Not even 3-D technology cures the flatness of Journey to the Center of the Earth, a theme park ride masquerading as a movie.
The optical effects won't be available at many area theaters (check listings for availability). But don't make a special trip: Eric Brevig's directorial debut isn't worth the gas to get there.
Brevig's take on Jules Verne's classic novel is only marginally more entertaining than 1959's version starring Pat Boone. We have every right to expect more after nearly a half-century of technical evolution.
Brendan Fraser steps in as an intrepid and slightly goofy explorer seeking the earth's core. He plays Trevor Anderson, a professor whose brother disappeared while searching for the same. Trevor's quest begins with the arrival of his surly nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) for a respite from his still-grieving mother. Sean comes with a box of his late father's belongings, including a coded copy of Verne's novel.
The notes lead Trevor and Sean to Iceland to meet another "Vernian" who believes in the author's fantasies. Alas, the old scientist is dead but left behind a lovely daughter (Anita Briem). Her skills as a mountain guide are handy, until the trio is trapped inside a mountain with nowhere to go but down.
Until then, Brevig doesn't have much material to show off his 3-D toys: an extended tape measure, a glimpse of a T-rex, a yo-yo spinning, toothpaste spit into the camera lens.
Once the explorers venture inside the earth, the opportunities increase. Runaway mining cars are a template for any amusement park, while an encounter with giant piranhas in an underworld ocean and the T-rex's encore are brief, scary fun. Just when Brevig is getting the hang of his gimmick, the movie ends.
The shortage of thrills could be tolerated with a better script. Three writers were employed to condense Verne's dialogue into variations of "Look out!" and "What's that?" At one perilous point, Sean wishes he had taken time to read Verne's book in school. He may as well be speaking for the screenwriters.
Fraser's reputation as an action star still puzzles, after lucking into the Mummy franchise by accepting a salary low enough to still allow for special effects. Glassy eyes and a smeared grin are hardly the stuff of derring-do.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is merely one more example of Hollywood relying upon tricks and repetition when originality can't be conjured. Next time, Mr. Brevig, try Smell-o-Vision.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.