Director : Jon Amiel
Screenplay : Cooper Layne and John Rogers
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : Aaron Eckhart (Dr. Josh Keyes), Hilary Swank (Major Rebecca “Beck” Childs), Stanley Tucci (Dr. Conrad Zimsky), Delroy Lindo (Dr. Ed “Braz” Brazzelton), Tchéky Karyo (Dr. Serge Leveque), Richard Jenkins (General Thomas Purcell), Alfre Woodard (Talma Stickley), DJ Qualls (Taz “Rat” Finch), Bruce Greenwood (Commander Richard Iverson)
The Core is a delicious, absurdly retro sci-fi action yarn about a motley group of scientists and NASA pilots whose mission is to go the Earth’s core, set off a couple of nuclear bombs, and get it spinning again. The whole movie is based on a premise so outlandish that actress Hilary Swank could barely keep a straight face while trying to explain it to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Of course, the most interesting science fiction tales are the ones that stretch our imagination and make the impossible seem tantalizing possible. Suffice it to say that, despite plenty of heady pseudoscientific exposition, The Core never comes close to convincing us of the plausibility of its scenario, although that doesn’t mean there isn’t giggle-inducing fun to be had.
The movie begins with a series of disasters as the core of the Earth suddenly stops spinning, thus causing the electromagnetic shield around the planet to break down, which in turn allows destructive microwaves to come through and, in one of many scenes of cosmic destruction, melt the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course, that’s not the only thing that happens. Prior to that, people with pace makers suddenly dropped dead, birds lost their navigational abilities and wrecked havoc in London’s Trafalgar Square (a wacky Hitchcock homage if ever there were one), and massive electrical storms sent down thousands of bolts of lightning that destroyed most of the major buildings in Rome.
The guy who figures out what’s going on is the movie’s down-to-earth hero, Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart), a geophysicist at the University of Chicago who signals his every-guyness by wearing sloppy sweaters with his shirt tail hanging out and refusing to comb his hair. His buddy is a French scientist named Dr. Serge Leveque (Tchéky Karyo), who goes against all hackneyed French stereotypes by being the one family-oriented character in the movie. Their nemesis is Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci), a slicked-back, Armani-wearing scientist-poseur who is clearly more interested in name recognition than any doing good for the human race (Tucci speaks in a nose-in-the-air tone that is just this side of absolute caricature).
The scientists team up with NASA, who supplies two pilots, the experienced veteran Commander Richard Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) and the brilliant young hotshot Major Rebecca “Beck” Childs (Hilary Swank). In one heavily telegraphed scene, Iverson gives Beck a long speech about how true leaders become such when they lose, so you can be guaranteed that, at some point, Beck will have to take over the controls and make some hard decisions. This is, after all, not just another high-concept doomsday epic, but a story about character development …
The last cog in the machine is Dr. Ed “Braz” Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo), an eccentric genius who lives out in the Utah Salt Flats and has spent the last 20 years of his life developing a laser system that can literally evaporate solid rock. Conveniently enough, he’s also been developing a train-car-like transportation device and a completely new metal he calls “Unobtainium” that can withstand hundreds of thousands of pounds of pressure—basically, everything needed to drill to the core of the Earth, and it can all be ready in three months at the bargain price of $50 billion.
In standard “Save the World Movie” fashion, the first half of The Core is given over to establishing the disastrous consequences of the Earth’s core no longer spinning and assembling its cast of characters, most of which you know will have glorious death scenes in which they selflessly sacrifice their lives for others. The rest of the movie details the actual mission to the center of the Earth, which is so supremely bizarre that it’s hard to describe. Because no one actually knows what the inside of the planet looks like, the special effects designers were pretty much free to imagine it any way they could, and give them credit for coming up with some visually compelling ideas, including one scene that involves massive diamonds floating in molten lava and another that has the characters stranded inside a giant geode.
The filmmakers behind The Core, most notably director Jon Amiel (Entrapment), have been insisting that this is a character-driven movie. Surprisingly enough, such a claim is not a complete fabrication, as the characters are genuinely interesting people played by noteworthy actors who clearly invested some energy in them. These are not two-dimensional cartoons, but rather people of flesh and blood who respond in realistic ways even when the situation is so ludicrous it makes you want to burst out laughing. Still, relatively believable characters in a comic-book scenario are almost inevitably swallowed up by their environment, especially when that environment is thousands of miles of digitized molten rock.
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick