Sunday, November 11, 2012

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Warner Bros., New Line, Contra Film, 2012)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, the 2012 sequel to the 2008 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, which was shot in 3-D — as was this sequel (so Revenge of the Creature is no longer the only sequel to a 3-D movie that is itself in 3-D!), though while the DVD of Journey to the Center of the Earth included a 3-D version and came packaged with the glasses needed to see it that way, Journey 2 came in a cheap-jack DVD that included only a 2-D version of the film (though even without the 3-D some of the depth effects were quite impressive and entertaining). Journey 2 has a different director than the first film (Brad Peyton replacing Eric Brevig), different writers (Richard Outten, Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn instead of Michael D. Weiss, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin) and with one important exception, a completely different cast, but it has much the same appeal: a campy kids’ adventure story that doesn’t take itself at all seriously and thereby manages to be considerably more entertaining than some of the dreary superhero films we’ve been put through of late! The cast member the two films have in common is Josh Hutcherson, whom we’d just seen as Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games (somewhat appropriately since both Journey 2 and The Hunger Games put his character in an isolated environment where he stands a good chance of getting killed, though in Journey 2 the dangers are natural rather than human or bio-engineered), repeating his role as Sean Anderson. The conceit of these films is that Jules Verne’s writings are actually non-fiction, cleverly disguised as sci-fi but really accounts of genuine adventures, but for some reason in this episode the character of Sean’s father (played in the original by Brendan Fraser) has disappeared and Sean has been left with a foster couple. His legal guardian is Hank (Dwayne Johnson, the wrestler-turned-actor formerly known as “The Rock,” though out of his wrestling persona he’s actually quite hot looking if you like ’em butch and don’t mind the silly “pec-popping” gag he does at several points in the film), but Sean is quite put out that he’s been removed to this dull home in Dayton, Ohio. At the beginning of the movie he isn’t doing drugs but he’s showing all the other common indicia of movie teen alienation — he’s leading the cops through a merry chase through the nighttime streets of Dayton and treating speed-limit and reckless-driving laws as if they don’t apply to him. In a gimmicky but still entertaining slapstick chase (full of the appealing mechanical gags we’ve seen in a number of the Abbott and Costello movies!) Sean does some crazy leaps through people’s fences with his motorcycle before landing both himself and his bike in a neighbor’s swimming pool. “Care to go for a nighttime swim?” he asks the cops as they stand over the pool, ready to apprehend him, as he emerges in full leather.

Eventually Hank finally manages to connect with this problem child when it turns out Hank was a code-breaker in the Navy and he’s able to decipher a mysterious message Sean got from his grandfather Alexander Anderson (Michael Caine, practically defining “overqualified”) in which the elder Anderson claims to be living on Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, and by piecing together maps from three different novels — Verne’s The Mysterious Island, Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels — the two are able to figure out not only the shape of Mysterious Island but get its latitude and longitude. It turns out to be in an uncharted area of the South Pacific about 200 miles from Palau (perhaps not coincidentally also the location of the fictional “Skull Island” the bulk of the 1933 King Kong took place on) and to be permanently surrounded by a hurricane so it’s unapproachable by aircraft — at least if you still want your aircraft intact and able to fly away from it again. Accordingly Hank and Sean set sail for Palau, where they rent a tourist helicopter from an annoying comic-relief character named Gabato (Luis Guzmán) and Sean meets and immediately falls head-over-heels in love with Gabato’s daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens). They fly into the storm perpetually over Mysterious Island — though Gabato’s helicopter breaks up in the process — and while they’re there they’re menaced by all sorts of oddball dangers, mainly due to the conceit that gravity’s effect on Mysterious Island is so screwed up that things that we’re used to being giant size, like elephants, are the size of lapdogs, while things we’re used to being small, like birds and bees, are huge. The film is full of barely missed giant centipedes, giant electric eels, spooky dark caves through which our intrepid quartet has to travel either to get information or flee danger, and its best scene is one in which they fly across a canyon riding giant bees — and are chased by giant birds who are interested in the bees as one of their principal food sources.

The gimmick is that with the helicopter destroyed, the only way they can get off the island — which is sinking, since every 140 years or so it goes down into the water and then comes back 140 years later (it’s supposedly part of the ancient continent of Atlantis — and you thought Atlantis sank into the Atlantic Ocean? You’re being far more literal than Messrs. Outten, Gunn & Gunn!) — is if they can find the submarine Nautilus (“What good is an exercise machine going to do us now?,” says Gabato in what’s just about his only truly funny line in the film), built by the real-life Captain Nemo (we see a picture of him and he doesn’t look a damned bit like James Mason!) and use it to escape through the water. They find it, but its batteries have got run down over 150 years of disuse and in one of the film’s most outrageous conceits, Hank has to harpoon an electric eel to provide juice to recharge the batteries so the ship can go — whereupon they have to do a slalom run around the rocks of the rapidly sinking island, and Sean uses one of the Nautilus’s remaining torpedoes to blow up a particularly pesky undersea boulder. None of this makes a lick of sense, of course, but it’s a genuinely fun movie, and though I still think Liam Hemsworth (Gale, Peeta’s rival for heroine Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games) is hotter than Josh Hutcherson, he acquits himself quite nicely here. Indeed, facially Hutcherson bears an odd resemblance to John Lennon — he’d probably be good casting, at least physically (I have no idea whether he can sing or they’d need a voice double), if someone decides to make yet another biopic about Lennon or the Beatles. Journey 2 took its lumps from critics, audience members and reviewers (when I looked it up the review that came up was from Claudio Carvalho of Rio de Janeiro, his headline was “When the Trailer Is Better Than the Film,” and he wrote, “The spoiled Sean and the rude Alexander are detestable characters and Gabato is stupid and annoying and never funny as supposed to be. Hank is multi- skilled in codes, hydraulic and electric engineering, medicine, and music and diving. In the end, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a very disappointing adventure”) but I found it richly enjoyable precisely because it did not take itself seriously and was content to be a barely credible, campy romp through adventure-film clichés!