What do you get when you are watching your adolescent nieces and you tell them to pick the movie for the evening? You get Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012). You. Get. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Actually, I realized something while writing the title for this movie: it can also be read as a sentence. It is not much, but it is something. Also, it is a sequel to movie that I think I saw, but long ago forgot, the 2008 Brendan Fraser led Journey to the Center of the Earth. If all this seems vaguely familiar, it is because these are stories about people who seem to take Jules Verne’s writing not as science fiction, but as science fact. The ridiculousness of this notion is probably why I have deleted any memory of the 2008 film from my brain. That one seemed to focus on only one of Verne’s classic stories. The 2012 sequel mashes up a bunch of them in a mess of a film that made me certain that the French novelist is undoubtedly spinning in his grave. Poor fellow.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island starts with the one hold-over from the previous film, now seventeen-year-old Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson), being arrested after a short chase on his dirt bike. He had broken into a satellite control center when he discovered a signal from his long-lost grandfather, Alexander Anderson (Michael Caine), and hoped to boost the transmission to figure out the location of the broadcast. To Sean’s annoyance, the person who arrives at the scene of his capture is his step-father, Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson). Since Hank is a cop, he is able to prevent Sean from being put in jail. He is also eager to bond with his distant step-son. Thus, Hank utilizes the skills he gained from a former career as a Navy cryptographer to decipher a code Sean uncovers in the signal, using classic literature to unlock it. Together, they are able to piece together an island near the remote Pacific atoll of Palau. Sean wants to go immediately, but Hank hesitates because, you know, school and all. Still, Hank desires to keep the momentum going and agrees to let Sean travel to Palau under one condition: Hank must accompany him. Once they get there, they must arrange transport to the coordinates they found in the code. All the charters on the island are hesitant to head into those waters, except for the eccentric Gabato Laguatan (Luis Guzmán) with his rickety helicopter. His daughter, a conveniently aged young lady for Sean’s purposes named Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), preaches caution. What sways the father-daughter tour guides is the money Hank and Sean are willing to pay. As they get closer to their destination, a tropical storm of immense proportions greets them. Before they can turn around, their vehicle crashes into the ocean. More plot convenience occurs, though, when all four survive the crash and wash ashore the title island. What greets them in the interior is a number of strange wonders great (lizards the size of banquet halls) and small (elephants on par with dogs). Their first bout with danger is with the lizards, and they are only saved by Alexander. With their job seemingly done, they want to leave right away. What prevents them is some science speak Alexander spouts off about needing two weeks for satellites to align or whatever. This leaves them the next day to explore the island, and Alexander takes them to see the lost city of Atlantis because, you know, it is there. During their investigations of the ruins, Hank notices cracks forming along with puddles of sea water. These clues suggest to him that the entire island is about to sink into the ocean. So, I guess that is the mystery of Atlantis solved. Anyway, this also means they need to move up their escape plans. Because the filmmakers wanted to throw some more Verne stuff into this film, they decided to have the Nautilus located on this island, the clues to its location being buried with the famous fictional submarine’s equally famous skipper, Captain Nemo. En route to the boat, an erupting volcano adds urgency to their situation. Unfortunately for our heroes, it is also emitting pure gold. With his tour business’s means of income destroyed, and wanting money for Kailani to go to college, Gabato decides to go after some of the riches instead of heading for the Nautilus. This leaves Hank and Sean to get to the submarine while Alexander goes with Kailani to track down her father. Because we need one last action sequence, Hank and Sean must fend off a giant electric eel while diving down to the Nautilus. They then hilariously use the fish’s electric current to jump start the long dead submarine, before swooping up to collect the other three from the collapsing island, and making good their escape. We close with Kailani visiting Sean in Ohio when Alexander arrives to tell them they are going to travel to the moon, another Verne story.
I get that Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is not meant to be taken seriously in regards to the Verne stuff being real. It is also not an original concept. There have been a number of other movies where we see what we take as fiction being reality. For me, it kind of defeats the purpose of a novel. His books being made into movies is one thing. Taking the material in them to be science fact is another. Verne was a futurist. That means that he looked at the technological wonders of the second half of the nineteenth century, such as they were, and made all kinds of predictions as to what the future would be like. Perhaps the best example of this is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, first published in 1870. It came out not many years after the first submarines were used in warfare, and it looked forward to an age when such ships would be a common threat on the high seas. There have also been modern submarines that have paid homage to their fictional inspiration. Yet, to think that the actual Nautilus could be real and function as it did seems a bit silly to me, not to mention how they get the engine to turn over.
The moment in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island that is as good as any for talking about from a Catholic point of view is when Gabato goes back for the gold. You can understand his motivation. Despite the terrors around him, there is a chance that he can provide his daughter with what he had not been able to give to this point in her life. Unfortunately, some of the tenderness of this attempted gesture is diffused when he tries to dig out a comically large nugget. How he intended to transport such a huge rock is beyond me. What matters most is how Kailani reasons with him to get him to abandon his absurd pursuit, telling her father that as long as they have each other they have all the wealth they need. These warm fuzzies jive with Catholic teaching. Trying to pry out a hunk of gold the size of a sumo wrestler is not what Christianity calls wealth. I often think of what the Catechism defines as love whenever I ponder riches, and that is charity. Charity can be a corporal act, but its best demonstration is in the loving things you do for others. Hence, while Gabato’s heart is in the right place, his mind is not on the potential of his daughter losing her father, something no amount of gold can replace.
If you want to see a world where Jules Verne was apparently reporting on the what he saw around him instead of inventing fictional wonders, then Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is the movie for you. It is currently free on Netflix. Whatever it is that I may think of the movie, I was happy to spend the time with my nieces watching it. They are a gift from God more precious than gold.