The importance of the right audience was underlined at the press screening of Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Here, the organisers had been canny enough to draft in parties of schoolchildren, who were obviously going to have a good time whatever happened, if only because they weren't at school.
And indeed, for the first 10 minutes they ooh-ed and aah-ed on cue at the batteries of 3-D effects looming out of the screen – trilobite antennae poking you in the eye, Brendan Fraser apparently spitting right in your face. It was enough to rub the edges off my scepticism about the effectiveness of that sort of thing. (A 2-D version is also available, if you prefer not to feel that your personal space is being perpetually invaded.)
Fraser plays a geophysicist who sets off down an Icelandic volcano in search of his long-vanished brother, accompanied by the brother's brattish teenage son (Josh Hutcherson), a slinky Icelandic mountain-guide (Anita Briem), and the brother's annotated copy of Jules Verne's original novel: the conceit being that Verne's supposed fictions are actually disguised reportage.
This allows it to be both credibly modern, and commendably faithful to the source material – and it is terrific source material, with a vast underground world of prehistoric beasts, floating magnetic rocks and monster-infested seas. Eric Brevig, who directs, has a background in special effects, the producer, Charlotte Huggins, in theme-parks; and it shows. This is basically a sequence of rides and video games, strung together with just enough narrative coherence and wit to work.
Some of the rides aren't original – there's an underground roller-coaster just like the one in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and a T Rex chase reminiscent of Jurassic Park – but mostly they're done pretty well, and Fraser and Briem court and spark likeably (Hutcherson I could live without). In educational terms, it's downright destructive: children will be left with the notion that holding a large metal object in a thunderstorm means that the lightning will just get a bit nearer to you – nothing fatal. But if you want to keep a child, or an inner child, entertained for 90 minutes, you could do a lot worse.