3D, they say, is a thrilling experience all over again. By way of confirmation, the vast experiential gulf between watching Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3D and “normal vision” is swiftly established in the very first images displayed. A crab thingee’s antennae thingees wave in your face! A guy falls from a cliff and seems to get really far away! Brendan Fraser brushes his teeth in an utterly pointless jump-cut sequence and the glass he gargles from comes really close! Whoa! Of course you also get to wear—and, I think, keep—the new generation of 3D glasses, more nerd chic than Devo. If they keep doing press screenings in 3D, pretty soon I can start my own band! (Of course it'll be a half-blind band, since 3D glasses tend to have the reverse effect of normal prescription glasses.)
But right, the movie. Hunky dreamer Trevor Anderson (Fraser, a perhaps slightly more convincing science teacher than Mark Wahlberg) gets stuck minding grumpy nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) just as volcanic activity in Bolivia, Hawaii and Iceland is looking really good, so, anxious to prove a longstanding theory about volcanic tubes that would redeem the legacy of his ten-years-missing brother—who’s also Sean’s dad—Trevor scoops up the 13-year-old and flies to Reykjavik, where the pair gear up for high adventure underground. With little in the way of a plan they luck out, meeting Hannah, an Icelandic beauty whose dead dad also shared dead bro’s “Vernian” notions about subterranean wonders, and who also happens to be an expert mountain guide, leading the boys safely into creepy caverns where fun awaits. (In a movie where pretty much everything is a special effect, the filmmakers managed to get a genuine Icelandic beauty, Anita Briem, to pay Hannah.)
A rollercoaster ride through a mine shaft, razor-toothed jumping fish, burbling lava, glow-in-the-dark bird buddies and carnivorous vaginal plants: there’s more than enough stuff in Journey to the Center of the Earth to wave under our noses, though little of it seems terribly frightening. Director Eric Brevig, who, believe it or not, has a resume mostly jam-packed with visual effects work, takes minimal interest in much outside of the film’s stable of spectacles, and the cast can only make up for so much when a solid third of their dialogue consists of screaming each others’ names and saying “Look out!” or “Hang on!” It’s basically an amusement park ride—but it does have the virtue of being half the length of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.