Journey to the Center of the Earth
A frustrated scientist, his fatherless nephew and a beautiful mountain guide set off to do exactly what the movie title says. You know this trek will be perilous for the explorers, but how safe is it for families?
It's not just that Trevor Anderson is fascinated by rocks, lava and seismic activity. He also feels that he owes it to his brother Max to carry on the "progressive volcanology" research Max began before his disappearance a decade previously. But a scientific breakthrough proves elusive, and the powers that be are about to shut down Trevor's lab. Distracted by these tribulations, Trevor nearly forgets that his nephew Sean—Max's son—is about to arrive for a 10-day visit.
At first the two don't know what to do with each other. But after a few awkward moments, their painful lack of common ground is upstaged by some strange rumblings underground. Despite years of inactivity, one of Max's seismic monitors suddenly starts uploading data. It seems that the tectonic plates have arranged themselves in precisely the same configuration they were in when Max disappeared.
Trevor and Sean join forces with a cute mountain guide named Hannah, and the three embark on a quest to unlock the mystery of Max's departure. Perhaps they'll even uncover a passageway that will allow them to Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Sean is a boy desperately in need of a father—or at least a father figure. Hesitantly at first, then more intentionally, Trevor assumes that role in Sean's life. He also fills in some blanks that Sean has in his mind about his dad. Trevor lauds Max's talent in front of the boy, telling him about Max's hobbies and interests. Together, they sort through some of Max's belongings. In the process, Sean receives affirmation regarding the man he's meant to be. He also learns that his dad loved him immensely.
Trevor puts his own life in jeopardy twice in order to save Sean and Hannah.
Journey is a summer action flick aimed at kids that advocates action. Sean is persuaded to turn off his video games and put away his cell phone in favor of a good book or an outdoor adventure. Though he's initially an unwilling explorer, Sean winds up having the time of his life. To his surprise, there are no video game controllers involved.
Trevor and Sean repeatedly joke about having "dibs" on Hannah, who appears in the last half of the movie in a snug-fitting shirt and shorts. Especially when it gets wet, her top shows a bit too much.
Journey to the Center of the Earth earned its PG rating for "intense adventure action and some scary moments." That's pretty accurate. I'll add that such content permeates about 90 percent of its screen time.
For starters, one could hardly reach the center of the earth in any sort of reasonable time frame without first falling a long way. That's exactly what happens to the story's heroes, and the water landing at the end of their fall results in Hannah almost being drowned. Sean, Trevor and Hannah dodge lightning bolts and hot magma, set off explosions in a confined space and take a wild handcart ride on a track that looks like it was built for Six Flags rather than for a mining operation. Broken and missing sections make for even more terrifying and body-battering moments.
The heroes also battle vicious carnivorous plants, run from an angry Tyrannosaurus Rex and fend off ferocious prehistoric fish (one of which tries to take a large bite out of Hannah's posterior). They are nearly crushed by falling rocks and are catapulted forcefully out the top of an erupting volcano while riding in the overturned skull of a T-Rex. When they land, they crash hard.
Once, it seems to the audience that Hannah is about to intentionally make Trevor fall to his death, but it turns out he's only a few feet from the bottom of the cliff they're rappelling down when she cuts his rope. Hannah is almost strangled by a vine with a mind of its own. Reference is made to the deaths of 81 people in a mining accident. In a dream sequence, a man is shown falling into a fiery lava pit.
[Spoiler Warning] Once they reach the center of the earth, Hannah and Trevor discover Max's body. We don't see the corpse, but we can put the clues together and infer that he died by being baked to death as temperatures rose to unbearable levels—a pretty gruesome thought. The scene in which Trevor breaks the news to Sean may be difficult for sympathetic younger viewers to handle.
Crude or Profane Language
Shortly after Trevor, Sean and Hannah enter their underground fantasyland, Trevor comments on how much schist (a type of metamorphic rock) there is in the cavern walls around them. This gives Sean a later opportunity to exclaim that the trio is in "deep schist."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Though the connection is not explicitly made, the phraseology surrounding Trevor's teaching and research will strike many viewers as being related to the evolutionary-minded Big Bang Theory. An old-earth view is unquestioningly assumed.
Sean makes a positive reference to the lowbrow TV comedy The Family Guy. He is occasionally disrespectful toward his uncle.
At the earth's core, Sean is shown eating trilobites for dinner—and they make a rather nasty-looking entrée.
What if the 1846 novel titled Journey to the Center of the Earth was not a creation of Jules Verne's imagination, but a record of his scientific discoveries? Of course, that's completely impossible, but that's the point. Using this big what if as the premise for a PG action flick affords filmmakers the perfect opportunity to string together a series of fantastical—and sometimes harrowing—underground adventures without giving much thought to plot development.
There's nothing new under, uh, the earth's crust here, but the fact that the film is being shown in 3-D in many theaters adds enough wow-factor to fully engage and entertain tweens, if not their adult chaperones. The squeals and shouts throughout the young audience in the screening I attended were proof of that. Parents should cautiously consider the film's few lapses in judgment, content-wise, as well as the potential effects of intense action scenes on their littlest adventurers. But without hesitation I can say that at its Center—very much in the same vein as the Spy Kids movies—this Journey at least has some good things to say about the importance of male bonding, family-style.