set pieces and static shots are particularly impressive
A few set pieces and static shots are particularly impressive

More inspired by Jules Verne’s book than based on it, Journey to the Center of the Earth is a good-hearted, fantastic adventure. Maybe it’s a little thin, but not enough to detract from its enjoyment.

A geoscientist and his nephew (Trevor and Sean Anderson, played by Brendan Fraser and Josh Hutcherson) are left alone for an awkward couple of weeks. Trevor is filling in as a father figure while mom goes ahead to Canada to set up house. Trevor’s brother — Sean’s father — disappeared five years ago and is presumed dead.

Explaining his life’s work to Sean, Trevor admits that it boils down to three blinking lights on a map. But Sean notices that there are four lights on the screen, which hasn’t happened since... five years ago! The fourth blinking light hovers over Iceland at a porous mountain called Snaefells, which is just where Sean’s dad was last seen. Following in his footsteps, they realize he must have been a “Vernian” looking for the entrance to the fabled “center of the earth.” It couldn’t be literally true, but perhaps there is a solid pocket in the mantle beneath the Earth’s crust.

But enough of the setup (which isn’t bad, actually).... let’s cut to the chase.

After hiring a beautiful Icelandic guide (Hannah, played by Anita Briem), the three get trapped in a cave-in under Snaefells. They fall for minutes without end, land safely, find rare gems (“Rubies! Emeralds! Feldspar!”), go on a wild mine-cart ride, then discover the lost world described in Verne’s book, complete with gigantic mushrooms, an underground sea, and, even a few dinosaurs.

Mr. Anderson’s Wild Ride

There are a couple things that make Journey to the Center of the Earth a very good summer movie. First, the 3D is very good, especially considering that the effect is generated using a single digital projector. You can read about Real-D on Wikipedia if you want to know more, but suffice it to say the 3D is very good, without the washed-out colors we saw when Robert Rodriguez tried using red-green glasses in Spy Kids 3D. And because it doesn’t require two projectors, you’re more likely to be able to see this movie in your own neighborhood (although not in Boulder).

Of course the movie sets up some 3-D gags. One of the first shots of the movie has Fraser brushing his teeth, rinsing, and then spitting directly on the camera. A yo-yo makes a prominent early appearance as does a retractable tape measure. It’s fun to be initiated into the 3D, but luckily you get used to it after a while. A few set pieces and static shots are particularly impressive. There’s a postcard when the trio arrive at the “center.” The movie pauses for a minute, taking in the scenery, giving us a visual rest between the myriad crazy action sequences.

Father Figure, Surrogate Son

But what may be even better than the 3D fun is the movie’s heart. It is wholesome without being cloying or preachy. It’s a surprisingly clean movie. It isn’t completely chaste (although of all the 3D-movie heroines in history, Hannah is probably the flattest-chested). Nor is the film free from violence — although it’s all in self defense: those fish Trevor and Sean attack would take their faces off if they could.

The film is very good-hearted. Trevor is not superdad; he’s just an average man who’s not quite sure how to entertain his nephew, but he’s willing to make the effort and spend the time. And although the movie is set in a fictional world, it nevertheless offers a genuine sense of wonder at the natural world, and it rightly gives science its nerdy-yet-cool due.

That sense of wonder and good heart may be more deserving of repeat viewings than the impressive 3D mine ride or floating magnetic boulders.

Then again, if you’re ten years old, it’s probably all about the mine ride.

  • Marty: The Century Boulder is NOT showing the 3-D version of this movie. They're showing the 2-D version. July 11, 2008 reply