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JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem
Director:  Eric Brevig
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  October 28, 2008

“Haven’t you ever seen a dinosaur?”

“Not with SKIN on it!”

Film ***

Journey to the Center of the Earth is, in many ways, an unnecessary film, but I have to give it credit for two things.  One, it’s a solid, big budgeted family film that parents can enjoy with their kids, provided they’re old enough not to scare too easily.  And two, it’s to date the finest 3D presentation I’ve seen.  In fact, without the 3D available, I’d lower my rating by a star.

But the 3D is more than a gimmick…it’s an integral part of what the filmmakers envisioned, and they utilized it to maximum advantage.  This offering is clean, vivid, and very realistic, making even the most mundane shots seem incredible, and the really incredible shots seem almost beyond belief.

It uses Jules Verne’s classic story as more of a jumping-off point than as a script component, and it features the ever versatile Brendan Fraser, who has done drama and comedy equally well, back in the role of action hero.  He plays Professor Trevor Anderson, a seismic scientist monitoring strange vibrations around the globe…that is, until he learns his lab is being shut down.

He also has to deal with his unamused teen nephew Sean (Hutcherson), staying with him while his mother is planning a move to Canada.  Sean’s father, Trevor’s brother, had disappeared ten years earlier on an expedition.

Finding his brother’s notes, Trevor learns he was on to something right out of Verne…namely, believing that Verne’s vision might have been based on fact instead of imagination.  Conditions are just right for what his brother believed to be a portal to…what else?…the center of the earth.

Flying to Iceland to check it out, Trevor and Sean employ the services of a mountain guide Hannah (Briem) to find the location where Trevor’s brother went missing.  And the trail leads further and further underground (“WE’RE STILL FALLING!”) until an unbelievable world filled with beauty and danger opens up to the trio.

Scientifically it’s preposterous to believe that underneath our feet is an oasis with an ocean and prehistoric beings left alone by the ravages of time, but this isn’t about your kid passing geology.  It’s about an adventure filled with excitement and action…the runaway mine carts (Indiana Jones, anyone?) and the crossing of a body of water filled with leaping, toothy fishes are just the beginning.

They learn they have only a limited amount of time to escape, though, because the magma surrounding them is heating up, and temperatures are on a rise.  When you’re countless miles beneath the surface, how do you manage to get yourself back?  Another implausibility.

But who cares?  It’s mindless fun, anchored by three capable leads.  Fraser has always seemed at home in the action genre, and he can carry a picture with enthusiasm and a sense of enjoyment, even when asked to anchor the sublimely silly.  The plot point of people believing that Jules Verne wrote about fact instead of fiction is intriguing…I wonder if such people exist?  I guess if there are those who believed we bombed our own World Trade Center, a “Vernian” isn’t too big of a leap.

All in all, it’s not particularly original or deep, but it IS the kind of movie the whole family can enjoy, provided you’re wearing the proper glasses for the experience.

Video ****

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 3D movie look as amazing as this one…especially not at home.  The high definition 1080p transfer is a gorgeous, crisp, knockout from start to finish, and you add in the spectacularly smooth and realistic 3D effects, and what you have is almost unfair.  It will definitely make you feel like you’re a part of the action more than just about any movie I can remember.  During the mine cart scene, I was actually holding my hands up over my head as though I were on a roller coaster.  But the mountain terrains, the ocean escape, and even the interior shots are enough to keep your jaw in your lap.  This is an experience I won’t soon forget.  The disc includes four pairs of glasses, and you also have the option of watching the movie in 2D format.  But why bother with that?

Audio ***1/2

One thing I kept thinking to myself as I watched was that the soundtrack, though quite solid, didn’t seem to have the punch and the spatial feel of most TrueHD tracks.  Then I looked at the box and found out why…there IS no TrueHD track.  I’m not sure why it wasn’t opted for, but the standard 5.1 offering is still good, with decent dynamic range and rear channel usage.  But for those used to Blu-ray audio capabilities, you can’t help but notice the difference, however slight.

Features **1/2

The main extra is a delightful commentary track from star and co-producer Brendan Fraser with Eric Brevig.  Seems like they had fun both making the movie and sharing their memories of it.  Then there are three short featurettes, all in hi def:  one on theories about what actually lies deep beneath the earth’s surface, one on young star Josh Hutcherson, and one on how to make dinosaur drool.  Ick.

The cover sleeve is also designed to look 3D...very cool!

Summary:

Journey to the Center of the Earth is, if nothing else, a convincing showcase of what happens when you bring 3D and high definition together.  For that reason, if no other, this is a Blu-ray disc very much worth having in your library.

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