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The Core, written by Cooper Layne and John Rogers, directed by Jon Amiel, 2003, 135 min.

The Core is a movie that suffers for its own claims to realism and accuracy. I never thought I would say this, but a movie like Armageddon, one of the clear antecedents to The Core, had it right by cheerfully throwing out any semblance of science or the real world. Can a reasonably coherent movie use real science and still have an exciting plot? Perhaps, although few examples come to mind, and certainly none of those examples would be in the disaster movie genre. The Core starts with more than one strike against it, and badly botches the last half of its story by killing off its characters in a predictable and offensive way.

The Core works best in its set-up. The first hour of the movie brings all the pieces together, and has a nice mix of leisurely pace and ratcheted-up tension. Good old Josh Keyes is a physics professor who gets called in by the military one day to help them solve a problem. A group of people in a certain area suddenly collapsed and died (an alarming scene that opens the movie). Keyes guesses the reason by the fact that he was one of two people called, the other being a French weapons specialist. The dead people all had pacemakers and some kind of electromagnetic field interfered with the operation of these life-sustaining devices. The military official is quite happy to find out that the two scientists agree that there is no weapon capable of such an attack. But that seems to be the end of curiosity on the part of the authorities, and both scientists are left with a burning question: just why did this happen? Now we have already met two of the main characters of the movie.

In the meantime, a Shuttle landing has gone badly wrong due to some faulty navigational data. Pilot Iverson and navigational officer Childs barely manage to save the Shuttle; this sequence is exciting enough on its own, and it also introduces us to two more characters.

Keyes gets his grad students to gather some raw data, and he soon discovers that the anomalies that they have found are just the beginning. Somehow the core of the Earth has stopped spinning and we will lose all protection of the Earthís geomagnetic field and fry in the solar wind. Everyone on Earth, dead. The first half hour of the movie has gone by at a decent pace by the time the word has gotten out that this is a very serious problem.

But the US military, probably responsible for the problem in the first place due to the mysterious Project DESTINI, wants to keep a tight lid on the looming catastrophe. The second half hour of the movie follows the four characters we have already met as the military throws an essentially infinite budget at the problem. They enlist a snooty scientist named Zimsky and one of his old rivals named Brazzelton. Thereís no real reason for Zimsky to be along, but Brazzelton is the one who has devised the ship that will take the crew to the centre of the Earth to get the core spinning again. The whole process of building the ship (and of course, later getting to the core) requires a rather larger amount of granting-the-premise than most successful stories ask for.

The military also hires a computer hacker named Rat to keep anyone online from finding out about the problem and causing a panic. Apart from a wish fulfillment scene when the military hires Rat, the character doesnít have much to do. He does do some magic hand waving at the end in a small scene, but thatís what movie hackers always do.

The journey to the centre of the Earth takes up the rest of the movie, and this section has a structure that is the oldest garbage in the business. Who will survive the journey, of a crew of six? Clearly the heterosexual pair of stars who have their names in the biggest font in the credits. Shockingly, the death march even includes the black Brazzelton, as if this cliché werenít offensive enough to have long vanished. Worse, most of the deaths are due to sheer stupidity on the part of the characters, or bad design of the ship. Granted, they only had three months to build the ship, but come on, people, stop getting in the way of falling rocks or going into 9000 degree chambers with a suit rated for 4500 degrees (hilariously, thatís not a quick death!). These are the smartest people in the world and they might as well be wearing both a red shirt and a brightly painted target.

To top it all off, the return from the core is the worst part of the movie. Thereís some razzle-dazzle explanation for how to get back without power that seems as good as tapping your heels together. The heat from the core will power the ship and they will navigate through lava tubes, apparently. The two survivors also need a large dollop of luck to be found: they end up on the floor of the ocean without any way to signal the rescuers.

In a scene that is forever burned in my brain, Rat the hacker comes to a realization that has no basis in what we know about him. He runs across the deck of an aircraft carrier, shouting: ďTHE WHALES... THE WHALES ARE SINGING TO THEM!Ē If anyone notices me running down the street naked and shouting this refrain at the top of my lungs, you can blame Hollywood! Itís a refrain that sticks in the mind long after the movie is over.

Hopefully, my comments do not seem mean-spirited; there is a good deal of sheer entertainment from the thoroughgoing B-movie-ness of this flick. The writers and director have put together a good-natured movie, but donít expect anything even remotely intelligent. Itís all gobbledygook, as hard as it tries. The straining can get on the nerves, but it mostly delivers the laughs. Not many inadvertent comedies are really worth watching, but this one comes close.


Last modified: October 26, 2003

Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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