My reviews to date mostly focus on stories set during the steam era, but there are also plenty of films that make references to things from that era that occur at later dates. They may lack the Steampunk aesthetic that we know and love, but I think they deserve a nod for their “punking” of the classics. I refer to these movies as “steam-adjacent,” and there’s plenty to tickle a Steampunk fan’s fancy even without gears and goggles.
The big-budget Journey to the Center of the Earth is one of these films. It should not be confused with the mockbuster by the same name that came out the same year. As a fan of the Mummy movies, there was no way I was going to miss Brendan Fraser in another adventure story. It served as the big screen directorial debut for Eric Brevig, someone whose work you have probably seen without knowing it. He’s worked on the visual effects for tons of movies such as Wild, Wild West, Men in Black, and several M. Night Shyamalan films.
What is Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) About?
I finished reading Verne’s book about the time I first saw the film. I enjoyed drawing parallels between the text and this contemporary reinterpretation. The world of this story hinges on one central fact: Verne was writing the truth. There is a secret society called Vernians who are trying to find their way to the places described in the novels. Brendan Fraser’s character is not a Vernian but a volcanologist. He and his brother Max have been studying a fringe branch of geology. While trying to prove the existence of the volcanic tubes, his brother went missing.
All that is known to his brother and his son Sean (Josh Hutcherson), is that he disappeared during field research in Iceland. But they discover an old copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth covered in his cryptic field notes. (This is a direct reference to the discovery of the coded message in the professor’s volume in the novel.) Trevor and Sean rush to his lab to investigate the similarities to his own readings. Upon finding that the equipment placed on Sneffels has come back to life after years of dormancy, the uncle and nephew team head to Iceland to retrieve it. (Sneffels is also pulled directly from Verne.)
They enlist a mountain guide who recognizes the scribbles in Max’s book as belonging to a Vernian. None of them believe the story is true, but she takes them up the mountain to get the scientific instruments. A landslide traps them in a cave and they have no choice but to descend into the bowels of the earth. After a side trip into an old mine and some other antics, they find themselves on the shore of the same sea recorded in Verne’s story. They attempt to sail across, and like their predecessors, fall prey to sea creatures and a terrible storm. Sean finds himself alone on a distant shore and in danger from the rapidly rising temperatures.
Oh yeah, and there are dinosaurs. Did I forget to mention the dinosaurs? 😉
What I Thought of Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)
This is a lighthearted movie that borrows some great parts from the original, and adds some bits of its own. I remember when it came out it was at the forefront of the “we must make every movie 3D!!!!” phase of film-making. Some of the added scenes feel like they were definitely conceived with that in mind. The effects are pretty special, but don’t do much to move the plot forward. But still, it’s a fun way to spend 93 minutes, especially if you need a family-friendly activity. There’s plenty of action without ever being really scary. A lot of other reviewers had nothing nice to say about Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), but I liked him as the moody teen companion to his stodgy uncle.
I also appreciated that the biggest bad-ass in the group was obviously the female mountain guide, portrayed by native Icelander Anita Briem. She was only really in danger once, and it was because she was carrying all the heavy stuff. She’s the one that gets them through the physical challenges and keeps her cool in face of danger. (Much like her counterpart, Hans, in Verne’s novel.)
Have you seen this flick or any other adaptations of Journey to the Center of the Earth? Share what you think in the comments!