One Bright Spot in Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth was an extremely amusing movie, but not a very good one. However, aside from exceeding at pure silliness and cool visuals, it got one thing pretty much right: the character of mountain guide Hannah Asgeirsson.

The movie is about geology professor Trevor Anderson and his nephew Sean, who visit the site where Trevor’s brother/Sean’s father disappeared a decade ago. The site happens to be atop an Icelandic mountain, so they enlist Hannah’s help to reach it, and of course then they fall through the Earth’s crust into an improbable world-within-the-world that features dinosaurs, glowing birds, and flesh-eating plants. By the time they fall through, however, Hannah has already saved Trevor’s life-twice, in fact, and she’s keeping count and charging him for the trouble.

There isn’t a lot of character growth for anyone in the movie, though Trevor and Sean develop a relationship. Very little of Hannah’s personality is explored, only bits are hinted at-but what’s clear and consistent through the film is that she’s quick-thinking, physically strong, and very good at her job. Though she is saved by Trevor a couple of times through the movie, she’s never reduced to being a damsel in distress; though her hair stays improbably clean and styled, she’s not ever especially sexualized-there’s a gratuitous close-up of her butt at one point, but it came across to me much more as a physical gag than as a sexualized shot. I could picture the same gag done with a male character without stretching my imagination at all.

Furthermore, both male characters come to respect Hannah fully. As they first climb the mountain, Sean tells Trevor he calls “dibs” on her, and rather than calling him out on the sexism of that, Trevor responds that Sean’s too young to call dibs. However, Hannah overhears them bickering about this later (Trevor delivers the even more annoying line, “You think you’re man enough to call dibs on the mountain guide, but man enough to repel down this cliff?”) and actually reacts to it as I’d expect a real-life woman with self-esteem to: she snaps at the two of them, “No one gets dibs on the mountain guide!” Then, at the end when she saves them both yet again (in a particularly silly-but-awesome manner) she smirks and says, “So who got dibs again?” They both give her intimidated looks and point at the other, pretending they hadn’t been so disrespectful; by this point in the movie, it’s not only clear that Hannah is at least as capable as they are-given it’s a situation involving a lot of climbing and other physical strains, she’s probably more so-but that the characters acknowledge that she is, so what was a sexist line at the beginning is actually used pointedly.

This isn’t to say that her treatment is perfect: she also is the love interest in a way that pretty much defines “tacked on.” There’s no chemistry between Hannah and Trevor but at the end they kiss anyway. In almost every other way, she read as a gender-neutral character who happened to have been a woman-awesome!-so it smacked very much of, “Oh, well the audience needs a romance, so they have to get together.” Furthermore, the movie fails the Bechdel Test by quite a margin; there’s only one other female character in the whole thing. (And while I’m criticizing anyway, I don’t think there’s a single character of color in the movie.) But overall, I was pleased: the movie was silly and stupid, so that I came out of it with serious positive feelings specifically due to Hannah’s character was an unexpected treat.


  1. says

    The book, of course, is extremely slashy, even more so than 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea [EG] This may, in fact, be why every movie version so far (afaik) has felt compelled to throw in a female love interest and tone down the emotional interaction between the younger narrator and the original guide, Axl…

  2. says

    Merde alors, I mixed up the character names, it having been years since I reread it, but here’s a particularly poignant bit from chapter XXII after they have gone down a wrong turning and run out of water:

    When I reopened them I saw my two companions motionless and rolled up in their coverings. Were they asleep? As for me, I could not get one moment’s sleep. I was suffering too keenly, and what embittered my thoughts was that there was no remedy. My uncle’s last words echoed painfully in my ears: “it’s all over!” For in such a fearful state of debility it was madness to think of ever reaching the upper world again.

    We had above us a league and a half of terrestrial crust. The weight of it seemed to be crushing down upon my shoulders. I felt weighed down, and I exhausted myself with imaginary violent exertions to turn round upon my granite couch.

    A few hours passed away. A deep silence reigned around us, the silence of the grave. No sound could reach us through walls, the thinnest of which were five miles thick.

    Yet in the midst of my stupefaction I seemed to be aware of a noise. It was dark down the tunnel, but I seemed to see the Icelander vanishing from our sight with the lamp in his hand.

    Why was he leaving us? Was Hans going to forsake us? My uncle was fast asleep. I wanted to shout, but my voice died upon my parched and swollen lips. The darkness became deeper, and the last sound died away in the far distance.

    “Hans has abandoned us,” I cried. “Hans! Hans!”

    But these words were only spoken within me. They went no farther. Yet after the first moment of terror I felt ashamed of suspecting a man of such extraordinary faithfulness. Instead of ascending he was descending the gallery. An evil design would have taken him up not down. This reflection restored me to calmness, and I turned to other thoughts. None but some weighty motive could have induced so quiet a man to forfeit his sleep. Was he on a journey of discovery? Had he during the silence of the night caught a sound, a murmuring of something in the distance, which had failed to affect my hearing?

    courtesy of Project Gutenberg (original French here for the polyglots.)

    There’s even more intense emotion, and some (manly) hugging, later on…

  3. says

    I read your review back when you wrote it, Reb, but didn’t see the movie until today. When the kiss happened, I was like, “oh, yeah, I see what she meant” simultaneously with “…but I would totally kiss a guy who looks like Brendan Fraser!” 😉

    It was a weirdly-tacked on romance – I felt like maybe the writers thought they needed it in order to show that all of the characters are happy at the end, but I think that showing that Hannah and Trevor have become business partners in the founding of their lab would have worked even better than a sudden romance.

  4. BobW says

    I know this comment is long after your post, but my daughter loved this movie. It’s a comedy, after all, not serious cinema.

    May I respectfully suggest that calling “dibs on the mountain guide” does not have to be sexist.

    If two men are interested in the same woman, and they don’t want to wreck their relationship, they need a peaceful way to take turns approaching her. If she’s not interested she lets the first fellow know. When he gives up the other guy gets his turn.

    This prevents all sorts of rude shoving and flying elbows.

    There is all sorts of writing about how violently aggressive men are. Men have many little ways to avoid overt conflict. This would be one.

  5. says

    BobW, this is even longer from the original post, but I had to reply to your comment. Calling “dibs” on a woman is absolutely 100% sexist, because it implies that she is a piece of property that can be claimed. You call dibs on the passenger seat or the last slice of cake, not a human being.


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