Sonar Entertainment’s Take On Verne’s Classic Is Entertaining Despite Its Changes

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment/Hallmark Entertainment/Sonar Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment/Hallmark Entertainment/Sonar Entertainment

Jules Verne is one of the literary world’s greatest names.  If he were alive today, he would be proud to see that so much of what he crafted in his books has ages later become reality.  One can’t help but wonder though, how he would react to the countless adaptations that have arisen from his books ever since the dawn of the moving picture.  There have been some good adaptations, some that are…well…we’ll say forgettable.  And then there are those rare few that somehow manage to fit more into a middle ground between the two.  Sonar Entertainment’s 1999 take on Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth is one of those adaptations that fit more into the latter of the three.  And like so many adaptations that came before and that have come after, it doesn’t stay entirely true to the original book.  Despite that, it’s still an entertaining story nonetheless.  Audiences should take this into account first and foremost with this adaptation.  Also to be taken into account with this this take on Verne’s classic story is that it isn’t the big budget version released to theaters in 2008.  Believe it or not, that’s actually a good thing. That will be discussed later, too.  Because the story runs roughly three hours in length, its composition is just as important as any other factor in this take on Verne’s story.    Splitting the mini-series up especially on DVD will help viewers to not feel drained by the story’s end.  Along with the story itself and the production values, it helps to make Sonar Entertainment’s take on Verne’s story that much more worth checking out at least once.

The central story of Journey to the Center of the Earth in this adaptation is anything but true to the original story written by Jules Verne.  There are those that have discredited this take on the story for that.  But the reality of the situation is what movie ever crafted from a book ever stays entirely true to the original source material?  Keeping that in mind, the story presented here is actually surprisingly entertaining.  It incorporates more action into the story as well as the standard romance subplot for specifically aimed audiences.  From angry subterranean pre-historic natives to deadly lizard creatures, dinosaurs and fiery caverns, Theodore Lytton (Treat Williams), his nephew Jonas (Jeremy London) and their travelling companions have lots to face on their journey.  Writer Thomas Baum’s script spaces all of these dangers out just enough to keep viewers engaged throughout each of the mini-series’ segments.  In the same vein, Baum didn’t allow the script’s dual romantic subplot  to overpower the primary story.  This helps to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace.  There are certain comic elements included in the story that add to its entertainment value, too.  One of those instances comes when Theodore, Jonas, and their friends meet a group of natives in New Zealand.  There are some jokes involving whether or not their king is a cannibal that will most certainly have any viewer laughing if only slightly.  It is still a nice touch to the story.

The mix of action, comedy and yes, even romance, make Baum’s take on Verne’s classic an entertaining story.  Audiences should also take into account with this adaptation of Verne’s novel, its production values and special effects.  It’s pretty obvious in watching this mini-series that this take on the story likely didn’t have that large of a budget.  That’s obvious in the sets, the special effects, and even the costumes.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, either.  In fact, there’s something somewhat endearing about the fact that the special effects, the sets, and the costumes were more low-budget.  It goes right back to the writing.  Much like classic movies from Hollywood’s golden era, the lower grade sets, costumes, and special effects forced Miller and his cast to focus more on Baum’s story.  The result is acting that will actually keep viewers engaged in both the character development and by connection, story development, too.  So in the mini-series’ defense, it’s actually nice to see these lower-budget pieces, instead of something more over-the-top.  It’s one more part of the whole that makes this take on Journey to the Center of the Earth worth at least one watch.

The overall production values and story in Sonar Entertainment’s Journey to the Center of the Earth make this take on the timeless story worth at least one watch.  They alone don’t make this adaptation work, though.  Just as important as the production values and the story itself is how the story is how the story is built.  The full run time of the mini-series is roughly three hours.  It only makes sense with such a long run time that it would be separated into separate segments.  Had the story been one long piece along the lines of the Lord of the Rings, it might not have been so easy to stomach.  But it didn’t go that route.  It took the other route.  And to top it off, it made each segment enjoyable to watch even though this take on the original story might not be entirely true to the source material.  And it’s because of all of this tied in together that this adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth is worth at least one watch by any fan of Verne’s original work and by any science fiction fan in general.  It is available now and can be ordered online in a special two-movie bonus pack along with Hallmark’s Dinotopia at  More information on this and other releases from Mill Creek Entertainment is available online at and  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at


