"Taking Jules Verne's well-known novel and developing it into an updated story with new characters, using modern technology, was a tremendously exciting opportunity," says Eric Brevig, who makes his feature directorial debut with "Journey to the Center of the Earth." "My goal with this film was to capture the spirit of adventure, discovery and the belief that anything is possible."
"I think certain stories are timeless, and the tale of three unlikely explorers helping each other along this seemingly impossible voyage is a great example," says producer Charlotte Huggins. "The idea that you can do what others only dream of doing is a concept people have not only written about, but also attempted since the beginning of human civilization."
Producer Beau Flynn remarks, "Our job as filmmakers is to transport audiences to another world. We want moviegoers to lose themselves in the adventure. It was also important to us that we capture a certain tone for the film where the characters are very real and accessible, but the story never takes itself too seriously."
The appeal of refreshing a classic Jules Verne tale with cutting-edge filmmaking drew Brendan Fraser to the project in the leading role and as an executive producer. "When I go to the movies, I want to be taken away," says Fraser. "The story's premise combined with an original script that is full of action, comedy and adventure from start to finish got my attention right away."
The screenplay for "Journey to the Center of the Earth," written by Michael Weiss and Jennifer Flackett & Mark Levin, revolves around scientist Trevor Anderson, his nephew Sean and their Icelandic mountain guide Hannah; together, the trio stumble upon a volcanic passage that sends them plummeting to the center of the Earth. Landing in a deep crystal blue lagoon thousands of miles beneath the Earth's surface, they discover an extraordinary world of lush jungles and prehistoric creatures as described in Jules Verne's novel. Taking in the staggering sights and sounds of this unchartered land, they soon learn that it is fraught with peril and must rely on each other to find a way home.
Brendan Fraser plays Trevor Anderson, an American college professor and scientist in the field of plate tectonics, a study of geology that links movements of the Earth's crust with earthquakes, volcanoes and weather. Together with his brother Max, Trevor was on the path to a geological research breakthrough. But then Max disappeared on a field expedition in Iceland. "Since then, Trevor has had little luck advancing his research on his own, and now the lab is on the verge of being shut down by the university," says Fraser.
As if he doesn't have enough problems, Trevor gets a surprise visit from Max's teenage son, Sean, who is reluctantly spending a week with his uncle.
"With Sean's sudden arrival, Trevor is suddenly thrust into a dynamic where he feels the pressure to assume a paternal role, but Trevor doesn't really understand how to deal with kids, even though he is a college professor," Fraser notes. "He can deal with college kids because they don't listen to him in his lectures anyway."
Josh Hutcherson, who steps into the role of Sean, adds, "Our characters butt heads at first, but each proves useful to the other as the story progresses. They soon realize they need each other more than they ever imagined."
Trying to break the ice, Trevor and Sean dig through an old box of Max's belongings and discover a copy of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. Flipping through its pages, Trevor finds Max's handwritten notes in the margin with clues to Max's final expedition to Iceland 10 years ago. Excited that he may finally discover what happened to his brother, Trevor rushes off to the Land of Fire and Ice, taking Sean along for the ride.
Trevor and Sean get hopelessly lost and stumble upon an isolated mountain cabin inhabited by a young mountain guide named Hannah, played by Anita Briem. An Icelandic native, Briem notes, "Hannah lives by herself in the remote cabin that once served as a field laboratory for her father-a 'Vernian'- someone who believed the writings of Jules Verne were actual fact rather than science fiction. Sadly, because of his beliefs, Hannah's father became ostracized in the scientific community and died years ago as an embarrassment to her family. On the surface, Hannah is tough and independent, but underneath she's still angry at her father, who put his research ahead of his family."
With one look at Max's copy of Verne's novel, Hannah points out to Trevor that, like her father, Max too was a Vernian. Not wanting to get caught up in chasing unrealistic Vernian fantasies, Hannah names an exorbitant price for helping Trevor. Undeterred, Trevor calls her bluff and agrees to pay her to guide them up to the remote peak of Mount Snaeffels, where he believes the last seismic sensor was placed by Max.
As Trevor, Sean and Hannah ascend the rocky terrain, they find themselves caught in the middle of a lightning storm. Taking refuge in a cave nearby, they enjoy a split second of safety before a bolt of lightning strikes the side of the mountain, creating an avalanche that collapses the cave's entrance and seals them in. Unable to get out the way they came in, the three explorers end up plunging towards the depths of the Earth, where their fantastical journey truly begins.
"Together, they set off on this wild ride," says Fraser. "Of course, as circumstances have it, forces of nature conspire against them and nothing goes as planned. There's a mythical quality about this whole adventure because anything could be at the bottom of this 'rabbit hole.'"
"We were fortunate to have such a great cast with amazing chemistry," offers Huggins. "After all, it is just the three of them on screen for most of the film."
"Brendan was definitely my first choice for the role from day one," states Brevig. "We hit it off right from the start. We shared similar ideas for making the film fun for the audience, and Brendan has a deep appreciation for and understanding of working with visual effects."
Flynn adds, "Brendan's got a sense of integrity and a genuine quality that comes through in his performances, which make him very watchable. He's really a unique actor who is very engaging both on screen and in person."
For the role of Hannah, Brevig recalls, "We wanted the relationship between Hannah and the boys to be fun, so we looked for someone who could take charge of the situation but not initially appear that way."
"Anita has a certain authenticity to her, not only because she's Icelandic, but also because she has fabulous training, and was physically up to the challenge. She also has a great sense of humor," remarks Huggins. "The camaraderie that developed among her and Brendan and Josh was so much fun to watch throughout the production."
The filmmakers were equally impressed with the young Josh Hutcherson, who was just 13 years old at the time of production. "Josh is wise beyond his years," notes Flynn. "He also has a quality about him that is very natural. He is very easygoing in between takes, but as soon as he's in front of the camera, he's instantly in character."
"Josh was very proactive about asking the right questions," says Brevig. "He was so committed and enthusiastic, and always arrived prepared. He brought fresh ideas and suggestions to scenes the way an actor maybe 10 or 20 years his senior would. Also, I think it's tough when you're the only kid on set because you're surrounded by adults," the director continues. "But because Brendan is such a big kid at heart and Josh is such a grown-up at heart, they got along really well."
Spending so much time together on set as a trio gave the three actors a chance to form very close bonds.
"Brendan's comedy is non-stop. I learned so much from working with him. Anita was really great with the action scenes...and she's very pretty, which is always a bonus," laughs Hutcherson.
"It was such a delight working with the boys," Briem states. "We were like a little family on set, so I think that definitely contributed to the story and the onscreen chemistry."
Fraser agrees, "The three of us formed a triangle, which is a very strong structure in nature and, in this case, dramatically speaking."