A Big Hole

by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & am an unabashed sucker for 3D movies and have been since I was a kid. I remember seeing The Mask -- the 1961 horror film, not the Jim Carrey comedy -- at the Franklin Park Theatre, and dutifully putting on my blue and red cellophane-cardboard glasses every time an offscreen voice intoned, "Put the mask on now" -- for which I was rewarded with nightmarish visions jumping to life. I was in the same grindhouse when I saw the William Castle horror thriller 13 Ghosts, at which viewers were supposed to put on their headache-inducing glasses to "see" the floating ghosts, and I would've been fine except for the idiot who sneaked up behind me and grabbed me by the throat just as the ghosts attacked.

These days, I'll go to IMAX movies from time to time and get happily freaked out by moray eels leaping at me. More recently, I was impressed by the 3D U2 film - this time it was Bono doing the lunging -- and the bizarre Beowulf, in which Anthony Hopkins did a nude scene, and the vicious Grendel ripped off the arms and legs of a victim and threw them at me ... and I ducked!

Which brings us to Journey to the Center of the Earth, an unnecessary remake of the great 1959 classic (featuring a naked Pat Boone!), based on the Jules Verne novel about ... well, the title kinda says it all. There are explorers; there's a deep, deep hole in Iceland; they, like a herd of White Rabbits, go down it. You get the picture.

With the new version, the picture is pretty much everything you get. First-time feature director Eric Brevig supervised the visual effects on Men in Black, Total Recall, and The Day After Tomorrow, and it's obvious that he's infatuated with making things jump off the screen. But do we really need a bathroom sequence in which a moving toothbrush goes right by our collective heads, or the water spat from someone's mouth ... umm, let's not go there.

Those effects never go away. Big rocks fall on us, big monsters (an underground cave-dwelling T. rex) come running at us, a yo-yo ... a yo-yo? This guy is trying to dazzle us with yo-yo tricks?

Yes, there are some nicely composed shots that show off a big-time depth of field, and that put you right in the middle of it -- which is what good 3D is really all about. But the film takes too much time with the gimmicks. Hey, at least the lightweight plastic glasses are of the polarized type -- no more red-blue headaches.

But the real problem here is the story and acting and directing. It's simply not enough to boggle the eyes if other aspects of the filmmaking-storytelling process aren't up to snuff.

Brendan Fraser does what he can to play Trevor Anderson, the slightly addled scientist-teacher who realizes that his long-lost brother might have been on to something when he set out for Iceland for some volcanic research. Before you can say "lava lamp," he's off to the mid-Atlantic island, with, for no good reason, his sullen nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) in tow. The purpose of the visit is to study volcanic activity, so they hire a guide (in the first film it was a lanky guy; here it's a curvy gal). But things don't go as planned. Running for cover from a storm, they hide in a cave, and get trapped there by a rockslide ... until they walk where they're not supposed to walk. Then they fall, and fall, and fall. It might be the longest fall in movie history, and it's kind of funny.

And yeah, they find the center, and more 3D effects come a-popping, and Fraser enthusiastically overacts, and the kid remains sullen, and the gal stays curvy. It all comes down to the Verne book actually playing a part in the film, and questions of whether it was based on fact.

Well that's just plain silly. But maybe there really is a group of dedicated fans who call themselves Vernians, and maybe there really are happy little glowing birds that flit around and jump out into audiences and -- why not? -- fields of magnetic rocks that can float through the air!

I never thought much about it before. But I had much more fun watching Pat Boone cover up his nakedness with a live sheep.


Rated PG

Directed by Eric Brevig

Starring Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem, Seth Meyers