Bernie and Sand Pilarski went to the movies with Senior Editor Alexandra Queen this past weekend. "You realize that this is your salary for the year," Alex told them, as she handed over the popcorn and drinks.
"Look at this," Bernie said to Sand with satisfaction. "I told you we'd get a raise this year!"
Now, about that movie ...
I've been reading a lot of reviews for Journey to the Center of the Earth, and many, but not most say that it really stinks, the story is stupid, and that Jules Verne would spin in his grave if he knew what they'd done to his story.
But let me say first of all, this isn't Verne's story. This story is about Trevor Anderson, geeky but intrepid scientist who seeks to validate the work of his brother, lost somewhere in Iceland ten years before. Stuck with his late brother's visiting 13-year-old son, Trevor decides to fly to Iceland to check on the seismic data reported by a remote recording device. He hires a guide to take him to the site of the device, and off we go, from the rocky slopes of a mountain to crashing, silly, fast-paced, absurd, eye-popping, utterly fantastical adventure. What does it have to do with Jules Verne's story? Why not a lot, except that Trevor's lost brother, and the cute blonde mountain guide's father died believing that Verne was reporting a true story, and just calling it fiction.
To the detractors of this film, I would like to say "THIS IS NOT A SERIOUS FILM, GUMSHOE, IT'S A SUMMER FUN MOVIE. FUN. FUN. QUIT LOOKING FOR CINEMATIC PHILOSOPHICAL TRIUMPHS!!!"
Whew, there, I said it.
Now, as to one telling reality: we try to get to a movie about 25 minutes before it starts so that we can sit in the theater and quip about what we've heard about the movie already, discuss the past week's tribulations and giggles, and get seats exactly where we want them (which are the ones on the right hand side of the stadium seating halfway up where it's usually not crowded). We got to the theater today 25 minutes early -- and only found four seats together near the top of the theater and on the far, far right. This was the second-earliest matinee show, the one that is normally ignored in favor of later showings. The place was packed. Families had to split up to find seats.
Second telling reality: Kids shrieked at the scrumptious 3D effects. Kids and adults laughed at the humor.
Third telling reality: I overheard a mother assuring her five-year-old that no, the things weren't really coming out of the screen. "Just the glasses, honey, and it's just a movie."
Goodness, I ducked and put my hands up a couple of times, myself.
Brendan Fraser was delightful, of course, as Trevor Anderson. He has a great knack for comedic expression and timing. Anita Briem was properly buffed and no-nonsense as the female interest, and I was pleased to see that this actress did not feel that collagen-injected trout lips were what she needed to get an acting role. And Josh Hutcherson did an exemplary job in his role as Sean Anderson, the nephew. His character was neither a worthless cowering weasel, nor a rude brat, as teens are so often portrayed these days. As a character, I quite liked him. As an actor, I was quite impressed.
The glasses with which to view the 3-D were unobtrusive, though I recommend that each viewer experiment with how close to their eyes the lenses should be. It was only late in the movie that I realized that I, personally, needed to perch the glasses farther down my nose for optimum viewing.
There's a park near where we live that has a programmed-jet fountain that emits water from eight-foot high sprays to clouds of mist, jets that seem to leap over each other and great burbling eruptions three foot high. You can walk into it, and experience it all. That's what it's built for. Fun. It doesn't pretend to be great art; it was simply designed for people to experience and enjoy. That's how I see Journey to the Center of the Earth. It was fun, and I wouldn't have missed it this summer.
You don't always have to go to a movie to see something good. When I was a kid, the guys I hung around with and I would go to the movies just about every Saturday. We usually didn't even know what was playing, but for a quarter, we would get to see four of Hollywood's finest. Well, okay, four movies that more often than not had girls in bikinis chased by actors in rubber monster suits or Vincent Price in some gruesome tortured tale. It didn't really matter. None of the movies were good. For good movies, you had to go to different, real movie theaters, pay a lot more, and had darn well better have gotten your parents' permission, which I could generally not get for the type of movie I wanted to see in such places. I clandestinely saw the Bond films at those theaters, and The Americanization of Emily, a movie that had a scandalous scene of Julie Andrews with her shirt off, standing right there in front of my adolescent eyes with merely a brassiere to cover her modesty and protect my innocence.