Dinotopia Re-Issue One Of Mill Creek’s Best Releases Of 2013

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment/Hallmark Entertainment/Sonar Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment/Hallmark Entertainment/Sonar Entertainment

Hallmark Entertainment’s Dinotopia is one of the best unknown mini-series released during the first decade of the new millennium.  This hybrid live action/CG based fantasy flick is unlike almost any other fantasy tale out there today.  It follows the journey of two young men—Karl (Tryon Leitso—Being Erica) and David (Wentworth Miller—Prison Break) as they discover a mystical land in which dinosaurs and humans live together in harmony after their plane crashes in the ocean.  The story is just one part of what makes Dinotopia such an enjoyable family presentation.  Just as impressive as the story is its CG dinosaurs and backdrops.  And despite the fact that this is an indie presentation, one must note not just the backdrops and dinosaurs, but also the acting.  Even the cast’s acting plays its own role (pun totally intended here) in the overall presentation of the mini-series.  The three factors together make Dinotopia a mini-series worth watching at least once by any family, especially now that it has been re-issued in a double-disc DVD pack by Mill Creek Entertainment.

On the surface, the concept of two individuals discovering a world in which man and dinosaur isn’t entirely original.  The concept has been raised before.  But with author James Gurney working with writer Simon Moore, the pair have crafted a story based on Gurney’s books that has a charm all its own.  Audiences that allow themselves to suspend their disbelief will be amazed at how easily the script pulls them into the magical world that is Dinotopia and into Karl and David’s own personal growth.  Viewers will appreciate watching Karl grow from a rebellious young man into a caring parent of sorts as he cares for the young “26” and even try to look out for the people of Dinotopia in his own way.  Most of all, audiences will enjoy the manner in which Moore and Gurney adapt the oft used plot element of characters challenging the norms of a given people, and eventually coming out on top as heroes in the end.  That element more than any other will keep viewers engaged throughout each of the three parts into which the mini-series is split.

Dinotopia’s script plays one of the most important roles in the success of the series.  Audiences should also take into account the balance of the series’ live action elements and CG dinos and backdrops that make up the world of Dinotopia.  Considering the fact that this is an independently produced and presented story, the combination of live action set against CG backdrops and dinosaurs could have been far worse.  Surprisingly enough, the combination of the two elements is on par with any series or movie backed by a major studio.  It’s obvious that Hallmark and those with whom the company worked wanted to give viewers the best possible viewing experience that they could just by looking at the balance of the noted elements.  One of the best examples of how well the elements were blended comes late in the story when David and Karl end up on a high energy water raft ride as they elude Dinotopian authorities.  It’s obvious what is real and what CG in this sequence.  But even in telling the difference, the elements are solidly balanced, thus making suspension of disbelief even easier for viewers.

It should be clear by now just how seriously Hallmark Entertainment and its partners took the creation of Dinotopia.  The script and the balance of live action and special effects work in tandem to make this mini-series truly enjoyable for any family.  For all of their positive influence, there is still one more factor to observe in analyzing the story’s presentation and what makes it the surprise that it is.  That final factor is the acting on the part of the cast.  Again, one must reference the fact that Dinotopia is an independent work in analyzing the acting on the part of its cast.  Just as its script is surprisingly impressive, so is the cast’s acting.  Leitso and Miller both clearly took their jobs with the utmost seriousness from start to finish.  Their interpretation of the scripts makes suspension of disbelief even easier.  In turn, the story becomes even more enjoyable with each watch along with the other noted factors.  It becomes a story that while it may go on relatively unknown by audiences will prove to those that give it a chance, to be a very underrated family presentation.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct from Mill Creek Entertainment at  More information on this and other releases from Mill Creek Entertainment is available online at and

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Annie Claus A Touching, Romantic Holiday Flick For Couples

Courtesy:  Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment/Sonar Entetainment/Hallmark Channel

Courtesy: Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment/Sonar Entetainment/Hallmark Channel

Hallmark Channel’s latest holiday movie, Annie Claus is Coming to Town is a good holiday romance movie for any young happy couples and hopeful happy couples to be.  The near ninety minute movie offers a new twist on the classic romance genre by giving it a holiday twist.  In this newest entry into the world of romance movies, audiences are introduced to young Annie Claus (played by Maria Thayer).  Annie’s story is set off when Mrs. Claus (Vicki Lawrence—Mama’s Family, The Carol Burnett Show) reveals that Santa is getting ready to retire and has to pass on the mantle of Santa to the next generation.  So being the next generation, Annie is sent out to try and find a love interest who could potentially become the next Santa.

