'Journey 2' tries to do and be a great many things in a short amount of time. How well it succeeds at any of them makes the difference between it being a fun and exciting thrill ride for the whole family or one of the tamest and most vapid voyages into seemingly dangerous territory. After suffering through 90-minutes of very much PG-rated action, I'm leaning heavily towards the latter, which I admit is largely my fault for expecting a bit more than what is seen in previews. And unless you're so young as to be frightened by the sight of ginormous red ants lifting trees by their roots or prehistoric electric eels the size of a house, I'm guessing you'll probably feel the same.
As a loose sequel to 2008's 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' with Brendan Fraser, the family comedy tries to recapture the same audience which made the first movie a hit. It succeeded for the most part and shockingly surpassed its predecessor at the box office by a fairly decent margin, guaranteeing a second sequel in the near future, which is already hinted at by film's end anyways. In spite of making more money, the story is less funny and not the least bit exciting, which I would argue is quite a challenge given how terrible the first movie actually is. The extent of the humor ranges from Luis Guzmán acting the clown, the presence of giant bird poop, and bouncing berries off of Dwayne Johnson's pulsating pecs. And those are the moments I found myself chuckling.
As some kind of heart-warming family adventure, the movie tries to insert a dramatic subplot that sees Sean's (Josh Hutcherson) hokey bad-boy persona at odds with his well-to-do, well-intentioned stepfather, Hank (Johnson), but apparently, the filmmakers' definition of a problem teen is a straight-A student who's smart enough to break into a satellite research center so he can boost his radio signal. In the first minutes, we quickly surmise Sean is a completely ungrateful, off-putting little jerk. You know the cliché: boy hates his stepdad for no genuine reason. When we meet his grandfather (Michael Caine), we also realize where he gets his ugly attitude. Essentially, as far as the filmmakers see it, acting unappreciative, annoying and insulting strangers like grandpa does signifies family troubles. There's no surprise where this is going, especially when it's clear Hank makes a fantastic father. Indeed, it only makes the journey that more mind-numbingly boring and frustrating to watch.
As a sci-fi fantasy, the closest we come to science-fiction is Captain Nemo's legendary submarine, Nautilus, and the fantasy aspect is pretty much the result of a weak imagination. As harsh as that may sound, it's a fair assessment since we're talking about a story where adventurers discover an island with so many possibilities. It's reasonable to expect something a tad more fanciful than everyday creatures simply turned monstrous, or perchance exploring the island a bit longer than a couple days. There's never a feeling that the group, which includes Guzmán's goofy helicopter pilot and Vanessa Hudgens as his daughter, is ever in any real mortal danger, and not once was I swept away by the adventure. The chase with the colossal lizard is more of a light jog, and the aerial dogfight with the enormous bees is a cross between 'Return of the Jedi' and 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids' and none of the fun.
'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island' toys with many of our childhood imaginations — stranded on an exotic island like the 'Swiss Family Robinson' or 'Robinson Crusoe' but with overgrown creatures. In fact, this adventure is sparked not only by Verne's classic 1874 novel, but also by Stevenson's Treasure Island and Swift's Gulliver's Travels — all beloved childhood favorites. The early sequence where they discover the secret map is probably the movie's most clever aspect, other than figuring a way to erase Fraser's memory from the story. The problem comes from director Brad Peyton, whose only other filmmaking duties of note is 'Cat & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,' unable to make the expedition into the fantastically unknown something thrilling or rousing. Instead, he treats the entire film like a five-dollar tour on Guzmán's rickety, dilapidated helicopter.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'Journey 2' to Blu-ray as a three-disc combo pack with a code for an UltraViolet digital copy. The first two Blu-rays are Region Free, BD50 discs with one the 3D version while the second is the 2D release with all the supplements. Inside a regular blue keepcase with a lenticular slipcover is also DVD-9 copy. After a promo trailer for Warner 3D, viewers are taken to a rather ugly main menu window with a photo still and music.
Much like its 2D counterpart, the journey to 'Mysterious Island' improves dramatically with a stunning video presentation. Shot natively in digital 3D, the MVC encode looks practically flawless, taking advantage of the technology in several scenes, especially while on the island. Some visual tricks tend to feel like obvious gimmicks, but thankfully, they never detract from the enjoyment of the picture quality. The most notable moment is Hutcherson and Guzmán bouncing berries off of Johnson's gyrating pecs. In fact, it's pretty amusing seeing the little red balls jump out of the screen. Other sequences are put to better use, such as the bee ride and the gang's escape from giant birds. The actors and CG creatures often float in midair, independent of their surroundings.
When filmmakers are not pushing such stunts, the picture displays some fairly amazing depth with terrific separation between objects. The 3D camerawork is employed with appreciable subtlety, focused on generating a three-dimensional that's surprisingly immersive. Unfortunately, it's not always consistent as several sequences, especially during the darker, poorly-lit segments, the image appears a bit flatter than others. It's not a complete loss, however, since a majority of the presentation has background information penetrate deep into the screen. The walkthrough in the city of Atlantis is particularly impressive with a great pop-up book feel to it and characters genuinely seem to wander around in the distance.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the freshly-minted transfer is razor-sharp and squeaky-clean from beginning to end. Fine lines around foliage, local wildlife and the architecture of the ancient civilization are very distinct and detailed. Pores, wrinkles and other trivial blemishes are apparent while hair and clothing are clearly outlined. The rest of the cinematography displays lush, sumptuous primaries and an extensive array of vivid secondary hues, giving the family comedy a pulsating, animated quality that leaps off the screen. Contrast is vibrant and pitch-perfect with brilliant, clean whites while black levels are inky rich and luxurious, providing the image with plenty of pop and a great deal of depth. In the end, the high-def video is simply astounding.
Although the audio doesn't quite match the visuals — meaning, it's not as equally impressive — the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is still pretty enjoyable, especially when the group arrives on the island. Discrete effects are employed often to enhance the soundfield and generate some decent ambience. Action sequences, in particular, provide nice moments with good panning and directionality. The problem is the design never feels immersive or convincing and given the movie's setting, it's fair to expect a bit more from the rear activity to surround and pull viewers into the scenery.
The rest of the lossless mix delivers clean, precise vocals in the center of the screen and excellent channel separation. But much like the surrounds, the fronts are not all that striking or exciting despite coming with a nice, broad imaging and lots of off-screen commotion. The mid-range is detailed and for the most part full-bodied, yet the upper frequencies are never pushed very hard and the soundstage can be sometimes feel somewhat narrow and limited. Low bass is adequate with good depth in a few scenes although it's nothing that will give the system a lengthy workout.
All things considered, the high-rez track is satisfying and ample enough for a light family comedy.
Two supplements which can also be found on the DVD release.
'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island' is a loose sequel to 2008's 'Journey to the Center of the Earth,' minus the Fraser. Despite being a slightly bigger hit than the first movie, this family fantasy adventure is less funny and less exciting than the its predecessor, but the arduous journey to see it through to the end is just as grueling and tiresome. There is very little sense of adventure or excitement in its entire 90-minute runtime. The Blu-ray, however, arrives with a stunning 3D presentation and excellent audio. While supplements are the same as the DVD release, one small interactive exclusive adds a bit of fun to the package, making it a decent purchase for the little ones in the family.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.