When I got to college, there were movies shown every weekend in the dorm rec room at West Halls. They cost a dollar, the 1970's version of a quarter, and once again, I rarely knew what movie was playing, I just went for the fun of it. I did take a girl to the real theater downtown to see The Exorcist hoping that she would be scared and cling to me. It worked. Later I took her to a play on campus that (to my surprise) ended in a Hair-like finale with the entire cast appearing naked on stage. I apologized, but she found it very entertaining, and such is the power of theater that after that date her modesty and my innocence took a serious beating. In fact, she may well have fathered my baby had not Fate had other plans for me, and Sand entered my life.
The older I got, the less often I went to the movies, and the more carefully I picked the movies. I was leery of spending the money or the time (one or the other of which was in short supply) on something that would not be worthwhile. Yet every once in a while, I am still open to going to the movies with my girl just for the hell of it to see a movie that I don't expect anything from.
Journey to the Center of the Earth-3D is a movie I really expected nothing from. This was a movie that starred 3D Effects, and co-starred Brendan Fraser as a guy, a minor supporting role. Also appearing in the movie was Josh Hutcherson as a kid and Anita Briem as a girl. Josh was good, but Anita was not convincing. Frankly, most of the time she looked like she didn't want to be there. It was if her mother had meant to say "go clean your room" and said "go star in a movie" instead, and Anita did it but couldn't see the difference. Fraser really was the lipstick on the pig as far as storytelling goes, his portrayal of a guy being just the right bit silly.
There is not enough story here to justify going to see this movie if there were no 3D effects. But I have to be honest with you, the effects were a real hoot.
Gone of course are the old paper glasses with the red and blue cellulite lenses, and gone were the heavy battery powered polarizing goggles of the more recent 3D movies. All you needed for this one was a pair of what looked and felt like sunglasses (supplied by the theater). Supposedly, this 3D technology is the new thing in movie making, and according to the RealD 3D company, over thirty films are coming soon, including movies by Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Tim Burton . Could get interesting.
Don't worry about whether this movie is any good. Just go to see what's possible in moving making. I promise you, this is a fun hour and a half of special effects, and because it's not available in 3D on your TV, the only way to see this is in the theater, and only in theaters that can project RealD 3D movies.
I ran into a 30-something friend in the movie theatre. Like me, he had just sat through the same showing of Journey to the Center of the Earth. Like me, he had his parents in tow. Like me, he had heard that the film was written by an intellectual peer of Paris Hilton, had gone in with low expectations, and had come out pleased.
I will not deny that I could watch Brendan Fraser read baseball statistics for 90 minutes and still be relatively entertained. Beyond that, though, I was quite content with the film. Sure, it won't go down as one of the decade's greatest, but it was very pleasant. The film tripped lightly along at a good pace and excelled at being nice for everyone. My six-year-old (who later claimed she was not scared) cringed in her seat but made it through the action scenes (not too scary) and the dialogue (not too technical or boring). There was enough psuedo-science, whimsy and drama to keep my thirty-something friend and I amused. None of the Boomers had that squinty look of annoyance that says they've utterly wasted two hours watching idiot children make cinematographic errors that Mankind was supposed to have evolved beyond by the late 60's when Gidget was hit by a comet and Elvis gave way to smaller, faster mammals.
What was the last film you saw that had neat special effects and that the whole family could enjoy?
And that's probably the biggest problem with this film. How do you follow an act like WALL-E? Don't. You can't. WALL-E did everything Journey to the Center of the Earth did, but substantially better. (WALL-E was even a better romantic lead than Brendan Fraser.) But we can't watch WALL-E all the time, forever. So mellow out, leave your physics texts and your inner film critic at home, and go enjoy Journey's light, all-ages entertainment. The guy is cute, funny and brave. The girl is pretty, competant and has an alluring foreign accent. The kid gets a chance to practice his own survival skills and isn't as horribly rude as most teens in media are portrayed. The effects are fun, the action engaging. You won't be overwhelmed, but you'll have a good time.