I am now descending in to the pit of lameness that is Journey To The Center Of The Earth. If I do not make it out alive, please see to it that these letters find their way to the halls of justice at DVD Verdict.
As you can already tell, I do not have high hopes for this expedition. After all, it stars Richard “Treat” Williams and Jeremy “No I’m not Jason” London. Treat Williams is something like a poor man’s Tom Berenger — he took over Berenger’s role in The Substitute for two sequels, which were either made for TV or put out directly on video, I can’t remember which. Like The Substitute deserved sequels. Jeremy London you’ll remember from all those seasons on the recently deceased “Party Of Five,” and as Jason Lee’s sidekick in Mallrats. I can’t think of that movie without thinking of the way he goes from talking at a normal volume for one line, then bellows “She’s f***ing dead!” ten seconds later. No, he wasn’t in Dazed And Confused — that was his twin brother Jason. Doesn’t it look like Jeremy’s trying to squeeze a ham out of his butt every time he tries to show emotion?
Journey To The Center Of The Earth was broadcast on the USA cable network. It’s based on a story by one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, Jules Verne. As you undoubtedly know, I’ve been a long-time fan of Verne’s stories. As a kid, “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” was one of my favorite sci-fi stories, along with H.G. Well’s “The War Of The Worlds.” I’ve only just begun my descent into the DVD, and already I can tell that this made-for-TV version (oh, how those words send shivers down my spine!) has severely messed up the story. The only thing that seems to be taken from Verne’s text is the descent under the earth. In the book, they descend through a volcano in Iceland; in the movie, a crevasse in New Zealand. They’ve made the hyper-intelligent professor into, well, Treat Williams. He boxes to raise funding, and his sole motivation seems to be to prove the theories of Charles Darwin (not mentioned at all in the original text) while not mussing his hair. The professor was rich in the book; this “professor” is funded by a rich woman who wants him to find her husband. Jeremy London plays the nephew character from the novel, but he’s a spineless wussy who looks like he’s constipated.
Will I make it out of this alive?
May 25, 2000
What a rare stroke of luck! I decide to write this review as letters to you, and I find that Jeremy London’s character in Journey To The Center Of The Earth keeps his diary as letters to his homely fiancée!
Since my last letter, I have finished watching “Night One” of Journey To The Center Of The Earth (it was a miniseries, so the disc divides the film into its two broadcast nights). Theodore Lytton (Treat Williams) and his nephew, Jonas, have traveled to New Zealand via ship, financed by rich Alice Hastings (played by Tushka Bergen, who I’ve never heard of…I hope that’s not a stage name). In New Zealand, Theodore and Jonas hook up with a gruff gunrunner named McNiff. He’s played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who was in Mad Max. Miraculously, Alice Hastings shows up just before they leave on their expedition. Apparently, there were several ships crossing the Pacific on the same schedule. That’s just one point that calls for severe suspension of disbelief. There’s plenty more before this is over. A few things happen with supposedly cannibalistic natives, but it’s all just filler. Finally, they start their descent to the center of the earth.
The foursome travels underground for some time. The journey is mostly just filled with needless melodrama and cheap special effects. They finally come to an underground ocean, which they cross on a raft constructed from reeds that must’ve materialized from nowhere. On the other side of the ocean, they kill a very CG dinosaur. You know, computer graphics are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they can create very realistic-looking scenes. Or, they can look more or less exactly like computer graphics. Here, it’s the latter. I’d much rather see old-fashioned stop-motion animation than lousy computer graphics. Stop-motion is cheesy, but it is far more watchable than bad CG, which is lame. Um, let’s see, what else happens. Jonas spots a fetching girl, who the party follows until they are captured by reptilian creatures that look like extras from old “Star Trek” episodes. Theodore even goes toe to toe with one of them. It reminded me of the “Arena” episode, where Captain Kirk battled a fearsome guy in a reptile suit. But I digress. The foursome is saved by natives, who take them back to their village. You can guess what happens next…yep, Alice’s husband is the leader of the tribe. Yawn.
My expedition is scheduled to rest for a couple of days before pressing on through the conclusion of the story. In my next letter, I’ll try to discuss the DVD a bit, before I go any further into this morass. Maybe I’ll talk a little bit about the director too. Writing about this disc may be the end of me.
May 27, 2000
I hope this letter finds you well. Oh, how I long for the gravy days, when I reviewed movies I loved, or at least liked! Sigh. Hopefully, my trek through Journey To The Center Of The Earth will be over soon and I can return to you. As I explained in my last letter, we are encamped for a few days. I’ll take this opportunity to discuss the DVD presentation of Journey To The Center Of The Earth. I realize that you usually skip the technical details of my reviews when you read them, but I am trusting that you will pass these letters on to DVD Verdict and they will certainly be interested.
Journey To The Center Of The Earth‘s two segments, each about 90 minutes in length, are presented on one side of a dual-layered disc. The picture is 4:3 full-frame, matching its television roots. The picture suffers from compression artifacts at every turn, seen mostly in the fine patterns of the 19th century garb. Pixelization is evident in the CG effects, further heightening their lameness. Overall, it resembles the picture from a satellite television feed — which is to say, it is fairly decent, but not up to the caliber of a film-based DVD.
Audio is in mere stereo. It is serviceable, but nothing spectacular.
There are no extras. Perhaps that is a good thing.
Apparently, the producers chose to film in New Zealand and Australia because it’s cheaper. That’s the reasoning behind the filming locations for other lower-budget television adventure shows such as “Xena: Warrior Princess.” It is also an area of the world that is familiar to the director, George Miller. No, not the George Miller who directed Mad Max and Babe: Pig In The City. This is the George Miller who directed The Man From Snowy River and The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter (why hasn’t anyone sued them for false advertising yet? The story obviously ended!). He also directed episodes of the Australian TV show “Five Mile Creek.” Back in the ’80s, it played on the Disney Channel here in the U.S. and was also released on video. I’m pretty sure my family rented every episode. The only reason I mention it is, it’s one of the earliest Australian productions you’ll see Nicole Kidman in that made its way to the States.
I am feeling so exhausted. Hopefully, this journey will be over soon. I pray that it will end safely.
May 28, 2000
We made excellent progress into “Night 2” of Journey To The Center Of The Earth since I last wrote you. However, the expedition is becoming far more perilous. I only have a few moments to write to you…
To recap quickly, Theodore Lytton, his nephew Jonas, their patron Alice Hastings, and their guide McNiff have journeyed far under the earth, and have encountered humans living there, evolving little since the Stone Age. The foursome has journeyed in search of Alice’s husband (played by Bryan Brown, who was in F/X, F/X 2, and Cocktail). They found that he was the leader of a tribe.
Remember how I said Treat Williams was a poor man’s Tom Berenger? Bryan Brown looks and acts and sounds just like a poor man’s Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan. Was the real thing too busy filming Subaru commercials, or was he just afraid appearing in this pile of dreck would spoil his career?
Casper (Alice’s husband) has become drunk with power as the leader of the tribe. But, he is eager to return to the surface with gold ore and a “magical” plant that can cure all illnesses, and can be smoked like tobacco. However, his tribe can’t grow the plants, so he must steal them from a rival tribe. He is captured, and Jonas as well in a rescue attempt…
Danger is upon me. I must go.
May 29, 2000
I barely escaped with my life, but I have finished my trek through Journey To The Center Of The Earth. In all honesty, there is little left to be said, for I do not wish to spoil the ending for anyone daring enough to take this journey themselves. However, I will say that it’s as predictable as Sally Struthers at Dunkin Donuts. It involves earthquakes and waterspouts and the worthless natives (worthless to the plot, I mean).