Believe the hype, and the next few years will see a cavalcade of 3D movies. Leading the charge is this surprisingly low-key (at least in its promotion) adventure with Brendan Fraser. So I grabbed my 3D glasses, and sat back to see what all the fuss is about…
Now I know films in 3D are a gimmick, but it’s a fun gimmick, and as anyone who has ever been to Universal Studios will know, some can be used to great effect to impress an audience. The Terminator ride is one of the best ‘experiences’ there.
This idea of latching onto the ‘experience’ of a film, rather than the film itself, is something that we, as an audience have seen before. The most recent example was the average Beowulf, which was made a whole lot better with Grendel ripping Nordic warriors in half under your nose. And this is really the same tactic that Journey employs. It’s a fairground ride, nothing more, nothing less.
Now granted, to call a film a ride seems harsh, but really this is what it is. Admittedly it isn’t a bad ride, but really all this film provides is a trip on the log-flume without the stagnant water, or a go on ‘Rita Queen of Speed’ without the queuing. And while those expecting a faithful or cerebral adaptation of Jules Verne’s tale will be severely disappointed, everyone else – like the audience sharing the experience with me, who were looking to be entertained by things being poked in your eye or having water spat directly at you from a film – is in for a treat.
Plotwise things are pretty thin. Brendan Frasier plays a geologist whose brother goes missing a decade earlier doing field-work, investigating and probing into hidden ‘tubes’ in the earth. Fraser then picks up his brother’s lifes’ work and then, one day his messy academic life is interrupted by having his nephew staying with him (which involves a dangling and unexplained plot move about a move to Canada). And – coincidence alert – one of his missing brother’s probes activates on the same afternoon. The action then moves to Iceland, where they team up with a very attractive pot-holer/guide/love interest/Lara Croft clone to get to the probe’s readings, and then get caught up in a storm/trapped in a avalanche.
That’s about the plot summed up, and then the actors phone in their parts. I have a lot of time for Brendan Frasier and have over the past decade enjoyed his movies. Airheads was insane and fun, the original Mummy enjoyable and George of the Jungle is at times comedy genius. And while you do get a bit of the goofy action hero, here it’s a bit underplayed and pretty vacant. The same can be said about Josh Hutcherson (who plays the nephew) and Anita Briem who plays Hannah the titular tour guide. But really this film is about the effects, and as such the characters are secondary as the film moves from one set piece to another.
It’s actually nearly halfway through the film before we get to the centre of the earth, which is surprising as you would think that a flick like this would get down to the man eating plants, giant mushrooms and undergrounds monsters straight away. But instead, after a cave-in, we are given a ‘bonus level’ set piece involving a runaway mine train taken straight out of Temple of Doom, only done on the cheap (and with CG). So while Indy’s dilemma seemed real and urgent, this CG-fest really is just an excuse to do a set of POV shots in 3D.
This action set piece over plot and characters sets the tone for the final reel of the film, where the subterranean realm is not really explored or discussed, but merely wandered through with no sense of awe. The team follow a surprisingly intelligent neon coloured hummingbird through the dangers, to find the only and implausible means of escape. With dinosaurs to dodge, magnetic rocks to navigate and a sea full of evil flying fish to bat out of the way, it’s fair to say that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, with danger just perilous enough to be able to get through without any real danger. And it’s all, of course, a useful excuse to have things fly, poke or generally come out of the screen towards the audience without those inconvenient things like emotions or plot development getting in the way (check out how quickly they skim over the ‘death’ scene and the heating up issues).
But even with a ending that is verging on the plainly stupid, the film still manages to entertain. And even though the movie is packed full if implausible things (Google on a PSP on a plane, a mobile working miles underground), it’s still fun, silly and entertaining and as such does its job. It’s also a ride that you can’t imagine ever working when it gets to DVD or Blu-ray, meaning that the 3D adventure is very much the one to take.