'Journey' only flies if it pops out

Hollywood wisdom through the ages has always been that no technological innovation could ever make a bad movie into a good one.

Yet the three-dimensional breakthroughs employed in "Journey to the Center of the Earth" come close.

In just two dimensions, Brendan Fraser's subterranean adventure to the planet's midsection probably would play as what it is at its core: A lame bit of hokum that's less a story than a theme-park ride.

With crisp images and depth that make you feel you could reach out and stick your hand into the middle of the action, the movie projected in digital 3-D form actually makes that theme-park ride kind of fun.

The trouble is, there are nowhere near enough theaters yet equipped to project digital 3-D flicks, so most places it'll play will be in two dimensions.

Images of carnivorous fish leaping from an underground ocean right at the camera still may look cool in 2-D. But a shot from the perspective of a sink drain as Fraser spits out his toothbrush backwash into the lens -- effective and funny in 3-D -- most likely will just look weird when the extra dimension is taken away.

This is not Jules Verne's sci-fi classic retold, though the movie does use his book as a template for a modern trek down below. Fraser is absent-minded geologist Trevor Anderson, who forgets his nephew Sean is coming for a visit. Trevor's brother, the boy's dad, mysteriously vanished years earlier on a field expedition in Iceland. Just as Sean arrives, Trevor stumbles on clues left by his brother that lead him to believe Verne's fantasy novel actually was based on a real journey to the earth's center. So he takes the boy along to Iceland to follow his brother's footsteps.

They meet up with local guide Hannah (Anita Briem), and the threesome almost instantly finds themselves tumbling and racing through the planet's interior. The simple-minded screenplay amounts to little more than amiable but empty patter that fill the gaps between the action.

This is a movie made solely as a thrill ride. But the ride may not be too thrilling if seen in conventional 2-D cinema.