Trevor is a volcanologist who works in his brother's lab. His brother has been missing for years however, most of the sensors they've placed around the globe for their research have disappeared, and the lab is closing due to a lack of funding. Trevor tries to find sanctuary in his home after work, but is greeted with numerous messages that remind him his nephew, Sean, is being dropped off for a ten day visit. His place is a mess, and he hasn't seen his nephew in nearly six years. Trevor's going to have to add 'awkward male bonding' to his list of bad news!
Sean arrives with a box of things that belonged to his father. Trevor finds the classic novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth amongst the items inside. While reminiscing about how it was his brother's favorite book in the world, he stumbles across some notes his brother must have taken before his disappearance. The notes scribbled in the book lead Trevor to the realization that he needs to travel to where his brother disappeared. He tries to ditch Sean to head out alone, but Sean hardly knows anything about his father and wants to tag along to find out what he can.
They travel to a place that's unfriendly to vehicles, so they hire a tour guide to take them where they need to go. An act of nature seals them from the outside world, leaving them in a dark cave. They can't dig their way out, and unfortunately find the only way they're going to find a way out, is to head straight down a hole that's at least twenty stories deep.
Their journey leads them to a secluded world near the center of the earth, as was described perfectly in what was thought to be a fictional story by Jules Verne. It's lush with tropical plants, vast waterfalls, tall mushrooms, and even species of animals that have been extinct for hundreds of thousands of years. Clues lead them to what happened to Trevor's brother, as well as the harsh reality that if they don't find a way out of this utopian underworld soon, they're going to die from a set of natural occurrences that will cook them alive. It seems that even utopia when found, can come with a price.
I have to admit, I went into this film thinking it was going to be a stinker. When a film comes along that was meant for a 3D presentation, everything else seems to get set aside so the director can focus on what effects they can use to surprise the audience. However, the people involved knew the pitfalls in making a 3D movie, and intentionally 'brought on the silly' in order to compensate a poor story with good times. I've got to say, as skeptical as I was; they did a pretty darn good job.
The latest Indiana Jones flick was a failure in the eyes of many. I think this is due to the original films being a little more grounded to reality in most respects. The new film went to brave new heights of absurdity, but took itself seriously enough to leave a bad feeling in your stomach after the film. Journey to the Center of the Earth never tries to establish itself as trying to be smart or clever, so it was able to get away with virtually everything it threw out at the audience.
Often times the effects just scream 'green screen', and most of what we see can look downright cartoony at times. This is something else that could distract me in a movie, but again, Journey to the Center of the Earth isn't trying to be too serious with the context of the film, so it works fine.
The direction in this film could have been better though, because it's been a while since I've seen such a poor performance from Brendan Fraser, even compared to The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Anita Briem as the tour guide was easy on the eyes, but not exactly a great actress. The only one that stood out was Josh Hutcherson as Sean.
Despite the fact everything on paper in regards to this film screams it should be a bomb, Journey to the Center of the Earth was actually a blast. Even with my low expectations and harsh criticisms that were seemingly set in stone in my mind, I was able to turn my brain off and have a pretty good time. If you have a kid at home, I think you'll especially have a good time. This seems most suited as a fun adventure the entire family can enjoy, and with both standard and 3D versions of the film available on this release, why not?
Both versions of the film are here in full 1080p, with a VC-1 encode at a ratio of 1.85:1. Depending on which version you're watching, the video tends to be a mixed bag.
The 3D version has to be watched with a pair of glasses that are a reddish purple on one side, and green on the other. The technology doesn't exist to bring full color 3D into our home theaters as of yet, so don't go into this version of the film expecting accurate colors by any means. With darker shades of colors filtering what your eyes are seeing, you'll need to crank the brightness up on your TV in order to get the best picture.
The 3D effect is rather impressive. I remember old red and blue 3D films looking pretty awful for the most part, but the effect for this release is absolutely stunning. Is the dimensionality you're seeing realistic? Not really, but who cares? It's the novelty of 3D that makes it so much fun to watch.
The blacks seem to be very nice for the 3D version of the film (with the glasses on), and the image is sharp. There are some times where an effect 'pops' off the screen so much, that the image on a particular object can look separated, other than that, there are no real complaints about the 3D version of the film. I just wish there was a way around seeing this film in such an ugly color scheme. Skin tones most of the time end up looking like a sickly shade of yellow.
