(director: Eric Brevig; screenwriters: Michael Weiss/Jennifer Flackett/Mark Levin/inspired by the novel by Jules Verne; cinematographer: Chuck Shuman; editors: Steven Rosenblum/Paul Martin Smith/Dirk Westervelt; music: Andrew Lockington; cast: Brendan Fraser (Trevor Anderson), Josh Hutcherson (Sean Anderson), Anita Briem (Hannah Asgeirsson), Giancarlo Caltabiano (Leonard), Jean Michel Paré (Max Anderson), Seth Meyers (Alan, obnoxious lab boss), Jane Wheeler (Elizabeth, kid’s mom); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Cary Granat/Beau Flynn/Charlotte Huggins; New Line Cinema; 2008)

“Seems more like a theme-park ride than a movie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This old-fashioned family-friendly adventure story is a watered-down version of Jules Verne’s 1864 novel (borrowing the premise and tacking on its own tacky adventure story) that seems more like a theme-park ride than a movie. Verne’s classic sci-fi novel has been done much more creatively before in 1959 by director Henry Levin and starred James Mason. The updated tale is a roller-coast ride of a film that is stylishly presented in 3-D (but only in the theaters where it’s available with digital projection, which was not available in the dumpy rural multiplex I saw it). Former Academy Award-winning visual effects specialist Eric Brevig makes his feature film directorial debut an uninspiring one, one that would rather be feel-good, gimmicky, kitschy and accepted on its own techie terms rather than as a literate and intelligent telling of Verne’s classic tale.

Ambitious, goofy and brilliant geology professor Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) is perplexed about losing his research lab at an institute named after his late brother and furthermore for the next 10 days having to baby sit his 13-year-old nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) while his widowed mom goes to Ottawa to look for lodging. Sean is the son of Trevor’s genius scientist older brother, Max (Jean Michel Paré), a Vernean enthusiast who truly believed the author’s sci-fi tales were scientifically correct as a blueprint to the Earth’s center and ten years earlier never returned from Iceland while attempting to find a portal to the center of the Earth. Along with Sean, Trevor’s sister-in-law drops off a box of Max’s possessions that includes the Journey to the Center novel with Max’s hand written comments in the margins. When Trevor takes note that certain notations in the book are curiously the same seismic readings Trevor has been collating in his lab work, he decides to take Sean along with him to Iceland to do some field work. The pair hire the attractive Vernean non-believer Icelander Hannah (Anita Briem) to be their mountain guide. Her deceased dad knew Max and was like him a true believer in Verne and who vanished in the same spot as Max. At the mountain site where Max was last seen, the trio while in a cave fall into a parting of the earth and journey ever downward until they come to a prehistoric world Verne wrote about that similarly has giant fish, flying piranhas, raging T-Rex dinosaurs, birds that glow, valuable jewels and giant vegetation. The rub after seeing this wonderland is how to get back to the earth’s surface.

I would think seeing it as intended in 3-D, with those special tinted glasses, would improve it, but I doubt if it could improve it that much (all the pseudo science talk was diverting but preposterous, and only editing could improve that part). For those so-inclined to see it, I would recommend skipping it in 2-D and see it only as it was meant to be seen in 3-D—where the young ones should enjoy the amusement park ride and the adults might find it congenial even if it is hardly challenging.