Jules Verne, his writing, and the films inspired by his creations is next up in the Sci-Fi Chronicles (I’m loving this book so far, and I’ve barely started it). I’ve previously covered the definitive cinematic version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, the 1959 version starring James Mason and Pat Boone. The only other theatrical version of note is this 21st century update starring Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson and Anita Briem.
Fraser plays Trevor Anderson, a scientist, who is missing his brother Max, another scientist, and a Vernian (someone who believes Verne’s stories were true), who disappeared ten years ago. Hutcherson plays Fraser’s nephew Sean. When a long missing signal pops up on Trevor’s computer, the two of them are off an adventure to track down the signal, hoping it may lead them to Max. What they find out is that perhaps Verne, and Max were right…
Made as a 3D showcase with some now questionable effects (and exploiting to death the gag of lots of things flying at the screen) this 21st century update of Verne’s tale lacks the enjoyment of the original story or the ’59 version, though the cast are likeable enough. Everything else, however, falls a little flat.
Working from notes left in Max’s copy of Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (a little too self-referential, but hey, he, was a Vernian, so I guess it’s okay), which also serves as their guidebook on the interior of the world, the pair travel to Iceland where they meet Hannah (Anita Briem), who serves as their guide, colleague, and love interest for the duo, which has some fun moments, as Hutcherson’s character is only 13.
When the trio is trapped in a tunnel during a cave-in they find themselves on an adventure that pales when compared to the original, no matter how likeable the cast is, as the follow in the footsteps of Max, and the original adventurers.
For all that, however, the film seems more content to be a theme park ride than an adaptation of the literary classic, or even a solid film for that matter. This one is a quickly forgotten piece more intent on showcasing 3D tech than telling a solid story. And while I’m not opposed to a 3D film that should not be the impetus for making it. Story and character always need to come first, something a lot of studios seem to forget, wanting instead to create a successful tent pole franchise. But I would think having a story would be conducive to creating a successful franchise. And Verne gave us a fantastic story.
It’s too bad that what we’re given is a fast food popcorn confection that is forgotten as soon as it’s seen and leaves one wanting for something of more substance. That being said, I do like that Briem’s Hannah was as strong a character as the male leads, though suffers from the same cartoony characterization as her co-stars.
I think it’s almost time to pull out the original story, as well as revisit the classic 1959 film.