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Journey to the Center of the Earth DVD Review

Journey to the Center of the Earth (3D) movie poster Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

Theatrical Release: July 11, 2008 / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Eric Brevig / Writers: Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin (screenplay)

Cast: Brendan Fraser (Trevor Anderson), Josh Hutcherson (Sean Anderson), Anita Briem (Hannah Ásgeirsson), Seth Myers (Professor Alan Kitzens), Jean Michel Paré (Max Anderson), Jane Wheeler (Elizabeth), Frank Fontaine (Old Man), Giancarlo Caltabiano (Leonard), Kaniehtiio Horn (Gum-Chewing Girl), Garth Gilker (Sigurbjörn Ásgeirsson)

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Hollywood is often looking ahead: the next big movie, the next big star, the next big technology. At the same time, the industry keeps an eye on the past, in search of time-tested audience favorites, popular properties ripe for film treatment, and yesteryear hits due for a sequel or remake.
Rarely, though, do movies look back 148 years. That's what Journey to the Center of the Earth does, bringing Jules Verne's 1864 science fiction novel to new generations. It's quite a stretch even for producer Walden Media, a company that has mostly pleased viewers (if not financiers) this decade with its feature adaptations of literary fantasies.

Verne's text is actually just a framework for this original contemporary adventure. Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) is a geology professor specializing in the study of volcanoes. Though others question its importance, Trevor is dedicated to his work and it's occupying his thoughts when he remembers at the last minute that his 13-year-old nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia) will be staying with him for the next ten days. It looks like bonding will be an uphill battle for the technologically jaded teen and his mildly geeky bachelor uncle, but they share an appreciation for Max Anderson, Sean's father and Trevor's brother, a man who disappeared and was presumed dead ten years ago.

While rummaging through the deceased's possessions, Trevor and Sean notice an uncanny relationship between current tectonic conditions and those observed in Max's notes. On a whim, the Andersons head to Iceland, where they meet Hannah Ásgeirsson (Anita Briem), a young lady who with some skepticism explains she too has a late relative who was a "Vernian", someone believing the fantastic worlds of Jules Verne's writings truly do exist.

In Trevor's lab, he (Brendan Fraser) and his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) check out the tectonic situation. Icelandic mountain guide Hannah (Anita Briem) comes prepared for perilous situations like the featured cave-in.

Being a local mountain guide, Hannah takes the logical next step of bringing the boys to the promising nearby data site. There, a storm occurs, the three get caved in, and we recognize we've settled in for the eponymous journey in a location dripping with curiosities.

Though the movie is set in the present day and takes full advantage of the many visual possibilities of 21st century filmmaking, there is a refreshing old-fashioned quality to the proceedings. We stick with our three leading characters as they are served a feast of adventure one course at a time. The menu includes an out of control mine train, falls from impossible heights, man-eating plants, rising temperatures and lava, floating magnetized rocks, and even some extinct species.

As in any family-oriented enterprise, there is an inherent limit to the array of peril faced. Is there really a chance that any of the three polite venturers will meet doom? If you hesitate to answer that, you might not be in the best mindset to enjoy Journey, a good-natured outing with a winning sense of fun. This movie isn't particularly concerned with making you think or being relevant to reality. Instead, it revels in exposing you to intriguing spectacle of the all-natural variety.

Three adventurers behold the magic on their journey to the center of the Earth. Sean (Josh Hutcherson) notices his Swiss Army knife defying gravity, as if by magic. Magic magnetism!

That's certainly not a new concept; making the unreal real for a viewer rush has always been part of cinema.
Doing it this way seems to hark back to the 1950s and '60s, the era in which a previous Journey (with Pat Boone and James Mason) adorned the big screen. What makes 2008's Journey special is that it takes those pure intentions of yore and fits them with taut pacing, mostly state-of-the-art effects, and an understanding of modern escapism done right.

In the wrong hands, the film could have easily ended up a stale B-movie with camp value, the very thing that top-credited screenwriter Michael Weiss cut his teeth on. But Weiss, the other scribes (Nim's Island helmers Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin), director Eric Brevig (making his feature debut after decades of noteworthy visual effects supervising), and the tiny cast all keep this outing buoyant.

The three leads deserve special mention. Fraser, who also executive-produced the film, brings humor and warmth to his part. This and the third Mummy movie became a 1-2 punch reannouncing him as formidable action hero after a few years away. Josh Hutcherson continues to display a rare knack among child actors for likable naturalness. And rather than being content to play the token pretty female, genuine Icelander Anita Briem helps sell the featured danger.

Distinguishing Journey from other big budget summer releases was the fact that it was filmed and presented in 3-D using RealD technology previously reserved for animated and concert movies. A large majority of the film's theatrical exhibitions wound up being in the standard two dimensions, however, leading New Line to drop the 3D that originally ended the title. Though screenings utilizing polarized glasses were harder to come by, they still made up a significant chunk of Journey's earnings and at a premium. It took almost three months, but Journey became one of four summer movies to narrowly clear the $100 million milestone domestically. The film's current worldwide gross of $186 M more than triples its reported $60 M production budget.

Seeing this hit to home video next week, New Line and parent company Warner make sure that all the bases have been covered by just an individual single-disc release on standard DVD and Blu-ray. Our review looks at the former, which on a rarely-employed DVD-14 double-sided platter serves up widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film in 2-D and, with the lesser anaglyphic technology of red/blue glasses, a widescreen 3-D version.

