Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Geology Watch: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

Watched:  05/08/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Eric Brevig

So, this movie feels like an experiment, and given the year of release, 2008, Journey to the Center of the Earth might well have been Hollywood floating all the latest toys and the concept of "movie as amusement park ride" more than they were trying to make an actual movie.  But they also still wanted to be Hollywood, so, while it does feel almost like a Cliff's Notes version of a movie, it does have a legit star in Brendan Fraser.   

First - it's clearly intended to be seen in 3D.  And like other 3D features - from Creature to the Black Lagoon or Friday the 13th 3D, there are clear set-pieces intended for the experience that just look weird on my regular ol' flat TV.  Things are basically hurled at the viewer from time to time.  You get it.

Second - I checked, the movie was also an early entry for use in 4DX or whatever they call it.  This was when some theaters decided to add fancy-assed chairs that rumbled and maybe moved, and sprayed water in your face (no thanks).  And there are multiple places that the movie feels like it should be part of a ride at Universal Studios or something.

I'll editorialize and say:  I think this is a perfectly fine avenue for Hollywood to pursue.  It would be weird for many-a-movie, but I think there's a market for thrilling movies that are a bit of an interactive experience.  I would come up with a new name for the experience to differentiate it, but I would strap in for a Star Wars movie about X-Wing pilots zipping about.  Or car chase movies.  Or running around Tokyo whilst Godzilla strolls around.  But I don't think they'll work like a normal movie, and we just don't know what that would be, yet.

I selected the movie because (a) apparently The Mummy isn't on Max, and this came up when I did look for it, and (b) it looked so different from the 1950's version, I was curious what they'd do.  So Jamie and I made a pact that if it sucked, we'd turn it off and look for The Mummy.  But to this thing's credit, we did watch the whole thing.  

As I mentioned in the prior Journey post, I've not yet read the book.  So my point of comparison is that movie.  And it's simplified, the timeline shortened, the cast whittled down, and the FX both modern and - at times - less impressive than the mammoth sets and concepts put together for the 1959 film.

Our story:  Fraser plays a geologist who lost his older brother (also a geologist) 10 years ago when he went to do field work - he simply went missing.  He's continued his brother's work, but - as happens in these movies - the university is pulling funding and no longer supporting the lab (not how it works, but ok) - and we get about four minutes of Seth Meyers playing a cad looking to grab the space.*

But Fraser has also forgotten his sister-in-law is dropping his 15-year-old nephew off for 10 days while she settles in Ottawa, because scientists in movies are a cliche.  No sooner have they said their hellos than Fraser and nephew discover a reason to track down Max's (the brother's) last location and are off to Iceland.  They meet *another* missing scientist's daughter, who happens to be both a wilderness guide and look like a model, and off they go, soon to fall into a hole and a journey to the center of the Earth.

Late edit:  I forgot to mention that the smart thing this movie does is say that Verne's book exists in the universe of the movie.  And while 99% of people consider Jules Verne a writer of fiction, some have believed he was hiding facts in plain sight.  I thought this was remarkably clever as it allowed them to salute the novel, use the concepts and still do their own thing.

From there, unlike the 1950's film, it's maybe a day or two of all action.  An inserted mine-car race that makes literally no sense, that sort of thing.  But all in good, all-ages adventure-movie fun.  If you stop to worry about the logic, you're going to lose your mind, including with the stuff that Verne actually did contribute.

Fraser is a good everyman sort of hero, even when he looks like Brendan Fraser.  Josh Hutcherson as the nephew is... fine.  He's also a character written just far enough away from the 1990's that he isn't totally radical, man.  And Anita Briem does pretty darn well with what she's given, which is "adventure lady whose hair always looks great no matter what happened previously".  

There is a recurring bit about calling dibs on the female character, and I hate it now, and I would have hated it in 2008.  It could have been a cute teachable moment for the kid and audience alike, but, nope.  Also, she's of indeterminate age, but looks 25, and our kid is supposed to be 13.  And Fraser is probably supposed to be in his mid-30's here.  It's just...  the last gasp of this thing that wasn't funny twenty years prior in a movie.

We get some really weird CGI that looks like it's not intended for a serious movie, a goofy light-up bird for reasons I cannot comprehend, a total of maybe 240 seconds of dinosaur, and a biological ecosystem system that should have millions of years ago. 

And, yeah, a lot of scenes feel intended for 3D or to inspire a video game.  And that's *fine*.  I don't care.  But it would be nice if I had 3D glasses to watch this somehow.  

Oddly, the movie is a little - almost charmingly - preoccupied with minerology and geology, which was my favorite science in college, so no complaints there.  And I think they tried to meld Verne's book and some real geology to make it make some sense for a movie with levitating rocks.

I suspect that a few plot threads that seem to go nowhere were meant for the sequel.  And there was one!  But they only brought back Josh Hutcherson, dropped Fraser and brought in Dwayne Johnson and Vanessa Hudgens.  And... Michael Caine?  Huh.  

The movie is... fine.  But it also made $242 million on a $60 million budget.  Which is wild, because I don't know if anyone even remembers this movie.

*this is maybe the most realistic portrayal of anything I've ever seen of a university in a movie.  Space is a huuuuge deal.

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