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Journey to the Lowest Common Denominator

Jules Verne-inspired movie is interested only in its 3-D effects.

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Jules Verne-inspired movie is interested only in its 3-D effects. Being poked at or spit on would seem the unlucky fortune of a fifth-grader or your local zoo animal. But from the perspective of a movie like "Journey to the Center of the Earth," it's entertainment. A contemporary action-adventure inspired by the classic Jules Verne tale, the movie stars Brendan Fraser and the newish technology of Real D cinema, which still requires you to wear glasses like old-fashioned 3-D, but looks more realistic when, say, a trilobite twitters his antennae over you. The movie is essentially junk-food cinema -- specializing in those types of phantom surprises, but depressingly flat and ordinary in most other respects.飼

Rather than adapt the source material, "Journey" imagines its characters have read Jules Verne's book and are now following it as a guide for poking around in giant volcanic elevators. Trevor (Brendan Fraser) takes his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) on an adventure to find the boy's father, who they suspect took Verne's book seriously, all the way into a dangerous crevasse in Iceland. Along the way they pick up Hannah (Anita Briem), another scientist's orphan, who helps them fall into a giant hole leading hundreds of miles below the surface. From there they must find a way out past all the illustrations in their copy of the book, including man-eating plants, man-eating fish and man-eating dinosaurs.

It all happens lickety-split, with an assortment of frights but very little explanation or attention to detail. (One particular point of unintentional humor is the characters' backpacks, frequently left behind in one scene and slung over their shoulders in the next.) The movie is interested only in being amazing -- whether it's a close-up of hundreds of glowing birds swirling in flight, or a close-up of one glowing new 2009 Toyota. How any of the neat-looking stuff got below seems a question similarly unfit for asking.飼

True, you might not go to a movie like this hoping for serious discussion on underground brontosauruses, but pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo is the spice of this kind of material's life. Fraser's character's observation of the red stuff at the bottom of a volcano shaft is more typical: "It's lava. Magma." Thanks, pal. I think even the fifth-graders already got that. (PG) 92 min. 飼S

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