- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
- English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
- English Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Audio Commentary
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Journey to the Center of the Earth (Limited Edition) (2008) (Blu-ray)
New Line Cinema / 2008 / 92 Minutes / Rated PG
Street Date: October 28, 2008
List Price: $39.95
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Friday, October 24, 2008
Editor's Note: In our original review of 'Journey to the Center of the Earth,' we incorrectly listed the Blu-ray as including a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track. The disc contains only a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix. We have updated the review, and apologize for the error.
There's an old joke that says the only things that will be left standing after an atomic bomb are cockroaches, and Cher. Add "3-D" to that list. This dimensional gimmick enjoyed immense popularity in the '50s before burning out faster than a Kmart light bulb. Miraculously, the silly glasses and silver screens then made a comeback in the '80s with lots of cheapie exploitation flicks and cash-in studio franchise pictures, only for the fad to once again fade out in a matter of months. Now, here we are in the '00s, and 3-D appears poised to be modern cinema's great box office gold mine. Gigantic IMAX screens nationwide are flush with 3-D films, with everything from U2 to Batman and Harry Potter now comin' at ya in three dimensions. Yes, a gimmick is still a gimmick, but thanks to digital technology and major studio budgets, this may truly be 3-D's renaissance period.
An adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel of the same name (and itself a remake of the 1959 picture starring James Mason. Editor's Note: Not to mention at least ten other TV and direct to video incarnations according to IMDB), 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' is the first large-scale 3-D release in over two decades. Breaking out of the confines of IMAX, 'Journey' played in thousands of mainstream multiplexes across America (thanks to a concerted effort on behalf of New Line and major theater chains) and managed to secure a more-than-respectable final domestic gross of $100 million. Given the film's flimsy story and wafer-thin characters, that's quite an accomplishment. Clearly. audiences will pay to see just about anything in 3-D, as long as the effects are good and lots of stuff comes flying at their faces in CGI.
The story takes only the barest skeletal outline of Verne's story and hangs a bunch of action sequences along it like a clothesline. Brendan Fraser stars as Professor Trevor Anderson, a schlumpy and unreliable teacher with a taste for adventure. On the eve of the ten-year anniversary of his geologist brother's (Jean-Michael Pare) mysterious disappearance, Trevor takes his teenaged nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) out for a ten-day trip to the chilly wilderness. Soon after they arrive, they meet Hannah (Anita Briem), the daughter of another missing scientist. Within minutes there's a mishap, and the trio find themselves literally falling into the center of the Earth. Their journey back out will be fraught with action, danger, and the solutions to more than a few long-held mysteries.
The 2008 version of 'Journey to the Center of the Earth 'is a failure as a story. The characters are not particularly memorable, so we care little for them right from the get-go. Trevor is such a doofus that quite frankly I hoped he'd fall straight to the Earth's core and explode. It doesn't help that Fraser plays up the manic slapstick, which makes Trevor into even more of a buffoon. Hannah is likewise so loosely sketched that she has little to do but spout scientific stuff and run away from CGI creatures along with Trevor and Josh. It's saying something when the most three-dimensional character in the movie is the little kid -- but Hutcherson can't carry the feeble script all on his own little back, so by the time of the narratively-ridiculous climax we've long stopped caring about any of this Spielberg-lite melodrama.
The real reason to see 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' -- and the only reason the film exists at all -- is to marvel at its 3-D. The effect is diminished on Blu-ray, however, not only by the more home-bound screen size but also the use of red/blue anaglyph 3-D (rather than the full-color we're used to in theaters). The dimensional effect still works well, but the impact is nowhere near the same as it is at the multiplex or on IMAX. Smeared in red and blue, all the endless scenes of actors poking things at the camera or CGI dinosaurs roaring at us become a bit more tiresome. There is so little connective story tissue here that 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' on the home screen starts to feel like an endurance test by the end of the film's scant 92 minutes.
Watching 'Journey to the Center to the Earth' in 2-D only exacerbates the problems. I'm sure I'm not the first reviewer to comment that the film is more akin to an elongated Disneyland ride, or a videogame with a few dialogue scenes thrown in to pad out the action. Without the 3-D, 'Journey' doesn't rank as much at all. There are a few cute moments, and a couple of memorable CGI setpieces, but where's the real magic, the genuine wonder? 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' takes the legitimately awe-inspiring ideas of Verne and turns them into a feeble, rather cynical carnival attraction. That's enough if you just want a pleasant family time-waster on a Saturday night, but it's hard not to feel that 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' could have been so much more.
