Contains Spoilers for Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Some films are, well, all right – they’re simply OK. They’re entertaining and diverting inasmuch as when you walk out of the cinema you think, “That film was all right. Hmmm – I hope it's onion rings for tea.” Welcome to the (interior) world of Journey to the Centre of the Earth (in 3-D no less). It’s an all right type of film – seriously: it’s OK. The narrative is workmanlike, the dependable Brendan Fraser is likeable enough, and there’s some truly fun 3D moments: an ocean full of killer fish, the odd dinosaur, a plethora of characters pointing at things for inordinately long periods of time.
That said, there must have been an awful lot of work involved in making this film simply OK (which to my mind means it’s determinedly middle of the road – nothing wrong with that of course, especially if you like getting run over on a regular basis). The rather neutral emotional content seems entirely deliberate, if only to cater for what the film’s target demographic want – a shed load of CGI and spiffy 3D effects, not uncomfortable moments where a bit of drama might break out (and by drama I mean interaction between living, breathing human beings, not collisions of CGI and chase sequences). In fact, given the pedigree of the script, it’s no wonder the whole thing seems curiously undercooked (the following is from IMDB):
Indie film maker Paul Chart ('American Perfekt') was originally signed to write and direct the picture and penned the original script. Chart left the project, however, after a decision was made to shoot the film in 3-D, uncomfortable with the possibility it would become more 'theme park ride' than the epic action-adventure film he envisioned. The Jules Verne novel was apparently one of his favorite pieces of literature. Chart was ultimately replaced with effects specialist Eric Brevig and the script was heavily retooled to emphasize the new 3-D format.
In retooling the script to shoehorn in the theme park aesthetic, all the drama has been lost, along with any uncomfortable moments that might have upset its tweenie target audience. Hannah (a foxy Icelandic guide – grrr!) happens across the body of Trevor Anderson’s (Brendan Fraser) brother Max, who went missing some years before whilst searching for the mythical ‘centre of the earth’. Cue one tearful burial scene. However, since the search for his brother was the thing driving Trevor in the first place, simply happening across his body seemed undramatic – which is of course the whole point. In order to cram as many 3D effects in as possible, something had to give – in this case it was the script, rewritten countless times to expunge as many dramatic moments as possible. I'm sure that Paul Chart’s script was infinitely superior, but market forces are at play here – so chop back the story and stuff in a theme park ride.
However, what you end up with is a film that is merely all right: entertaining but forgettable, pure brain candy. And when you start to ponder why Brendan Fraser’s moobs are so pointy, you really know you're in trouble.
* I don't think I was the only person in the cinema who looked at the person I was with with my 3D glasses on and said, "My god - you're in 3D."