Eric Brevig’s version of Jules Vernes’ Journey to the Center of the Earth is not a film I would usually comment on, but several things piqued my interest. First, I’ve always been something of a sucker for stereoscopic films ever since seeing Bwana Devil, the film that started the first wave of 3D films, when it came out in 1952. Its recent resurgence is something I look on with interest, though I’ve limited my recent viewing to animated films such as Meet the Robinsons and Beowulf. And as I’ve recently taken up teaching the history of visual effects, it was also time for me to check up on what’s happening in the “live-action” side of things when special effects are involved.
The film, which has a modern scientist discovering that Verne’s book is science fact and not science fiction, is a rather pedestrian affair. As expected, it has the usual, ill-conceived money shots, in which objects and fluids of all sorts are aimed or thrown at the viewer, which have plagued 3D movies since Bwana Devil. Better is a sequence of a roller coaster ride in a mining shaft straight out of Ben Stassen’s Devil’s Mine Ride, an early CGI ride film.
Then there are the visual effects, which is interesting since the film is Eric Brevig’s feature directing debut, especially given that most of his recent credits mostly were as visual effects supervisor on such films as The Day After Tomorrow. (Are visual effects, like TV commercials and music videos to be the new path to directing movies?) Though most people will focus on things like the mine ride and prehistoric beasts, including the obligatory T-Rex, I was intrigued by the problems involving the film’s use of matte paintings.
Matte paintings have been around movies from its very earliest days and continue to be an effective (and economical) means for creating environments ranging from simple houses to vast panoramas (as in the scene above). Matte artists have effectively adapted to digital technology in recent years, but stereo imagery seems to have posed a something of a problem in Journey. The thing is that the matte paintings sometimes look like paintings or backdrops better suited to a stage play than to a dimensional environment. I suspect this is not as evident in the 2D version of the film, but the film’s matte artists have not been able to effectively adapt to 3D. I would think matte artists will eventually overcome this challenge, but it’s always interesting to see how the film world copes with new technologies.
By the way, if you do see the film, stick around for Bruce Schluter’s animated end title sequence, which makes much better use of the mine ride material than the film itself.