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  Journey to the Center of the Earth: Schisty summer fun
Web Extra Friday, July 11, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth: Schisty summer fun

Journey movie poster
New Line Cinema
Dinosaurs, bioluminscent birds and carniverous plants all inhabit the Earth's core in the latest cinematic version of Jules Verne's classic novel.

With the exception of dinosaurs, geology can be a hard sell, especially to kids. But the new Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D special effects extravaganza might entice even the most apathetic junior geologists to wonder what really is down there in Earth’s core.

This high-tech adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel follows nutty geology professor Trevor Anderson (played by Brendan Fraser), his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) and their lovely Icelandic mountain guide Hannah (Anita Briem) as they try to solve the mysterious disappearance of Trevor’s brother, Max (John Michel Paré). Max, also a geologist, was obsessed with plate tectonics and lava tubes, which he believed were portals to the Earth’s core. We soon find out Max was also a Vernean, somebody who believes Verne’s tale about finding “a world within the world” was fact, not fiction. Turns out, he was right. Using Verne's novel as a guide, the threesome fall through a volcanic portal 1,200 kilometers to the center of the earth. All kinds of subterranean high jinks ensue, many in keeping with Verne's original story.

Journey to the Center of the Earth won’t win any Oscars; it’s pure summer fluff. But it’s fun and fast and the new “real-D” 3-D effects, even when they’re corny, don’t just draw you into the movie — they make you a part of the action. At my screening, the whole movie theater, outfitted with nifty new 3-D glasses, was rocking and rolling, enthusiastically dodging trilobite spines, hungry plesiosaurs and flying sharks along with the three heroes.

Aside from the thrilling visual effects, what’s really interesting about this movie is the emphasis on science. Although it might be technically misleading in some parts — with its T-rexes, bioluminescent birds and house-sized mushrooms occupying Earth’s core — the flick is also smattered with many, mostly accurate, geologic references.

We are introduced to Brendan Fraser’s character, Professor Anderson, as he tries to interest his tiny class of drowsy geology students in Alfred Wegener’s once-controversial theory of continental drift. Later, when his companions gush over the diamonds and rubies they find in the center of the planet, Anderson delights in some feldspar as only a geologist would. And his line “Look at all this schist!” got a lot of laughs and will no doubt be repeated by little imps everywhere.

That’s what the film’s production company, Walden Media, is hoping. To teach kids the difference between the science and the fiction in their sci-fi movie, Walden asked the American Geological Institute, publisher of Geotimes, to help them create a comic book-like educational guide to accompany the movie. The colorful, comprehensive comic answers all kinds of questions, from “What is schist?” to “What are plate tectonics?”

What is schist?
AGI/ Walden Media
Illustrations in the American Geological Institute's Journey to the Center of the Earth educational guide aim to teach kids about the movie's geologic references.

These days it can be hard to get kids interested in much of anything, especially geology. But it doesn’t take long for this wild journey to tear young Sean away from his PlayStation Portable and get his hands dirty with some good old-fashioned field work. Maybe Journey to the Center of the Earth will inspire a new generation of geologists to leave the theater, look down at the ground beneath their feet and wonder for the first time, “What’s really down there?” Lucky for them, page 16 of the comic book explains it all.

Journey opens in theaters nationwide today. To download or order the Journey 3D Education Guide produced by Walden Media in collaboration with AGI, go to the Earth Science week website. Click on the image for a downloadable PDF or click on "Order an Earth Science Week Toolkit" to get your own copy.

Mary Caperton Morton

Links:
Earth Science Week

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