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Journey to the Center of the Earth (PG) **½

Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, and Anita Briem in New Line Cinema's release of Eric Brevig's "Journey to the Center of the Earth."
Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, and Anita Briem in New Line Cinema's release of Eric Brevig's "Journey to the Center of the Earth."

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

There are two ways to see Journey to the Center of the Earth: In plain old two dimensions and, in theaters equipped with the proper projectors, in 3-D format. The second option is definitely the way to go.

A brisk, undemanding adventure aimed squarely at the family market, Journey is completely passable in 2-D. But viewing it through 3-D glasses not only quadruples the movie’s entertainment value, it also explains why characters are constantly thrusting things at the camera. First-time director Eric Brevig is shameless about giving the audience its 3-D’s worth, but the technology is so good, you only wish he’d do it even more often.

Shot using the same cameras James Cameron devised for his 3-D IMAX documentary Ghosts of the Abyss, Journey doesn’t wear out your eyes or give you a headache the way old 3-D movies did. And the image is so clear and the depth of field so deep that every shot in the film is a marvel to look at, even when it’s just people standing around in a room.

Fortunately, most of the movie takes place deep underground, where a geologist (Brendan Fraser), his 13-year-old nephew (Josh Hutcherson) and a mountain guide (Anita Briem) discover Jules Verne’s 1864 novel was really a work of nonfiction.

Yes, there are T. rexes, man-eating plants, glow-in-the-dark birds and all kinds of other unnatural critters dwelling deep beneath the ground. Although the film’s special effects are not going to be nominated for an Oscar next year, the 3-D makes them a lot easier to forgive (I guarantee the flying piranhas will make you jump out of your seat: You won’t see them coming).

A former visual effects supervisor, Brevig also orchestrates a couple of terrific action setpieces, including a vertigo-enducing roller coaster ride on mine carts that tops a similar sequence from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This brief, modest movie, which gains considerable charm from Fraser’s excellent comic timing, has no pretensions other than to deliver what it promises: high tech, in-your-face thrills. If you want a more complicated story or more plausible scientific theories, you can always read the book.

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Anita Briem, Josh Hutcherson

Director: Eric Brevig

Screenwriters: Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin

Producers: Charlotte Huggins, Beau Flynn

A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 92 minutes. Some scary encounters with dinosaurs and flying piranhas. Playing at area theaters.