At one point in Journey to the Center of the Earth, our intrepid hero soaks in the computer-generated razzle-dazzle inside the core of our planet and muses with wonder, "Doesn't this just completely blow your mind?"
Meh. Not so much. Sure, this 3-D riffing on Jules Verne's 1864 sci-fi classic is good-natured, family-friendly fare, but ultimately the flick is too goofy to generate real thrills and too prosaic to work as camp. It's pleasant enough for young children, but grownups are likely to find Journey to the Center of the Earth only middling entertainment -- which might just be appropriate for a tale about being snack-dab in the middle of the Earth.
Brendan Fraser stars as Trevor Anderson, a slightly scatterbrained volcanologist who carries on the cutting-edge seismic research begun by his late brother, Max Anderson. Trevor is in danger of losing his college lab, but barely has time to lament his situation before he finds himself saddled with an extended stay by Max's surly 13-year-old son, Sean (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia).
Alas, the work of a go-getter volcanologist is never done. Trevor notices that a series of seismic disturbances around the globe are identical to conditions that existed 10 years ago, back when dear brother Max disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Uncle and nephew beat it to Iceland to check out the strange happenings firsthand.
The pair enlist the help of Hannah (Anita Briem), a willowy mountain guide whose late father was an associate of Max's. Evidently the deceased men were so-called "Vernians," folks who believe that Verne's novels -- such as, say, A Journey to the Centre of the Earth -- were based on reality.
One thing leads to another, and whaddya know, our party inadvertently stumbles into, and spirals down, an underground volcanic tube. The interminable drop prompts Trevor to shriek, "We're still falling!" in disbelief.
Eventually, however, Trevor, Sean and Hannah (as opposed to, say, Marshall, Will and Holly) wind up in the center of the Earth. It's a place overgrown with towering mushrooms, glow-in-the-dark birds, man-eating fish and burnt-orange skies. Alas, it also kinda has the look of set decoration for a high school performance of Total Recall.
The abundance of cheesiness is a bonus, however, when it comes to the 3-D. The effects are fun and generally effective, undoubtedly bolstered by the expertise of director Eric Brevig, a visual effects supervisor whose credits include Pearl Harbor, The Day After Tomorrow and Men in Black (and Total Recall, come to think of it). From a gob of spittle to a fang-bearing fishie, it all jumps out at you. Subtle, it isn't, but, then again, subtlety isn't exactly the point with 3-D.
Still, a smattering of three-dimensional tricks doesn't entirely acquit a one-dimensional script. Journey to the Center of the Earth isn't a bad film, exactly. There's something to be said for a family flick that doesn't trade in cruelty or double entendre, and Fraser's goofball charisma certainly helps.
The movie just isn't particularly inspired. Its comic asides are forced, and it rushes through exposition with the impatience of a sprinter needing to pee. The adventure, once we get to it, involves carnivorous fish and a nasty Tyrannosaurus rex, but the bulk of it is underwhelming and unconvincing.
The flipper disc boasts 2-D and 3-D versions. Moreover, viewers of the 2-D can choose between 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen or, should you have some inexplicable preference, full-frame.
The 2-D picture is crisp and clear, with strong lines, solid details and appropriate color levels. The 3-D version is the big draw, though, and it is surprisingly effective on the small screen. The disc comes with four 3-D glasses.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is strong and clear, and it makes dramatic use of rear speaker action for the obligatory explosions and blowin' up of stuff. A Spanish audio track is available, with optional subtitles in Spanish and English for the hearing-impaired.
As mentioned above, the keepcase includes four 3-D glasses for your viewing entertainment.
A commentary with Fraser and director Eric Brevig is relaxed and funny. The pair obviously have a blast revisiting the picture. Also of interest A World within Our World (10:07), a wonderfully offbeat featurette chronicling the history of scientists, philosophers and religious cult leaders who posited that the planet had a hollow core. The six-minute Being Josh, which gives us a day on the movie set with Josh Hutcherson, is strictly for preteens. The two-minute, 47-second How to Make Dinosaur Drool is more entertaining than it has a right to be. Rounding things out is Adventure at the Center of the Earth, which entails two interactive games taken from the movie: Ride the Mine Car and Bat the Fish.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is so likable and upfront about its ridiculousness, you can't help but wish it were just, well, better. The rugrat crowd might enjoy it, but that doesn't make it any more memorable.