The 2D version of the film will present you with a much better color scheme of course, since it doesn't have to rely on purple and green hues to provide a 'pop-up' effect. However, the flaws of providing a 2D movie on transfer that provides a 3D version of the film is very clear. At times you can actually see ghosting of where the overlaying 3D image might have appeared. This can only really be seen in very dark scenes though.
The aspects that are most distracting in the 2D version of the film though, are the black and color levels. Because the image needs to be brighter to successfully convey the 3D version of the film, the 2D version unfortunately is plagued with very light looking blacks, and unfortunately tends to take away the sense of depth in a lot of scenes. Also sharing some 'left over' material from the 3D version on this disc, are some very weird skin tones. Sometimes they look a little purple, at other times, a little green. Instead of getting a pristine 2D presentation with a 3D version as a fun extra, it seems that some shortcuts were made to allow both versions of the film to fit on one disc.
The 2D version can also come across as looking pretty soft most of the time as well. However, the print for both versions of the film is immaculate. There's no marks, no scratches, nothing that even hints towards an imperfection. There's no macroblocking to speak of, or grain. There's plenty of detail, and the color saturation most of the time is quite good when it's not hampered by the weird shifting in color tones.
Overall, I think both transfers are as good as they could have been based on the source. The 3D source for this release seems to cause some issues for the 2D version of the film, and it can be distracting enough if you're a videophile. Is it worth the upgrade over the standard DVD? I would assume so, since it's also set up for 3D, and I can only imagine what kind of havoc the softness can play on that release.
I hope nobody has their pitchforks around when I say this, but there's no Dolby TrueHD track for this release. Instead, we're given a pretty decent Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This is a film that takes a journey to one of the most beautiful and bizarre places (literally) in the world, so it's no surprise that the audio representation for this release gives your whole system a pretty decent workout. There's a nice dynamic range that leaves voices easy to hear, and increases the volume during the action to a loud level that won't make your kids cry thinking their eardrums had burst. There does appear to be a little distortion once in a blue moon, which is kind of disappointing. You'd have to really listen for it, as it's nothing that's consistent by any means, but a high definition audio track should have been available for this release.
There isn't really a lot to write home about on this release. The featurettes presented are minimal at best, and are pretty much nothing but filler to boot. As far as the packaging goes, the slipcover for this release has a 3D hologram cover which is nice, and four 3D glasses are inside so the whole family can enjoy the experience. A second disc is included inside of the case for a digital copy of the film.
Commentary with Eric Brevig and Brendan Fraser - You would think that a character like Brendan Fraser and discussion about filming a movie in 3D would provide a pretty dynamic commentary, but man oh man, was it a freakin' chore to sit through. Brendan was boring and offered very little, and the information given to us by Brevig was as minimal as the overall features on this disc. Do yourself a favor and skip this commentary. The film is a fun and light-hearted adventure, do you really need to know the specifics of a mostly green screen effort anyway?
A World Within a World - This is a ten minute feature that explores the plausibility of the theories that were presented by Jules Verne in his novel. Here's a hint, it's not... at all.
Being Josh - For six minutes we follow Josh in his trailer and on the set of the film. It's not really a fun watch, but your kids might enjoy seeing someone closer to their own age behind the scenes.
How to Make Dinosaur Drool - There's a couple of seconds in the film where dino drool is involved, and for some reason above everything else, even this gets a two minute featurette. Wow.
So as I said, a completely minimalistic set of features. Where's the big documentary about filming a movie in 3D, or working on an adventure that's inspired by such a classic novel? The only thing worth anything at all in the extras menu, is the ability to freely switch between the 2D and 3D versions of the film!
Brendan Fraser may not be doing himself any favors by starring in this film as well as the third entry in The Mummy franchise, but this was an enjoyable treat that made me forget about nitpicking the characters, the bland story, and the cartoonish effects. If you have a hard time finding something everyone in the family can enjoy together, then you probably won't do any better than Journey to the Center of the Earth. It's a fantasy that's brought to life with good ole' movie magic fun, and the 3D experience, although assumedly a drag compared to the full color 3D version from the theater, is effective and one heck of a ride. I recommend this title to anyone who wants to feel the warmth of a family adventure film once more, as it seems to be a very hit or miss art lately.