Sunday, November 23, 2008


Ok, let’s make it clear right off that I have nothing against the 2008 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring Brendan Fraser, who does a reasonable job of playing a likeable and somewhat hapless (doesn’t Fraser always play hapless?) professor who strikes out on an adventure to you–know-where. In fact, I was pretty impressed, not with the effects (which look fairly cheesy sometimes, especially the rafting scene; the visuals brought me back to the original 1959 film adaptation, in the best way possible... I was grinning ear to ear!), but with the success of an adventurous, fun movie made with zero barroom cussing or thinly veiled sexual humor, zero grotesque imagery or overstated peril, and it worked not only for kids, but for the adult in tow. Why doesn’t Hollywood make more of these movies? I’m thinking the film did well enough to signal that more PG-rated fare along these lines is in high demand. Am I wrong?

Good on ya, Hollywood. Now get back to work making more of these.

(Note: we didn’t see it in 3-D, either, because we live in a culturally bereft hollow in the deep woods of Maine [uh, ok, sorry, you know that’s not true; but our theater was unable for some reason to provide us with the 3-D buzz, unfortunately], and we still had a mining car-load of thrills and laughs.)

About a year before I took K to see this contemporary interpretation, we had a movie night and watched the original, 1959 version at home. I think the details were sketchy in K’s memory. When I asked him to compare the two he couldn’t really do it. But he did enjoy the original – I’m guessing he had just turned 10, but might have been 9 at the time – and this movie is further proof of the ability kids today have to get into these older films, even without fancy CGI trickery or 3-D. Don’t think they won’t like ‘em. I’m here to tell you otherwise.

The original, starring James Mason once again (he starred in our other Jules Verne adventure below, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) as our intrepid professor turned explorer, and a fairly hunky-looking, occasionally shirtless Pat Boone, was mind-blowingly inventive in depicting the trip to the center of the earth. The descent of our hero and his gang, via a volcano in Iceland, was filmed on location in the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, lending a fairly realistic feel to the whole endeavor; the scenery and sets are nothing to scoff at. (I believe there were three Oscar nominations in the “art” and “effects” categories.) The dinosaurs (lizards with fins glued on!) rock, and other stars like the traitorous villain, the seriously weird plant life, and the spectacle of an inner sea are enough to keep the imagination engaged for a good long time.

Both Journey and 20,000 are real classics that every kid should see. No doubt they inspired movies like the Indiana Jones franchise (there’s even a white-knuckled runaway boulder scene in Journey, just like there was in Raiders of the Lost Ark), and your kids will appreciate learning a bit of film history – someday.

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