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Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/28/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/20/2008

In the late 1920s, and throughout the 1930s and 1940s, motion pictures were one of the most, if not the most, popular forms of entertainment. Even during the great depression, people flocked to movie theaters to see Hollywood's latest product. Then, the 1950s, things began to change. As more and more households get televisions, the movie industry began to feel threatened. Thus, they came up with gimmicks to lure people to theaters. Bigger screens and better sound were meant to pack movie-houses. Even more elaborate gimmicks, such as 3-D, were also used. There has been a recent resuragance of 3-D movies. Is this a way to combat the popularity of options such as video games or computers? Or is it simply a result of improved technology. Either way, modern viewers, as with previous generations, can enjoy random objects coming at them. The latest in this revival is Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Brendan Fraser stars in Journey to the Center of the Earth as Professor Trevor Anderson, a man who has devoted his life to studying seismic activity and plate tectonics. His devotion stems partially from his love of science, but it's also a tribute to his brother Max, who disappeared while doing field work. Despite his love for the work, Trevor's theories aren't popular and he's in danger of losing his lab. It's issues like this which keep him from remembering that his nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson) is coming for a visit. Trevor's sister-in-law Elizabeth (Jane Wheeler) delivers Sean to Trevor's door, along with a box of Max's belongings. Searching through these, Trevor finds a dog-eared copy of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. Perusing it, Trevor sees that Max made many notations in the book. He drags the reluctant Sean to his lab to compare Max's notes to his own readings and finds them to be identical. Based on this, he takes Sean to Iceland to retrieve data from a seismic monitor. There, they meet Hannah (Anita Briem), who agrees to be their mountain guide. However, once on the mountain, the trio get trapped in a cave. Assuming that an old mine will help them to find their way out, they begin to explore the cave and find themselves going deeper and deeper into the Earth. Soon, they discover a world full of wondrous sights and unpredictable dangers.

Typically, "gimmick" movies rely too heavily on the gimmick and sacrifice story, characters, etc. Have you ever watched a 3-D movie from the 80s in a non-3-D format? You feel as if you aren't even watching a real movie...yes, I'm looking at you Jaws 3-D. However, Journey to the Center of the Earth doesn't fall into this trap. Despite some enormous plot-holes, the story is solid and quite detailed. You can see from the above synopsis that, while the movie may fall into the typical "high-concept" category, there is a lot going on in the story. First-time Director Eric Brevig keeps things moving along at a nice clip and the film's 92-minute running time seems to fly by. This, however, leads to the story's one big flaw; there is very little character development here. We are quickly introduced to Trevor, Sean, and Hannah, and suddenly their adventure is underway. We learn that all of them have had someone close to them die and that's about it. There are only a few other characters in the film, and we only get the slightest notion of who they are. In this sense, the movie feels like a demo for the latest 3-D technology.

Story issues aside, there is one thing which can be said about Journey to the Center of the Earth with which most will agree. The movie is fun. Again, the story moves along quickly and it doesn't take long for the adventure to begin. From that point on, Journey to the Center of the Earth is a thrill-ride with Trevor, Sean, and Hannah getting into one sticky situation after another. Yes, we've seen most of these perils in other films -- runaway mine carts, dinosaurs, etc. -- but this movie plays like a "greatest hits" package, as we rarely get a breather from the excitement. The film is rated PG, so the action never gets too intense, although some scenes may frighten children under 8. And of course, the 3-D plays a huge role in the film's appeal. I actually got to see this movie in the theater (trust me, a huge deal) and the 3-D looked great. In fact, it was the best looking 3-D that I've ever seen. (Did that translate to the home theater experience? See below.)

However, the 3-D aside wasn't going to carry this film. Brendan Fraser is the real star here. In The Mummy films, Fraser proved that he was great at playing the non-chalant action hero. Here, he's asked to play a scientist who becomes a reluctant adventurer, but that same laid-back spirit comes through, and it makes the movie. Not to imply that Fraser is a bad actor and misplayed the character; on the contrary. Fraser's large frame belies his natural goofiness which makes it impossible to dislike Trevor. Fraser also lends a much needed sense of humor to the film, and one moment involving a repelling accident is laugh-out-loud funny.

You never know what you're going to get with a 3-D movie. Is an actual film with a third dimension, or simply an IMAX demo? Journey to the Center of the Earth falls closer to the former as it offers great effects and an engrossing story. The movie's fun spirit is infectious and I found that this was a good way to introduce pre-ads to the world of action-adventure films.

Journey to the Center of the Earth looks as if it's going to hit you in the face on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The Disc contains both the 3-D and 2-D versions of the film. As with several of Warner's recent Blu-ray releases, the box claims that the film is letterboxed at 1.85:1, but it clearly appeared to be 1.78:1 on my screen. The 3-D version features a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material. How does the 3-D look? Well, that's going to vary from person to person. For me, the glasses (which are included here and look more magenta and green as opposed to the usually blue and red) rob the film of dominant colors and make many objects appear grey. Some colors will pop-up from time to time, but it's sporadic. However, the 3-D effects look great. The objects poking out of the screen are effective and the scene in Hannah's cottage has an incredible amount of depth. The 2-D version offers a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image here is very sharp and detailed. It doesn't show the softness or fuzziness which usually accompanies a 3-D film which is being shown flat. The colors look good and the images detail level is impressive. Both versions sport a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and 640 kbps. I wish someone would explain why Warner would take an HD 3-D movie and lay a DVD-quality audio track on it. It doesn't make any sense. Any movie with a dinosaur deserves the best audio available. The audio here is serviceable -- there are nice stereo and surround sound effects -- but this film needs to envelop the viewer in sound.

The Journey to the Center of the Earth Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Eric Brevig and Brendan Fraser. "A World Within Our World" (10 minutes) is a documentary which explores the history of theories of the Earth being hollow. Modern-day scientists discuss beleifs of Halleys, Symmes, and Teed. This piece features historical photographs and a discussion how these theories were featured in fiction. "Being Josh" (6 minutes) follows actor Josh Hutcherson through a day on the set. We see his trailer, makeup, and then we see him on-set. "How to Make Dino Drool" (3 minutes) has Brevig describing the process of perfecting dinosaur saliva. We actually get to see the on-set debate of which drool is best.

Warner Home Video has also brought Journey to the Center of the Earth to DVD.  The DVD contains both the 2-D and 3-D versions of the film.  In the 2-D version, the image is quite sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material.  But, as with the Blu-ray Disc, the framing appears to be off.  At most, this is 1.80:1, but it's definitely not 1.85:1.  This doesn't seem to effect the image, but that doesn't change the fact that if the packaging reads 1.85:1, then it should be 1.85:1.  The colors look very good here and the image has a nice depth. I noted no video noise or artifacting, but there is some odd blurring at times.  As for the 3-D version, it offers pros and cons.  I didn't have the same color issues here that I did with the Blu-ray -- I was able to see true colors more often than not.  The 3-D effects are still good, but they don't have the same depth as those with the Blu-ray version.  The biggest problem here was that objects in the foreground were sometimes blurry, or I saw two of them.  As with the Blu-ray, the DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.  This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  For all intents and purposes, this is the same as the track found on the Blu-ray.  The surround sound effects are good, most notably during the lightning storm and the track delivers notably good stereo effects as well.  The dinosaur scene offers solid subwoofer effects.

The extra features on the DVD are the same as those found on the Blu-ray Disc, plus the DVD contains a set-top game entitled "Adventure at the Center of the Earth".

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long