I have seen many films over the last decade, but Journey To The Centre of the Earth (2008)starring Brendan Fraser was not one of them. Fortunately, this had little bearing on my enjoyment of its sequel Journey 2: The Mystery Island (see what they did there?) Both films have taken very loose inspiration from the classic works of Jules Verne, using the literature more like tourism guides rather than adapting any narrative in the conventional sense.
Teenager Sean (Hutcherson) is a true ‘Vernian’ – one who takes the works of Jules Verne literally. The type who Verne himself might have labelled an ‘imbécile’. Reluctantly allowing his ex-Navy stepdad (The Rock) to help him decipher an encrypted code from his grandfather (Caine), young Sean sets forth on an adventure that will lead him to the titular island: to miniature elephants, giant bees, true love and much father/son/grandfather bonding. Aw. Groan.
Where to start? It’s difficult to point to just one image from the myriad of moments that effectively communicate this film’s essence – however, The Rock flying on a giant furry bee while getting covered in a tonne of avian fecal matter gets pretty close. Since his lead role as the Scorpion King (2002), the aptly named thespian talent we otherwise know and love as ex-wrestler Dwayne Johnson, has enjoyed a slippery downward trajectory. Admittedly, it has been a gentle incline because he’s been sliding for over a decade now, and shows little sign of reaching a bottom any time soon …
It’s Michael Caine whose presence provides the biggest mystery. Surely he’s had his years in the creative wilderness – with all that work coming from Christopher Nolan, you’d think he could rest easy on his laurels and enjoy an early retirement from such artless noise. One can only conclude he was listening to the same inner voice that ushered him forth into the world of politics, lending celebrity credibility to David Cameron’s 2010 campaign. Look how that turned out for the UK. This film though, is an even bigger mess. I like to think he thought it was James Cameron he was publicly supporting. If so, that makes sense since he likely made a similar mistake here: forgivable if you’re knocking 80 and not wearing your glasses (3D or otherwise) because at moments, this picture could closely resemble Avatar, what with all those colourful creatures and neon fauna. All except for the clanging fact that it isn’t – it’s islands away from Avatar. Or Jurasic Park. Or Raiders of The Lost Ark. Or any of the other big money spinners – the success of which this film’s army of exec producers are cynically aiming to emulate. It would be more appropriately titled Avatarded.
During the film’s climax Sir Michael is seen flailing around in a briny green screen ocean and I’m reminded of his other dip into cinematic waters: JAWS 4. Mystery solved then. Clearly he has a penchant for island-based, monster-movie sequels. And shameless cash-ins.
The CGI is serviceable and to be fair, it’s all good natured enough – but it’s brain dead. The dialogue smarts and the laughs, while present, are all unintentional. It’s one of those 50kr family adventure movies that you might consider picking up from the DVD box on the counter in the gas station if only to keep the kids entertained for the rest of the drive. My advice would be: DON’T. Your kids may seem to enjoy it – providing they’re under nine (apologies to certain 0-9-year-olds) but the damage won’t be outwardly visible. When they subsequently grow up to be Avatarded, don’t blame me.
Journey to the Mysterious Island (15)
Dir: Brad Peyton, US sci-fi action, 2012, 94 mins;
Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne Johnson, Vanessa Hudgens, Michael Caine, Luis Guzman, Kristin Davis
Premiered: May 3