In this month's column, Mark Simon explains why the deficiencies of Journey to the Center of the Earth bode well for the animation industry.
We've all struggled through terrible movies. You know the kind. They are so awful it is literally painful to sit and watch.
I saw one like that recently. Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D is one of the worst movies I've seen since City of Joy with Patrick Swayze back in 1992.
I'm a huge fan of movies. I love action films, fantasy films, monster movies, dramas, comedies and of course animations. Journey fits many of these categories, but one category in which it doesn't fit is good.
I'm also a big fan of star Brendan Fraser, but I couldn't find anything I liked about his acting or this movie. The script was terrible and illogical (not a surprise when you see how many names were listed as writers). The effects were cheesy (every obvious "in your face" shot was used). The directing was amateurish. (Director Eric Brevig, previously a visual effects supervisor, must have forgotten his trade in this movie and hopefully will not be asked to direct another.) The acting was pitiful. It looked like Fraser didn't care at all about being in this movie (maybe he didn't realize anyone would actually see it). Even my wife, who loves to drool over him, was left cold this time.
We also took my eight-year-old twins to see the movie. They enjoyed the monsters and action, but even they kept asking me what was going on and why certain things were happening. They left the theater telling me how bad the movie was. It's pretty bad when kids who love to watch Power Rangers are bored by a feature that costs between $45 and $60 million (according to IMDbPro and Box Office Mojo respectively).
3-D stereoscopic has been played with a number of times in movies over the years. For the most part they have been lousy movies with poor 3-D effects that relied on cheap spiders-and-spears-in-your-face effects. They also hurt your eyes after viewing an entire movie.
Luckily, the technology now is much better and watching new stereographic films is quite comfortable. Okay, that brings up one good thing about Journey -- it didn't hurt my eyes to watch it. Well... maybe a little, but not because of the glasses.
The good news is that all of this is a great sign for the future of our industry.
What? How can a disastrous failure of a movie be a good sign?
It's a good sign because even though the movie was bad, it made a lot of money. Domestic box office gross is almost $100 million and worldwide is over $150 million (IMDbPro.com). Plus, it did this with a limited number of digital stereoscopic projection screens. Even with such terrible reviews and word of mouth, people kept going to see it. Journey attained blockbuster status due largely to the new stereoscopic technology.
3-D stereoscopic alone is not enough, as is evidenced by the disastrous box-office take of Fly Me to the Moon. Every movie needs good design and an exciting trailer. Journey was a terrible movie, but at least the trailer looked interesting (an obvious case of false advertising). Fly Me had a boring trailer, lame design and poor animation. Even the draw of being stereoscopic was not enough to overcome such large obstacles, as it has barely made $10 million domestically.
3-D stereoscopic has been championed by some of our best filmmakers, including James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis and Jeffrey Katzenberg. They are pushing the technology and they are pushing great storytelling, the perfect combination.
If a waste of celluloid like Journey can become a box office blockbuster, truly good stereoscopic movies will have incredible success. Since we have such great, large, hi-definition TVs in our homes, going to movies has to be more of an event, something we can't see at home. Stereoscopic movies and stale popcorn make going to the movies an event again. Even with the current economic problems, people want to be entertained.
With Cameron's Avatar and DreamWork's Monsters vs. Aliens coming out in 2009, there is a lot more good news in the near future for the movie industry. And the movie industry will be in your face about it... literally.
Artists and Politics
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Mark Simon is an award-winning animation producer/director and speaker. Mark has released two new editions of Facial Expressions, his popular photo reference books for artists Babies to Teens and the Companion E-Book, Volume 3. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.