For its first project in “Real D” Digital 3D, the team of New Line Cinema and Walden Media chose Jules Verne’s archetypal “Lost World” tale, a reasonable testing ground for a new type of cinematic journey.
Verne’s classic novel begins in a mundane world, in which an antisocial prof and his nephew stumble across the key to reaching the eponymous location. Soon they’re off to find the mysterious land not unlike those depicted in the Norse sagas. Like other archetypal tales – those of Tarzan, Jekyll and Hyde, and Dracula, the most immortal character in cinema history – Verne’s “Journey” will always be retold on screen, as it is the primal fantastic voyage.
Verne’s 1864 novel was modern, as it was based on a seemingly breakthrough theory in geology. (Water covered half the earth, this theory reasoned, so why wouldn’t it seep to the center?) Like the novel, the new film features a scientist uncle, Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser, also an executive producer), but abandons scientific babble while showing affection for the source material. When Trevor takes his nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), off his sister’s hands for awhile, she gives to Trevor a box belonging to her husband, who was presumed dead on his last voyage to find the lost world. In the box, Trevor finds his brother’s copy of Verne’s novel, in which is written numerations identical to the results of Trevor’s seismic research. Sean admits that he never read the novel, a past Summer reading assignment, but soon wishes he had when he and Trevor discover that Verne had it all right.
The new “Journey,” the big screen directorial debut by effects expert Eric Brevig, incorporates some devices from the novel and its feeling, though the scenario plays like a routine recount. When Trevor and Sean reach Iceland, where Trevor had pinpointed promising seismic activity, they meet Hannah (Anita Briem). A tour guide whose deceased father also followed Verne, she’s a certifiable babe who just so happens to own the one Scandinavian name now fashionable in America. Trevor and Sean even argue who’s “got dibs” on their new guide.
With her, uncle and nephew get trapped in a cave, and after some crawling and banter they accidentally head toward the desired center of the earth. Their journey down, like their water-bound return at the end, will frustrate viewers who harp on scientific verity. None of the three loses so much as a breath as they fall miles into the Earth, and Trevor even has enough wind to complain.
But perhaps Fraser has earned the right to deliver such an exaggerated performance. The actor has developed a cartoonish presence put to use in the “Mummy” series (about to be revived), as well as mid-1990s cartoon adaptations. (It was even present in his debut, 1991’s “Encino Man” – sorry, Brendan, we haven’t forgotten that one.) Hence, Fraser adapts to the digitized environment with ease, while it stiffens Hutcherson and Briem throughout.
As deliberate as the script sounds, the real pleasure is served on another level. In “Real D” 3D, “Journey” plays like a living, breathing storybook that can find visual fancy in a spilling stream of water, or a yo-yo. The film plants these bits for 3D exploitation, for sure, but they shoot from a frame that has depth to match its reach into the audience. The audience-diving beings lose freshness fairly soon – flesh-eating fish startle us at first, but soon look like just another video game feature. Yet “Real D” makes the backgrounds of the earth’s center into visual art, as a breathtaking shore view depicts a distant cave wall in glowing, autumnal tones.
Many have described “Journey” as a 3D film dumbed down to a theme park attraction. However, its visual splendor would have left Walt Disney weeping and Sergei Eisenstein preaching of cinema’s second coming. When experiencing this movie’s best images in 3D, we can relate to those bedazzled by the first movie screens. They, too, saw an extraordinary view of routine material.