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3-D Dazzle Enhances Look of One-Dimensional Story

July 11, 2008

By Nick Chordas, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

Jul. 11–Journey to the Center of the Earth is reportedly the first live-action, feature-length film shot in digital 3-D.

Unfortunately, being the answer to a trivia question doesn’t necessarily translate into a memorable moviegoing experience.

Journey, in fact, isn’t really a movie at all. Based loosely on the novel by Jules Verne, the 92-minute action romp plays more like a showcase for the burgeoning technology than an organized amalgamation of character and plot.

(Be warned: The film is also being shown in the standard 2-D format, so be sure to find out whether the theater is equipped for digital 3-D before buying a ticket).

Yo-yos and tape measures fly at the screen, as do prehistoric beasts and a mouthful of toothpaste expelled by leading man Brendan Fraser.

In many ways, the film is no different from the more primitive 3-D efforts of the early 1950s. It just has a bigger budget and doesn’t give the viewer an eyestrain headache.

The affable Fraser stars as Trevor Anderson, a scientist whose older brother disappeared while searching for “volcanic tubes” that lead to the Earth’s core.

Trevor discovers clues to his brother’s whereabouts in a tattered copy of Verne’s novel and promptly leaves for Iceland, dragging his surly adolescent nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), along for the ride.

The two hire a mountain guide/token love interest (Anita Briem) and soon find themselves running, screaming and wisecracking through the underground world described by the 19th-century author.

Journey, as directed by special-effects guru Eric Brevig, borrows liberally from adventure flicks past and present, whether it’s Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong or Fraser’s already-derivative franchise, The Mummy.

A mine-car chase, meanwhile, has been lifted almost gag for gag from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

The family movie has almost no plot. The connective tissue between action set pieces — typically consisting of a short walk or a few lines of jocular dialogue — is so thin that transparent seems too murky a word.

Thankfully, the action can be as exhilarating as it is ridiculous. By the time the final credits roll (also in 3-D), our intrepid trio will have rappelled down 200-foot cliffs, clashed with man-eating plants and slid down the side of Mount Vesuvius in the fossilized jawbone of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Much of the fun has to do with the 3-D presentation, which never stops being gimmicky but at least provides a few genuine jumps and laughs.

Still, not every theater in town is equipped to show the movie in its intended eye-popping format. Journey was screened to critics in 3-D but will show on many central Ohio screens in 2-D.

(The Easton 30, Lennox 24, Pickerington and Polaris 18 theaters have at least one screen equipped for digital 3-D.)

I can’t imagine that Journey works half as well in 2-D, as it has been designed from the ground up as a 3-D feature. Granted, I haven’t seen the standard version and can’t say for sure how the one-dimensional script fares when animate and inanimate objects aren’t leaping into the viewer’s lap.

As a 3-D movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth is occasionally fun but ultimately forgettable entertainment that only hints at the possibilities of the medium.

nchordas@dispatch.com

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