EmptyOpens: Friday, July 11 (Warner Bros.)
If Scholastic had published the 1864 Jules Verne classic, it might have resembled "Journey to the Center of the Earth," a kid-friendly telling of the oft-filmed sci-fi yarn.
Shot implementing a 3-D process that's easy on the eyeballs and a lighter touch that ensures things don't get too intense for younger adventurers, this first feature by veteran visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig has its transporting, if benign, charms.
Granted the other-worldly excursion has that prefab, carefully calibrated feel of a theme park ride. The New Line & Walden Media presentation, which premiered during the weekend at the Los Angeles Film Festival, should play well with its targeted family demographic, especially in RealD-equipped theaters.
Where Verne's original novel started out in Germany and the 1959 James Mason-Pat Boone version was set in Scotland, the junior edition takes place in America (technically Montreal), where Brendan Fraser's Trevor Anderson is a college professor and expert in the field of plate tectonics.
Anderson and his brother Max also had been on the verge of a major geological breakthrough prior to the latter's disappearance in an expedition in Iceland years earlier.
Now, Anderson and his brother's teenage son, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), attempt to pick up his trail with the help of a pretty Icelandic mountain guide (Anita Briem) and a dog-eared copy of the Verne novel.
Director Brevig -- working from a serviceable if safe on the surface script credited to Michael Weiss and the busy team of Jennifer Flackett & Mark Levin -- keeps things moving along at a pleasant clip (with the help of a trio of editors) while coaxing amiably energetic performances out of his three leads.
He also manages to steer clear of most of those hoary, "comin'-at-ya"-type 3-D cliches in his use of the flexible Fusion System process developed by James Cameron and cinematographer Vince Pace, instead relying on the added dimension to heighten the hyper-real imagery, overseen by visual effects supervisor Christopher Townsend.
Wonder if he saved enough unused footage for that theme ride?
Production: New Line Cinema & Walden Media. Cast: Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem. Director: Eric Brevig. Screenwriters: Michael Weiss, Jennifer Flackett & Mark Levin. Producers: Charlotte Huggins, Beau Flynn. Executive producers: Toby Emmerich, Brendan Fraser, Mark McNair, Tripp Vinson. Director of photographer: Chuck Schuman. Production designer: David Sandefur. Music: Andrew Lockington. Editor: Paul Martin Smith, Dirk Westervelt, Steven Rosenblum.
Rated PG, 93 minutes.