This may not be your father’s (or, depending on your age, your grandfather’s) “Journey to the Center of the Earth”—the comparatively staid but enjoyable 1959 Henry Levin movie with James Mason and (pardon the expression) Pat Boone. It’s not even your older brother’s—the more recent 1999 TV mini-series remake with Treat Williams and Jeremy London. (Let’s mercifully pass over the misbegotten Rick Schroeder version of earlier this year.) And it’s certainly not Jules Verne’s 1864 original. But this cheeky combination of updating and spoof makes for an agreeable amusement-park ride of a movie, an avalanche of expert CGI effects made all the more striking by being presented in very effective 3-D.

The conceit of the script is that Verne’s adventure book is actually a scientific blueprint that can be decoded to reveal the truth about the planet’s innards and how to reach them. That realization leads dopey-but-brilliant scientist Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) to follow in the footsteps of his idolized but vanished brother Maxwell in using the volume’s secrets to find his way, via volcanic chutes, to the center of the earth. Going along for the trip is Maxwell’s son Sean (Josh Hutcherson), a typically bored, cynical adolescent, and Hannah (Anita Briem), a beautiful mountain guide whose father was, like Max, a “Vernian,” and can lead the duo to the precise cave dictated by the code.

All this malarkey, which basically brings a Dan Brown mentality to the material (though it leaves out the 1959 movie’s notion of a rival group trying to beat our heroes to the punch), is but prelude to the movie’s raison d’etre—the astonishing stuff (crystal floors, vast oceans, endless deserts, majestic cliffs, as well as man-eating plants, flying fish that make piranha look gentle, and of course the inevitable ill-tempered dinosaurs) that our intrepid travelers encounter along the way. It’s all goofy nonsense, of course, but as cobbled together by the screenwriters, the huge effects team and director Eric Brevig (along with no fewer than three editors—Paul Martin Smith, Dirk Westervelt and Steven Rosenblum), it makes for a breathless chain of dangers, chases, and skin-of-the-teeth escapes, the cinematic equivalent of a gargantuan roller-coaster.

But for such a “Journey” to work, it needs likable human characters at the center of it. And here Brevig is fortunate in having Fraser on hand. He brings the same sense of wide-eyed, tongue-in-cheek heroism to this trip that he did to the “Mummy” pictures, and anchors the picture emotionally in the same way that the hammily professorial Mason, with his very different but equally effective performance, did the 1959 version. He’s nicely partnered with Hutcherson, who’s growing less irritating as he gets older, and Briem, whose coolness complements Fraser’s exuberant warmth.

None of the other humans on hand make much of an impression, though Seth Meyers, as Trevor’s unpleasant boss, does grate successfully despite having only a few on-screen moments. On the other hand, the effects shine. The only serious disappointment is a score by Andrew Lockington that sounds anemically conventional beside the wild inventions of Bernard Herrmann a half-century ago.

There’s one way, though, that Brevig’s picture hearkens back to the 1950s rather less winningly. That’s the inclination to push the 3-D effects into your face arbitrarily merely to justify using the technique in the first place—something those of us old enough to have seen the 1959 “Journey” in the theatre when it was first released will certainly remember from the mostly awful 3-D movies of the same decade. At times Brevig’s decisions in this regard seem as silly as John Candy’s leaning forward and backward to simulate a 3-D effect on the old SCTV shows. He even resorts to a yo-yo, for heaven’s sake, though the spitting-up scene will probably delight adolescents.

But that’s the sort of dumb joke you can endure for the fun that “Journey to the Center of the Earth” provides. It will appeal to young boys just as “Kit Kittredge” does their sisters, and kids and parents alike should enjoy both.