In 1925, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World became a theatrical juggernaut, based almost entirely on the strength of stop motion dinosaurs, sourced from the hands of Willis O’Brien. In 1960, Irwin Allen remade Lost World, but ditched the stop motion for a slap dash iguana covered in a prosthetic. Audiences didn’t buy it, although calling the creature a Tyrannosaur wasn’t brilliant either.
That’s all relevant here because like those Lost World adaptations, Journey 2 is pulling its structure from famous literature. The irony is that Journey couldn’t come up with any sensible monsters either, although instead of real iguana, someone had to animate one… with teeth. History, however loosely, does repeat itself.
Warner’s sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth writes itself into a rut, savagely attacking not only the Jules Verne source material, but others like Treasure Island. One piece wasn’t enough to fuel summer escapism apparently, as if the Treasure Island aspects actually amount to anything (they don’t).
Journey 2 is structurally stupid, mind-numbingly dumb if you will. With a little more history, Ray Harryhausen created an alarmingly convincing giant bee sequence for the 1961 edition of Mysterious Island. Two leads are inadvertently led directly into the hive where they’re sewn up in amber and need to make a heroic escape. Journey 2’s version? The bees are the friendly types, the villains played by colorful birds. How does it make any sense for the star of Rio to gain top villain billing over a bee in a child’s film? It seems backwards because it is.
The whole thing is a giant excuse for egregious 3D effects, overblown and popping through the screen with such force, it’s a wonder they even allowed it shown in 2D. All that does is expose the blatant nature of the “in your face” shenanigans that add nothing to the narrative, and only bog down a film barely cracking 90-minutes. Whatever spirit was gained by snagging Dwayne Johnson is lost when Juan Guzman begins pegging Johnson’s pecks with berries as a lunch trick. Scratch that. Most of it is lost when the usually enjoyable Guzman is shuffled into a role beneath his talents.
Much of Journey 2 is weighted by an endless series of continuity issues (Hutcherson’s neck cut, sweaty shirts), needless emotional fodder between the family, and wildly bogus science, there’s hardly any time for genuine fun. Action scenes are driven by their prerequisite need to showcase ticket-sucking 3D first, and excitement levels second.
Practically drowning in primaries, Journey 2’s purposeful existence is driven by saturation. Kids love the colors, right? From the island greens to seas of flowers and brilliant browns of Atlantis, there are only a handful of shots that choose to dim their palette for effect. Most of those occur before heading to Sau Paulo in the Dayton home of the family.
Those “home sweet home” interiors also show what the Sony CineAlta cannot do: black levels. Interiors are drained of the boldness that permeates such a wide swatch of this presentation. The same goes for scenes inside caves or at night as Johnson delivers some pulverizing vocals by the campfire. When they finally have a grasp on the material -the closing moments inside the Nautilus- it’s too late.
Still, the niggling issues with the black levels are squelched by the enormity of the texture and brilliance of the dazzlingly colorful visual effects. The feel of this island is intact at home, those dramatic pauses to soak up the scale of specific talking points still felt on Blu-ray. With well controlled compression schemes, Journey 2’s grandest (and some would say cheesiest) elements are conveyed with reverence for the material.
When the camera swoops in close, the texture will adorn the actor’s faces. The same goes for their tight shots on the jungle, where foliage is spectacular in how deep and rich it can look, all without any sore spots. That comes with a small caveat which is noise. Digital effects play a role in the screen crawling with noise as often as low light will. It’s a rather distracting layer of digital buzz that swarms the image and sucks a little bit of life, enough to bring this one down to reality.
Bringing into its own realm of realism is the 3D presentation. While the expectation lies with the action scenes, it is the breathtaking beauty of enormous depth of the island that sells the 3D. Miles of trees, plants, and animal life are visible with remarkable distance. In flight during the bee ride, looking over the rolling ponds and hills is a marvel.
That aside, those major moments of action are a little dull. Many carry a pace too quick to really appreciate the 3D. Journey 2 has to slow down to appreciate the material. During the finale as the Nautilus careens underwater, rocks begin falling in front of the cabin, and there, with the slower pace of movement, is the scale sold. It is a rare case where the more open aspect ratio is a true winner in scaling up the size of the action.
Want a buzzkill? Check out the early storm sequence in Journey 2, which feels as if the DTS-HD track was suffocated under a pillow and then stepped on by giant iguana. There’s no zest to what should be a wide, open, and full moment as the helicopter is sucked into a massive twister. A few stray parts will whoosh by, but the rain and wind seem all but forgotten, mashed together with the stereos while being lost in the bustle.
Journey 2 does get better as it lurches forward, some jungle ambiance nicely peppered around the space, and some cave work carries a definite echo effect. The creepy crawlies slink around in the surrounds or work through the stereos, showing that yes, this disc can split up a few channels of audio.
Major actions are up to par, but not much more. That’s probably the greater disappointment when laid out in text. The giant lizard doesn’t produce much of a pounding in the LFE and it sort of begrudgingly powers through the jungle. Emphasis on scale isn’t there, or rather, not in line with what the images show. Some island rumblings as the ground begins to give out? Those are more definitive.
As a final attempt at a showstopper sequence, a brief struggle with an electric eel sends electricity cackling through the speakers as a warning sign. It drifts and sways as needs be, tracking on cue. An escape underneath the collapsing island leads to a slightly out of balance torpedo shot that bursts above the volume line, but still leaves the listener on a vivid note.
Note: The 3D disc has no extras. They are all contained on the 2D version.
Are You Strong Enough to Survive Mysterious Island? takes a kitchen sink approach to featurettes, cramming all of the loosely educational material and behind-the-scenes fluff into an annoyingly interactive interface. There’s a bunch of stuff buried in there if you wish to look for it, but the majority isn’t worth the time.
A gag reel portrays a strictly in-control set since there’s only a minutes worth of stuff, and deleted scenes are worth watching for two reasons: the hilarious explanation for how the animals will live once the island is sunk, and the priceless unfinished effects.
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