Given what we know about the natural world in the 21st century, it's hard to understand how fervently Jules Verne's 1864 novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth, gripped imaginations. "Hollow Earth" theories were widely accepted as a scientific possibility. Johannes Kepler and Edmund Halley had speculated that the earth might be composed of a series of concentric spheres.
Needless to say, we no longer believe in the possibility of worlds within worlds in any literal sense. Thus Walden Media's latest adaptation of Verne's pioneering sci-fi text takes a while to get off the ground. The first 20 minutes or so are leaden, as the film tries to establish a scientific pretext for the 21st century. The character development is also a bit ham-handed as the film tries to establish a relationship between Professor Treavor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) and his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson), son of his deceased brother.
That said, by the time we actually get to the center of the earth, the film (rated PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments) takes off like a rocket. It's one thoroughly enjoyable and well-staged action set piece after another-a roller-coaster ride through an abandoned mine, jumping across rocks floating on a magnetic field, fighting off dangerous sea creatures, running from dinosaurs, and so on. The sense of adventure is driven home by the fact that the film is in 3-D-used for good effect in nearly every scene.
The film also doesn't make a mockery of Verne's text; while this is certainly a new adaptation, many key elements of the book remain. The characterization also gets much better as the film goes on, and at 90 minutes the film is not overlong.
It also drives home some positive messages for kids: The value of scientific knowledge is repeatedly extolled, as is the virtue of reading. The need for self-reliance at a young age is also a welcome theme.
The film is yet another solid effort by Walden to provide high-quality, live-action family entertainment.