Buy Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D & 2-D DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen,
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 28, 2008
Double-sided disc (DVD-14)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.98
Black Keepcase with Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc
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VIDEO and AUDIO

Journey to the Center of the Earth belongs to the increasingly scarce class of big budget adventures presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. That means the film claims every available pixel in the DVD's default 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. It also means that black bars on a 4:3 TV will be as tiny as they ever are on a new film. In spite of that, the studios still spent space on an open matte fullscreen version that's cropped on the many effects shots. Gladly, three hours of video plus a modest selection of bonus features didn't push compression requirements too hard. Journey looks absolutely wonderful in the disc's 2-D version, something easily admired in the refreshingly different and perfectly viable 16:9 ratio.

Trevor blows up some dandelion seeds in the widescreen 2-D version. The framing is tighter on the fullscreen 2-D version of Trevor's dandelion blow. The 3-D version adds depth to the dandelions that's noticeable when you're wearing your red and blue glasses.

Being filmed for 3-D, the movie definitely makes a point to have a few coming-at-you moments that stay a small step away from smacking of gimmickry. With the 3-D B-side version and four included pairs of red/blue glasses, you get to experience these moments somewhat as intended. More often, you also get the illusion of depth that is always kind of neat.
But there are drawbacks to the anaglyphic format, as everything takes on a purple tint and your eyes are constantly being asked to readjust to correct the inherent blurriness. Though it's easy to appreciate the unique presentation and it's nice the studio bothered to include the closest representation of RealD exhibition for which the movie was explicitly made, most will find the standard two-dimensional version more satisfying a viewing.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is quite a treat. The potent, richly-layered mix throws appropriate noises from the elements of the varied, contained settings. There's solid bass, good directionality (such as when potentially 3-D effects are emphasized), and consistent volume levels.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

That modest selection of bonus features kicks off with a feature audio commentary by Brendan Fraser and director Eric Brevig. They take a light attitude to discussing the film, giving us genuine production anecdotes with a good sense of humor. Fraser does a bit more of the talking, with the goofiness he's been known to bring to talk shows. Among the many topics discussed are revisions made for budgetary reasons. This is the only bonus feature included on both sides of the disc, should you want to listen to it while viewing in 3-D.

A graphical representation of John Cleves Symmes' appears in the unexpectedly educational "A World Within Our World" featurette. Josh Hutcherson shows us his trailer in "Being Josh." Press the right arrow to avoid this attacking fish in the Adventure at the Center of the Earth. The game won't look any different, but you'll "win" a special no prize.

A trio of brief featurettes follow. Narrated by Anita Briem and boasting expert interviews, "A World Within Our World" (10:08) documents theories of Earth having a hollow core throughout history, paying attention to proposed ideas and tying them into Jules Verne and other sci-fi.

"Being Josh" (6:00) gives a look at the life of Josh Hutcherson while he's working on Journey.

A trailer, a tutor, make-up, and blue screen... none of it's new, but it's all interesting to see, especially surrounding such humble talent.

Kid-friendly and somewhat self-explanatory, "How to Make Dinosaur Drool" (2:45) focuses on the efforts to produce the slimy substance seen in the film.

Finally, Adventure at the Center of the Earth consists of two 3-level activities. Both "Ride the Mine Car" and "Bat the Fish" play out the same way, with you pressing directional buttons as advised and the game occasionally noticing (accurately or not) you've done wrong. While the concept is nice, execution is as lacking, frustrating, and inconsistent as it is on similar arrow sequence DVD games so that, for instance, speed is penalized.

In case the three included presentations of the film weren't enough for you, the set also includes an insert with a code to download a free $1.99 digital copy from Warner's website.

The plain, static menus take an old school approach. The standard black keepcase is housed in a cardboard slipcover that reproduces the artwork below with a fourth side. More noticeably, it adds some pizzazz via its depth-simulating lenticular front.

Side A launches with a Casablanca anti-piracy spot; previews for "Primeval", Get Smart, and Speed Racer; Warner's general pitch for Blu-ray, and an ad for Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Red, red cave... Hannah, Trevor, and Sean admire their remarkable surroundings. Take a look, it's in a book, with Brendan Fraser (Brendan Fraser...)

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A fun and imaginative family popcorn movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth exceeded my expectations and kept me entertained throughout its lean narrative. Though the DVD skimps on bonus features, most of what's here is good and we're spared long-winded technical chatter. The movie alone merits a recommendation and the fine presentation only makes a purchase more appealing.

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Related Reviews:
New to DVD: Speed RacerIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullIron ManTinker BellPeanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection
Starring Josh Hutcherson: Bridge to TerabithiaFirehouse DogHowl's Moving Castle
From the Books of Jules Verne: 20,000 Leagues Under the SeaAround the World in 80 Days (2004) • In Search of the Castaways

From Walden Media:
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The WardrobeThe Water Horse: Legend of the DeepHolesAliens of the Deep

3-D: Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds ConcertCoralineJonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience
Family Adventures: DinosaurNational TreasureAtlantis: The Lost EmpireIsland at the Top of the WorldNight at the Museum
Featuring Brendan Fraser: InkheartScrubs: The Complete First SeasonScrubs: The Complete Third Season

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Reviewed October 22, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 New Line Cinema, Walden Media, and Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.