As cheesy as it may be, it’s fitting that Annie ends up in a place that is the “polar” opposite (and yes that bad joke was fully intended) of the North Pole when she finds her way to sunny California.  Annie stays at the Candy Cane Inn (insert rim shot here), during her time in California. The inn is run by Lucy (Vivica A. Fox—Independence Day, Set It Off, Soul Food).  It doesn’t take long for the pair to become friends.  She also gets to know one of her soon to be love interests in Ted (Sam Page) when she takes a job at a small toy store that’s struggling to survive.  Of course, what story is complete without some conflict?  Another potential love interest comes into play.  But there’s a catch with this other man that at its roots hints back to certain other holiday movies.  Audiences will have to discover that catch on their own.  Of course, the second man who comes into the picture leads Annie to have to make a tough choice.  It’s a choice that could greatly impact the very fate of Christmas around the world.

Being that it’s a Hallmark Channel movie, audiences know that Annie Claus is Coming to Town will have a happy ending.  It’s that ending that makes it a good movie for any happy couple or hopeful happy couple to be during the holiday season.  It shows also the classic themes that love can be found in the most unlikely of places and that true love will always prevail.  One only needs to follow one’s own heart.  Annie Claus is Coming to Town is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the Hallmark Channel online store at

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it or its companion page,  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

The Christmas Pageant A Heartwarming Holiday Movie For The Whole Family


Courtesy:  Gaiam Vicendi Entertainment/Sonar Entertainment/Hallmark Channel

Courtesy: Gaiam Vicendi Entertainment/Sonar Entertainment/Hallmark Channel

Hallmark Channel’s recently released holiday film, The Christmas Pageant is an interesting piece for the holidays.  That’s because while its primary story is one of the holiday season, there’s actually a secondary storyline that is fitting not just during the holiday season, but throughout the year.  Given it’s a plotline that is nothing new to the movie industry.  But it’s still nice to get the occasional reminder that is this story’s secondary plot.  And mixed in with the movie’s primary plot, it makes for a heartwarming helping of a holiday movie for the whole family.

The story of The Christmas Pageant centers on the young, ambitious producer, Vera Parks (Melissa Gilbert—Little House on the Prairie).  Vera is an overachieving producer who is so caught up in what she does that it has caused some problems in her life in the recent year.  She has just lost her third job in one year, and is also divorced.  Despite having struck out three times, her manager (played by singer Steve Lawrence) manages to get her a gig at a small town Christmas pageant.  What she isn’t told is that she lands the job thanks in large part to her ex-fiancé Jack (Robert Mailhouse).  This leads to what will eventually be the secondary storyline of The Christmas Pageant as the job not only forces Vera to face her past life, but also to have to choose between the fast paced life to which she has become accustomed and the small town life into which she has been thrust.  Sound familiar?  Thought so.  But that can be forgiven, considering the story’s heartwarming nature, especially in the country’s current emotional climate.

During her time in the small town where she is producing the Christmas pageant, the secondary plot of whether Vera needs the small town or vice versa comes into play.  This is really a reminder to viewers, as it serves as another mirror to today’s world.  It’s especially evident when Vera is suddenly offered the chance to get back to her fast paced New York life when her manager gets her the chance to take on a famous actor in a major Broadway production.  The end result of this turn of events (which won’t be revealed here) tends to be even more of an indirect commentary on the line in the sand between small town life and the increasingly fast paced life which so many people live.  It is that choice that Vera is forced to make that helps make The Christmas Pageant a heartwarming and relatable story for viewers.  It is so relatable in that just as Vera allowed herself to inevitably get far too caught up in her busy lifestyle, so do we in our everyday lives.  It’s because of that that we need our own awakening to make us slow down and change things so as to better appreciate those around us and what we have.  In the same vein, The Christmas Pageant is an excellent excuse and means to take a break from our busy lives and just spend some quality time with family taking in a movie that has enough heart to make it a must see for the holidays.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it or its companion page,  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at