In “Journey,” a nerdy professor/scientist (Brendan Fraser) with a whimsical view of Jules Verne, stumbles on the evidence of his lost brother’s quest for the missing passageway to the mythical world below us. Along for the ride is his teenaged nephew (Josh Hutcherson), at first surly and uncooperative, but eventually thoroughly enthused, and an Icelandic cave guide (Anita Briem, who really is from Iceland), who at first is aloof and material (“I’m just in this for the money, and the clock’s ticking”), but then provides the romantic spark for our intrepid explorer.
In “Crystal Skull,” a nerdy professor/scientist (Harrison Ford), with a whimsical history of previous expeditions, like the lost ark, stumbles on evidence of a certain crystal skull with mythical powers, dating from the pre-Mayan era in Peru. Along for the ride is his thug-wannabe-teenaged-sidekick-in-training named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), at first surly and uncooperative, but eventually thoroughly enthused. Together they rescue from the hostile indigenous tribe his mother Marion (Karen Allen, in a reprise of her original role in 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), who at first verbally spars with our hero, but then provides, yes, the romantic spark for our intrepid explorer.
Both movies feature impossible physical stunts, narrow escapes, and convenient secret passageways. Both movies feature the male-bonding dynamic of older mentor with young rebel-without-a-cause. Both gain urgency from being constantly chased. In “Journey,” it’s the underground creatures who are unfriendly, as well as the elements themselves. But that’s OK, we just solve a long free-fall by a soft water landing. In “Skull,” we get back up to the surface with rushing water rising from a sinkhole. In “Journey,” we get back up to the surface with wind power, sailing on a subterranean sea. In “Skull,” since it’s the 50s, we have the double jeopardy of being pursued by unfriendly natives and by Russian secret agents, as well, led by the campy Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and her Bolshevik henchmen, but don’t worry, every demise is nameless and bloodless.
Could children see these films? Yes. Some moments might be intense for pre-schoolers, like the cave-dwelling nemeses of both, but the good guys don’t really get hurt, and the kids get to go on a cool adventure, and spelunking has never looked like more fun. Sure, you have to be able to decipher secret code in obscure languages. And you’ll encounter setbacks and disappointments along the way, as well as creepy, crawly critters. But being the first to see something truly spectacular is worth all the risky unknown. 3-D or just CGI, it’s fun for everybody who’s willing not to take any of it very seriously.
Questions for Discussion:
1) When has someone who was in your life a long time ago suddenly re-appeared, and what unresolved issues immediately arose?
2) Do you think that there is an unexplored, inhabited world beneath us?
3) Do you think that there are artifacts left behind thousands of years ago by civilizations much more advanced than we currently assume they were?
Ronald P. Salfen is pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, Texas.