The cliché is that the book is always better than the film adaptation, and this certainly holds true for “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” which is loosely based on Jules Verne’s “The Mysterious Island,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” In this case, “loosely based” translates into randomly stealing characters, events, and objects from all three books and inserting them into a totally unrelated story. It is difficult to make a film out of glorified fanfiction, but “Journey 2” is exactly that. In stripping its source material of any of the social criticism or detailed characterization that has won the original novels lasting acclaim, “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” becomes a curiously hollow film, composed of superficial glances at what should be a much more compelling environment.
These flaws are evident from the film’s opening moments. “Most think the works of Jules Verne were science fiction...but Vernians know better,” drawls a dreary voice-over. Vernians, as everyone who saw the original “Journey to the Center of the Earth: 3D” knows, are a loosely knit organization of Jules Verne fanatics who are determined to chase down the fantastic environments and creatures he described in his novels. Our hero, the teenage whiz kid Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) is one of these obsessives, and when he discovers that his grandfather Anthony (Michael Caine) has found the titular island, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump until he and his stepfather Hank (Dwayne Johnson) try to locate it themselves. Along the way, they realize that the source material not only includes Verne’s island, but also the worlds of Stevenson and Swift.
Sadly, the critique of human nature in Jonathan Swift’s works or the ambiguous villainy of Long John Silver are absent, putting the screenwriter in the awkward position of looking as if he took “Gulliver’s Travels” literally. Even though these satirical overtones would have complicated an already muddled film, the question arises as to why the filmmakers bothered to reference Verne, Stevenson, and Swift at all: the elements they casually borrow are so distorted and subverted that they become nearly unrecognizable. The famous Captain Nemo, for instance, is referenced often; the fact that Verne wrote him as an Indian exile crusading against the British Empire is not. In the end, when the characters speak of Nemo or Bromdignagians or any other element taken from the source material, it comes across as little more than a name drop.
Of course, even a very loose adaptation of Jules Verne might entail some visually dazzling scenes, and there are two shots in “Journey 2” that might only be described as astonishing. The first depicts a character falling into a gigantic egg, screaming at a lizard fetus, and getting drenched in amniotic fluid. The second shows Johnson pumping his pectoral muscles and screaming at Hutcherson to “feed them” with berries.
Overall, however, “Journey 2” is an exceedingly weak attempt at a visually interesting thrill ride. As a 3D movie with an idiotic plot, it should at least have a strong sense of environment. Instead, it’s a film that doesn’t bother to define any of its various locales; it simply moves from one to the next at an absurdly rapid pace. Though the relentless forward motion mainly serves to hinder the audience from fully appreciating each setting, it has other distinctly negative effects on the dialogue.
Although the acting is generally passable, the performances are deeply diminished by this fast-paced script, which seems like it was written according to the first rule of improvisation: always say yes. For example, when the characters first land on the island’s beach, they almost immediately discover a cave, which immediately gives them reason to enter it. There is never a second thought or objection raised to recklessly rushing willy-nilly across these dangerous environs. Scarcely any time has passed in the jungle—they already have left the cave—before the characters run to a makeshift tree house, and almost immediately after that they walk over to an ancient city.
Indeed, it’s difficult to see where “Journey 2” might have gone right. The writing and general atmosphere are deeply subpar, and the actors don’t deliver performances that could elevate the film out of the realm of pulp. Perhaps its near-total failure may be the film’s eventual salvation; it is not impossible that the film should become a midnight movie and ascend to the level of high camp.
But that is in the future. Now, “Journey 2” is nothing but shallow and shoddy.
—Staff writer Petey E. Menz can be reached at email@example.com.
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