Elevated by Effects

In 3-D, 'Center of the Earth' is great fun; in 2-D, it's stupid and silly

This review only applies to the 3-D version of this movie. There is no reason for you to watch unless you are wearing the funny glasses while bobbing and weaving in your seat. As a 3-D theatrical experience, it's quite a gas, but as a stand-alone movie experience, it probably kind of sucks.

I can't really tell you how bad it is in 2-D, because I was, indeed, wearing the funny glasses and ducking out of the way when flying man-eating fish were coming at my face. However, I did flip my glasses up a couple of times to see how the thing played without them. It was blurry and all, but I could tell that the movie was sort of boring and stupid. The reason to see this movie is for the groundbreaking 3-D effects. It's like going on a Disneyland ride, without the lines and large souvenir bills.

Brendan Fraser, back this summer with a vengeance in this film and the upcoming second Mummy sequel, is a decent star for this sort of thing. He plays scientist Trevor Anderson, whose fellow scientist brother, Max, went missing years ago. Max was a superfan of Jules Verne's original novel, and the film cleverly indicates that the novel was based on the truth. The book suggested that there were volcanic shafts leading to the Earth's core, and Max disappeared while searching for them.

Trevor, while looking after his nephew (the ever-reliable teen actor Josh Hutcherson), spies a seismic occurrence that matches up with some notes his brother left behind, so he and the kid head off to Iceland. They meet up with a mountain guide (Anita Briem); this leads to that, and they eventually find themselves falling thousands of miles into the center of the Earth. This locale is filled with flying birds, the before-mentioned nasty fish, dinosaurs and more--with each of these things providing way-cool 3-D opportunities.

As for the 3-D, let's just say your eyes will never be bored. The film is astonishing to watch in both its fantasy and normal-world sequences. Hell, it's even damn cool when Fraser spits his toothpaste into a sink. And, as I reported in my U2 3D review earlier this year, the new technology allows for simple, sunglass-like devices rather than the blue-and-red headache-inducers of yesteryear. The strain on the eyes is minimal, and the experience is mostly pain-free, unless you are attending the movie with a real asshole or something.

The film provides some killer sequences, including the fall into the center of the Earth that lasts quite a few minutes. The fall is punctuated by an underwater sequence that had me gasping. (It also had me wishing for another 3-D Jaws movie. That one from the '80s with Dennis Quaid was terrible. The new technology provides a chance for 3-D Jaws redemption. Get Louis Gossett Jr. on the phone!)

There's a raft sequence that is probably the film's best, during which our heroes are attacked by flying predator fish. The sequence also includes sea monsters, one of which managed to scare the hell out of me. Yes, I'm man enough to admit it when a movie monster scares me.

Fraser and Hutcherson do battle with an impressive dinosaur in a sequence that rivals the best moments of Jurassic Park, although I'd still give the edge to Spielberg; that T-Rex intro scared me to death. (OK ... I am truly a wuss when it comes to movie monsters and should stop sharing this particular weakness.) Overall, most of the attempts to impress with 3-D work quite effectively.

As for the film's intellectual content, it's rather void. It really is just a setup for one 3-D trick after another. Folks who don't seek out theaters with digital 3-D will be severely let down: You don't want to watch this as a regular 2-D movie.

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