Progressive volcanology, we learn shortly into Eric Brevig’s spin on Jules Verne’s novel, was “a failed idea, like eight-track tape”. Also like, you might add, previous attempts to persuade moviegoers that the future of cinema involves wearing silly specs.
Former effects man Brevig’s world-within-a-world adventure retries these wheezes through text-within-a-text plotting and James Cameron’s favoured extra-dimension tech. The plot spins out from annotations made in a copy of Verne’s book belonging to geology prof Trevor’s (Brendan Fraser) long-missing brother that point to Earth-shaking in Iceland. Lumbered with said sibling’s son for a week, Trevor drags reluctant nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) over there, where they meet ‘feisty’ guide Hannah (Anita Briem), get stuck up a volcano’s arse and act on the dozy idea of descending 200ft further. They land in Verne-land, where so-called ‘Real D’ 3D (previously used in Chicken Little and Monster House) headbutts real-life action for the first time on the big screen.
Do star and FX hold up? Just. After a playful entrée of Fraser gobbing toothpaste on our heads and the irritation of someone’s leg blocking the screen – oh, wait, it’s Fraser’s leg – the full-meal FX include jumping piranhas, glow-birds, rickety mine-rail rollercoasters, the requisite dinosaur and Ruins-for-kids foliage. Cue “oohs” from audience ankle-biters. Meanwhile, Fraser makes a game lead, tearing his top to action-lug size, despite being a scientist and tonsil-tickling Hannah despite the age gap. Cue sighs from audience dads…
The downside? The Temple Of Doom rail-ride sequence, Jurassic Park-ish journey of child-sitting self discovery and the three-handed plot means there’s little that’s fresh or fleshed out. Journey works largely as a showcase for 3D remixes of other movies’ set-pieces. The new tech works, the plotting is brisk and Fraser’s actioneering persona shapes up solidly for The Mummy 3 and Inkheart. But is this the future of flicks? Nah, just affable future bank-holiday TV.
Flash FX, perky perfs and a cut-to-the-chase story make for solid family fun, but there's little more here than critters in your lap. The 3D looks great but we're still waiting for a great 3D film. You hearing us, Jim?