Judged as a new film version of classic Victorian-era sci-fi literature, this ‘Journey’ is thin, juvenile and ridiculous enough that it makes the hokey Guy Pearce-led “Time Machine” remake look like a masterpiece of tasteful, intelligent, thought-provoking cinema.
Taken for what it is however – using the basic setup of Jules Verne’s classic work as the backdrop for an experiment in shooting film in a different way – it comes off as a hollow success of technology over craft. Playing like an extended version of a theme park ride, the selling point of this film is that its the first released live-action film to be intentionally shot and displayed using the new Digital Real 3D technology.
It’s a gimmick really, short of the better technology there’s absolutely nothing to differentiate this from one of those ulcer-inducing, Robert Rodriguez-directed, pre-schooler safe films of recent years like “Spy Kids 3D” or “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3D”. Thus it relies on the quality of the gimmick’s success and unfortunately the report is not stellar. Like previous 3D films using this technology, the use of the glasses takes about 10-15 minutes to adjust to with nausea and mild headaches ensuing.
Director Eric Brevig doesn’t help matters with constant and shameless use of everything from glowing birds to jumping fish to a retractable measuring tape being thrown at the screen every other minute – making this seem reminiscent of the horrible early 80’s time when the 3D gimmick came back in style in assorted horror films. The brightly lit real world sets (fluorescent lighting is REALLY annoying in 3D) and use of quick cut editing in the early stages also makes it very difficult to adjust to this effect which isn’t so much 3D as almost cartoonishly flat 2D elements in a 3D spatial environment.
As the action moves to darker underground CG vistas it thankfully becomes easier on the eyes but unfortunately rougher on the brain. There’s very little attempt to establish any character, story or credibility – not when there’s a roller coaster-esque mining cart chase to be done, followed quickly by a sea voyage with flying piranha and history’s most out-paceable Tyrannosaurus. The good will earned by the film’s teaching kids of some basics of geology and rock formation is squandered by the character’s over the top and incessant violation of the laws of physics which allow for many mile high falls and frequent back-breaking jumps.
The filmmakers at least demonstrate some respect by NOT directly adapting Verne’s work but rather having the characters refer to it almost like a field guide (the excuse is that an explorer already found this underground world, returned and told Verne all about it). It’s a work that really isn’t in need of updating, the 1959 film version with James Mason works perfectly well for what it is. All a new version can do, as this one demonstrates, is replace lackluster blue screen-inserted unfrightening monotone lizards with lackluster computer-generated unfrightening renditions of dinosaurs. At least with the old version you’d have the excuse of getting Sharon Stone to cameo.
Brendan Fraser has built much of his career on playing the self-deprecating, not-so-intellectual adventurer in family-friendly fare like this and so has the routine down pat which makes the dull ride at least familiar. Yet the character is rather cold and abrupt leading to very little in the way of one-liners or empathic engagement. The main subplot of male bonding between an uncle and an angry nephew who eventually come together feels ultimately of little consequence. It’s still heavier than the painfully forced romantic tension between Fraser and Anit Briem’s Icelandic guide character who of course must strip their various clothing layers off as the heat becomes more unbearable.
Emotional development would slow down the pacing, a crime this film desperately wants to not be accused of. Ultimately there’s a few nice moments – the Iceland scenery is gorgeous, and a sequence involving magnetic rocks is actually rather inspired (if unbelievable) – but its all inconsequential nonsense. Designed originally to be shown only in 3D, the film ended up being released on many 2D screens. Yet without the 3D aspect, there’s nothing to recommend at all about this CG-rendered mess short of being something perfectly safe and harmless to the pre-teens crowd. Even at under 90 minutes, this is one journey that feels interminably long and you won’t want to take again regardless of how much trickery is thrown at the screen.