Billed as a "Limited Edition," this BD-50 dual-layer Blu-ray of 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' includes both 2-D and anaglyph (red/blue) 3-D versions of the film, both in 1080p/VC-1 video (1.85:1).
As the 3-D version has to be watched through red and blue filters, assessing video quality is rather besides the point. I will say that the 3-D effect works quite well. The only other 3-D Blu-ray title I've seen is Disney's recent 'Miley Cyrus & Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds Concert,' but I preferred this presentation a little more. The sense of depth in the middle ground is quite pronounced, with a noticeable false dimensionality that certainly delivers a 3-D experience. The far back is a little flatter, but the majority of the silly 3-D gags occur in the middle ground, so this isn't much of a probably. I only had issues with the extreme foreground, which tended to blur out objects right as they seem to poke you in the eye. Sure, it's a drag that full-color polarized 3-D is not yet possible on Blu-ray, but as far as red/blue anaglyph goes, 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' works quite well.
As for the 2-D version, the transfer stands tall in its own right. This is a bright and colorful film, with a vivid palette that is clean and appealing. Fleshtones are accurate. Detail is strong throughout, with a pleasing sense of depth even without the 3-D and finely textured wide shots and close-ups. The source is pristine, with not a speckle to be found, and the transfer sharp. Unfortunately, the image may be a bit too bright -- contrast appears whitewashed, so blacks are not as inky and deep as they should be. This also dampens colors, sometimes noticeably. Shadow delineation is excellent, however, with even the dimmest areas of the picture boosted so that no detail is lost. I would have preferred a darker, less bloomy presentation, but this is still a fine-looking and well-detailed high-def presentation.
New Line presents 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. There's no high-res audio option, but this is still a slam-bang presentation that's just as over-the-top with effects and action as the feature film.
Once the film's boring opening gets out of the way, the fun can begin. Any scene involving action, special effects or dinosaurs is flush with discrete effects. The rear channels are almost always engaged, and the result is a wonderfully active soundstage. Sounds whoosh and zoom with transparent panning and excellent clarity. Low bass extends to the deepest levels, so my subwoofer got quite a workout. The mix is first-rate in terms of polish and gloss, with every constructed sound robust. Unfortunately, dialogue and even the score is sometimes lost in all this, to the point that it sounds like a rumbling juggernaut with actors mouthing words. Of course, is anyone watching 'Journey for the Center of the Earth' for the dialogue, anyway? Purely in terms of bombastic action, this is a fun mix.
A decent assortment of extras are provided here, but they are on the fluffy side. It's a disappointment we don't get something more in-depth, particularly on the film's 3-D effects. In any case, all video materials are presented in full 1080 HD, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
- Audio Commentary - This track features director Eric Brevig and actor Brendan Fraser. The pair provide for a jovial atmosphere but the commentary lacks depth. Brevig hops around various points, including the story, characters and filming in 3-D, but Fraser adds little else. He simply recaps what's on the screen or fades into silence. I found this track slow-going and, by the end, quite a slog to sit through.
- Featurettes (HD, 19 minutes) - There are three featurettes included, though they are so slim it's hard to justify calling them more than vignettes. The best of the three is the longest, "A World Within a World" (10 minutes). A host of scholarly types take a look at the original Jules Verne novel and analyze (or tear apart) it's scientific foundation. Interesting stuff, too bad this is just not long enough to really dig beneath the surface.
"Being Josh" (6 minutes) tags along on the set with actor Josh Hutcherson. We get the Disney-fied version of what it's like to spend a day on the set of a big action effects movie. Fans of Hutcherson (i.e., tween girls) should appreciate this.
"How to Make Dinosaur Drool" (2 minutes) is even more abbreviated, with Brevig and Hutcherson discussing the effect used during the scene where dinosaur gets all mucky. And that's it.
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'Journey to the Center of the Earth' is a failure as a story -- a hollow remake of a literary classic. Of course, this film only exists to poke things in your eye in 3-D, so on that level it's a fair amount of fun. Though this Blu-ray only offers red/blue anaglyph 3-D, the effect works very well, and the 2-D version also boasts nice video and audio and basic extras. 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' is at least worth a rental on Blu-ray.