Right from the beginning, the viewer can sense it. Something's off. It's not that newly-minted Hollywood heartthrob Josh Hutcherson is giving a bad performance, or that the story (very loosely based on the Jules Verne book The Mysterious Island) is boring, or that the direction is too cheesy and stupid. Suddenly, it hits you: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a synthetic movie. Few films have been as assembly-line and devoid of personality as this one, baked in a studio lab after Journey to the Center of the Earth was an unexpected hit.
It's not that the film is excessively bad, per se. At no moment was I so frustrated with what I was seeing on screen that I wanted to throw a remote through the television, and I was never deeply bored or restless. The film edges close to some unfortunate stereotypes with Vanessa Hudgens' character, whom the Blu-Ray packaging calls "strong-willed," but never tips over into anything I found offensive. It's just that everything on-screen was assembled by a bunch of people in a room thinking more about the corporate bottom line and the filmmaker's idea of an "audience member" than whether what they were making was interesting in any way. (Admittedly, for some people, that is their idea of "excessively bad," and in some cases I'd be more angry about it, but I can't say I was expecting brilliance.)
The story begins an indefinite amount of time after the first film (which I didn't see). Sean (Hutcherson), trapped at home with his mother (Kristin Davis) and stepfather, Hank (Dwayne Johnson), intercepts a code he believes is from his long-lost grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine). With the unspoken promise of male bonding, Hank agrees to take Sean out into the middle of the ocean, where a "mysterious island" from Jules Verne's novel is supposed to exist. The only chopper they can find to take them is piloted by Gabato (Luis Guzmán) and his daughter Kailani (Hudgens), and for good reason: the gang immediately flies into a hurricane. Luckily, Sean's theories are right, and they wake up in paradise, where Alexander is waiting for them.
There's something distractingly mechanical the way the characters move from spectacle to spectacle without batting an eye. Hank's reaction to the sight of a gorgeous tropical island filled with miniaturized elephants and gigantic butterflies is to grin like an idiot (sorry, Dwayne), not gasp in awe. The island is packed with gigantic versions of tiny creatures, and yet nobody ever expresses the slightest concern that it might be dangerous to fly a humongous bee or that something might really happen when they're chased by a 30-foot-long lizard. When one character suggests the best route back home is to unearth the body of Verne's Captain Nemo character and track down his secret submarine, everyone agrees it's the most logical idea. Brad Peyton's direction doesn't help any, which fails to cover up the extensive green-screen work and frequently feels lazy (the shots of the characters riding the bees is a low point).
Most of what is pleasant about Journey 2 comes from Hutcherson and Johnson. Say what you will about every other decision that went into the film, but retaining Hutcherson and casting Johnson are truly savvy moves on the part of the producers, and it pays off. Both are likable without being forced (aside from The Rock's endless grinning), and both appear to take the film exactly as seriously as it can conceivably sustain. Vanessa Hudgens is reduced to tweenage eye candy in a damp purple tank top (and gives a hilariously blank expression during one major action beat), but she's fine too. Sadly, Journey 2 may be the first movie to get distinctly worse with the entrance of Michael Caine, who gives a frighteningly poor performance as Alexander. Puffy-faced and drowsy, he looks like he's having as little fun as possible collecting a paycheck as the film forces him to endure bad jokes at his expense and dresses him up in horrible costumes (oh, that leather jacket...)
The Blu-Ray packaging is the same as the movie poster, except now Vanessa Hudgens has a hilariously dumb look on her face (I don't know why they changed this, her expression of fear on the poster was just fine, not to mention accurate). The back cover is taken up by Warner's Blu-Ray template, although it's funny to see they've re-used The Rock's face from the front cover. The two disc set comes in an eco-friendly case (the kind with holes punched in the plastic) and there is an insert with an UltraViolet digital copy code. A slipcover with almost identical artwork is also included.
The Video and Audio
Journey 2 gets a shiny 1.85:1 AVC 1080p presentation, and it looks excellent. Colors leap off the screen, fine detail is through the roof, and contrast is rock-solid. The only downside to such a vibrant, squeaky-clean picture is that it kind of betrays the film's reduced budget: it sort of looks and feels like a television show, highlighting the line between a set and a digital backdrop. Of course, even that's sort of reflective of the image's quality: it's showing you a level of detail the filmmakers might not want the viewer to notice.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is fitting of a big adventure picture. Rumbling hurricanes, tumbling rocks, buzzing bees, screeching birds, an underwater electric eel, and Dwayne Johnson's singing voice are all replicated with crystal clarity and nice directionality. It's been awhile since I really felt like I was getting the theater experience watching a movie at home (to be fair, probably more indicative of my film selection than any audio deficiencies), but this really felt like a blockbuster, with great immersive, weighty mixing. I even liked Andrew Lockington's score, which is understated, but pleasingly so. The only minor complaint (like the picture) is that I almost expected more creative use of the surrounds, but I'm not really complaining. The package only lists French and Spanish 5.1 audio, and English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles, but there are more available if you check the menu on the disc itself.
The main extra is a "Mysterious Island Interactive Map." Following a short intro by Hutcherson, the viewer is asked to click on several locations from the film to see a short behind-the-scenes clip. I expected this to be a throwaway extra, but I actually found it actively frustrating that I couldn't use the arrow keys to select whatever location I wanted and click on it; instead, you can only take one path and clicking each location will automatically send the viewer to the next clip. Fine, until you arrive at the locations with more than one option. Unless I missed something, you have to complete the map, and then go back into it, skipping the clips you've already seen to get to the few dual-option junctions and watch the clip you didn't watch the first time. The disc is rounded out with a hint of a gag reel (1:16) and four deleted scenes (5:53), at least one of which could've stayed in.
A promo for We Can Be Heroes (The Justice League against World Hunger) and Warner Blu-Ray 3D play before the menu. No trailer for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is included. A DVD copy of the film is also tucked away inside the case.
If you were a busy parent who just wanted their kid(s) to have a pleasant, forgettable distraction for ninety minutes, and you resorted to renting this, I wouldn't exactly endorse it, but I wouldn't begrudge you, either.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.