So rammed with shit! did-they-really-just-do-that moments is Brad Peyton’s quasi-sequel to 2008’s Journey To The Center Of The Earth, that after a while I began to suspect it of parody. I’ll recount the most impressive WTF?! moment in full. Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson), the only returning character from that poorly-received original, is sulking in his bedroom, swatting over a coded message radioed in by his long-lost grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine). The lad’s beefy stepdad, Hank (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), enters, hoping to spend some quality bonding time with his newly adopted sprog, and, lo and behold, his marines service helps to crack the code. Following a mad scramble through chests and boxes in the attic, he and Sean are faced with three books: Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Dazzlingly, despite their differing centuries of writing, the film implies that these authors were members of an exclusive explorers club, and that the scraps of map in the front sleeve of each book will, when combined, reveal one secret location – the titular mysterious island. Strap yourselves in folks – it’s gonna be a bumpy ride…
Verne’s eponymous 1874 novel receives the sole ‘inspired by’ credit from screenwriters Mark and Brian Gunn (cousin of Troma alumni James), although their story takes nothing from the source but its title, and Jules Férat’s original illustrations have been discarded in favour of an aesthetic somewhere between Yes album covers (Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe) and that odd in-the-crate world of The Cat In The Hat (Welch, 2003). Actually, Journey 2 owes a much greater debt to Cy Endfield’s stunning 1961 adaptation, starring the legendary Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo, and showcasing breathtaking effects work from maestro Ray Harryhausen (whose Super Dynamation process is much preferred over grubby 3D). Of course, this ‘adaptation’ plays fast and loose with all sorts of contradicting sci-fi / fantasy mythology, as the island is revealed to be the sunken city of Atlantis; previously sampled by authors diverse as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Arthur Conan Doyle. This city is apparently home to Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, and its topsy-turvy nature means that small animals are rendered large, and large animals small (resulting in some cute pint-sized elephants for the kids). Not even cartographers could make sense of Journey 2‘s narrative mapping, but fear not, for story is the last thing on anyone’s mind…
Instead, Peyton (Hollywood’s go-to guy for lame sequels; he helmed 2010’s equally unnecessary Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore) places emphasis on special effects and set-pieces, but this is where the film’s problems become most evident. Journey 2‘s world is so densely wrapped in digital cling film, so sickly and inanimate, that nothing in it – including the giant topsy-turvy beasties – pose as a genuine threat to our heroes. Consider the scene where Caine and Johnson ride bareback on humungous bees, careering through the thick, soupy jungle, and dodging attacks from the monstrous hummingbirds on their tail. Did it ever feel to you like they were in danger? Endfield’s film had giant creatures too, and I still vividly recall the nightmares they gave me as a youngster. Remember that giant crab, which was actually a giant crab – the real, tiny creature was disemboweled, cleaned, fitted with an internal armature and then projected, at 100x its original size, into the live-action frame! Harryhausen’s monsters – including octopuses, prehistoric birds and, yes, giant bees – carried real physical weight; they had shape, texture and dimension, moving in accordance to their own limbs and sockets, and therefore they represented a genuine threat. Of course, nobody understood or could explain Harryhausen’s process in 1961, and few could now, so the monsters still feel native to that world – organically grown in hermetic isolation. In the heavily green-screened world of Journey 2, everything can be explained, and therefore no danger or tension mustered by Peyton can be sustained. We don’t care. We know Sean will get home safe, no matter how well pixellated the electric eel is.
All this time and I’ve neglected to mention rest of the plot. Following their earlier revelation, Sean and Hank search for a pilot to fly them out to the mysterious island. Desperate for the $1000 fee, the ever-lovable Luis Guzmán accepts, and his teen daughter, played by Vanessa Hudgens, tags along for the ride. Naturally there’s a crowbarred-in romance between her and Sean, which acts as another bonding agent for him and Hank, who advises his stepson to win her heart by popping berries off his pecks. Yes. This actually happens. Guzmán’s strained pratfalls plague most of the first act, but once Caine enters the film, driving the exposition engine toward its final destination, some surprisingly witty banter emerges between him and Johnson, livening up the otherwise insipid proceedings. Ultimately though, the message is clear: when Brendan Fraser, the man who once accepted roles in Dudley Do-Right (Wilson, 1999), Bedazzled (Ramis, 2000) and Furry Vengeance (Kumble, 2010), declines the paycheck to reappear in the sequel to his last significant box office hit, you know the shit’s hit the fan – and it hath done so royally in this ludicrous, albeit sporadically entertaining adventure romp.
The Disc / Extras
Perfectly functional DVD, although (and I’m cautious of recommending you spend more money on this one) you’ll really need the Blu-Ray to milk the most out of Journey 2‘s palette – its colours are cartoonishly exaggerated, and they’ll look crisper and better defined in HD. The smudgy green-screen and ropey CGI might not be improved by this process, however, and certainly the 3D edition is an expense too far…
The extras are expectedly slim, comprising an unfunny gag reel and six minutes of deleted scenes. Mostly it’s just exposition which I’m glad Peyton removed, but there’s one solid Scarface gag which made me smile, and might actually be funnier than anything in the final cut.
Director: Brad Peyton
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine
Runtime: 94 min