Jules Verne’s famous and amazingly fun novel has been adapted numerous times for the big and small screen (Henry Levin’s 1959 version is still the best, counterbalanced by Rusty Lemorande 1989 $1.25 cheapjack production) and riffed in escapist nonsense like The Core (2003), but combining theatrics of an interactive amusement park ride with the novel’s exploration narrative in 3-D seems like a no-brainer – and while outright fluff, director Eric Brevig’s new version isn’t an attempt to reinterpret Verne’s tale, but a move to have fun with its mystique.
Geology egghead Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) takes his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) to beautiful Iceland to retrieve data from a deep probe that’s been reporting the same weirdo underground activities that attracted his far more adventurous brother and ultimately claimed his life. Using a svelte blonde mountain guide named Hannah Ásgeirsson (Anita Briem), the trio are forced to explore an old mine tunnel when a sudden lightening storm traps them in a circuitous cave system.
That’s the first 10-15 minutes in this 90 minute fantasy, so character development isn’t really given much room, but in fairness any additional scenes of uncle-nephew bonding and more memories of the boy’s dead father would’ve transformed Journey’s first act into a manipulative, maudlin bore. Brevig assumes audiences have become acclimatized to big screen 3-D (particlarly when projected on an IMAX screen) and uses standard fast cuts and force continuity jumps; that makes the fullscreen and widescreen 2-D/”flat” versions on the DVD play normal, but admittedly all that visual action might prove headache-inducing in 3-D.
That at least was the old way of thinking, and the last few years of standard studio actioners screened in 3-D and IMAX have probably acclimatized older theatregoers into accepting busy visuals on the giant screen; kids starting out with 3-D are probably at home with the grand chaos, so it’s probably a minority of theatregoers who might find the adrenalized format too trippy.
Brevig’s visual effects background (Men in Black, The Day After Tomorrow) ensures the action scenes move at a total no-nonsense pace, and the film’s light tone makes the ludicrous luck the trio experience tolerable; if you don’t possess a modicum of common sense, the plotting would have you believe any athletic fool armed with some geological trivia and climbing gear could take the same voyage, traveling from Iceland to Italy through lava tubes without any broken bones.
The writers smartly avoided a Disney reunion moment, and any dark aspects are handled off-screen, or quietly implied, and the only reason the bonding scenes between Trevor and Sean work is the earnest performances, and Andrew Lockington’s robust score; if stripped of its expansive, multi-thematic orchestral veneer, Journey would fall flat on its face. Lockington’s music as well as the performances are the film’s vital underpinnings.
The adventure episodes are compact, and play with our own familiarity with Verne’s book (if not Levin’s film), so we have climbing montages, strange creatures, an oasis, an ocean, and a pressure system that shoots the trio up through a volcano spout. New material stems from Trevor’s geological background, and there’s some really clever 3-D sequences, including one involving magnetic slabs that must have been pretty thrilling on the big screen.
Brevig’s direction is assured, but he does one big faux-pas: in keeping the film at 90 mins., there’s little time (or perhaps he had less patience) for holding shots to allow us to enjoy the depth between characters and the beautifully framed rocks, vegetation, or objects. Older 3-D films may seem tame today, but their filmmakers knew audiences needed a few slow shots to breathe, as well as admire the moment of experiencing a grand canvas with so much fine depth.
The DVD’s 3-D version is, quite frankly, pretty good. The set comes with 4 glasses featuring red and green lenses, and while the colours aren’t always ideal (if the eyes aren’t staring straight ahead, the colour shifts because of the offset you’re creating) and there’s some focal issues, it’s by far more effective than some recent 3-D
DVD transfers, including Robert Rodriguez’ Spy Kids sequels and further derivations. 3-D TV is still a mixed bag experience, but it is getting better.
A recent 3-D title, IMAX' Bugs! is equally impressive, and certainly proves 3-D in the home forum has advanced in the past few years. The real challenge is whether IMAX and other studios will further refine the process for DVD, and start reissuing prior 3-D films on disc. The only reason to spit out a 2-D version nowadys is laziness and unwarranted stinginess; a dual layer disc (and Blu-Ray) have more than enough storage capacity for housing flat and 3-D versions.
New Line’s DVD includes a commentary track with actor Brendan Fraser and director Brevig on both 2- and 3-D versions, and Side A has a handful of making-of featurettes. It’s a decent package, and those smitten with Lockington’s score should check out the album, which exists on disc and MP3.
Note: for an interview with composer Andrew Lockington, click HERE.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan