The Core

Generic disasters
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2003
Director: 
John Amiel
Starring: 
Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo
The Setup: 
The core of the Earth has stopped spinning and this is, like, really bad.
Discussion: 

I saw this when it was out, eager for scenes of large-scale destruction, and though it's pretty skimpy on those, I thought it was not that bad. Now, seeing it again, it's still not that bad. It's also not that good. It's just a perfectly amusing way to pass two hours, that will leave almost no impression on anyone. In fact, I debated whether or not to write about it at all, because it's really about as featureless and generic as it's possible for a movie to be.

We open in Boston, with a man about to go into a big business presentation. He suddenly drops dead. Then we hear a ruckus from outside, and it seems that a number of people have dropped dead. We now join my future husband Aaron Eckhart as sexy professor Joshua Keyes, who is rocking a bit more of a fashion-forward, fresh-from-the-salon spiky hairstyle than one might expect from your average psychics professor. He is interrupted by two government officials and whisked to Washington DC, where he greets his friend Serge, played by either Tchecky Kayro or Jurgen Prochnow, not that anyone can tell them apart. They examine the bodies and quickly determine that they all had pacemakers, and there must have been some electromagnetic disturbance, whereupon the military sends them home, because they only care if it happened because of some new weapon.

Cut to Trafalgar Square, where suddenly all the pigeons go nuts and start smashing into windows and causing accidents, traumatizing a young boy. It's like The Birds II for a while. Josh demands some instant research, and in two shakes of a lamb's tail is presenting his findings to Stanley Tucci as superstar scientist Zimsky, whose two characteristics are the he's a pompous asshole and that he smokes. They convene a government panel, and lay out the problem. The core of the Earth has stopped spinning, which means the collapse of Earth's electromagnetic field, which will mean all sorts of bad things like crazy lightning storms, planes dropping from the sky, cities being microwaved and super-smart great white sharks. Unfortunately, I'm just kidding about the sharks. And in a year the whole Earth will be a charred rock. There is one snappy line of dialogue when Josh says they can't stop it, and the go-get-'em military commander says "Not in my vocabulary!" and Josh replies "Well then you might want to get one of those word-a-day calendars." It seems that even if they could get the core spinning again, there is no known technology that a) could get them to the center of the Earth and b) withstand the massive heat and pressure.

Well, you are not going to believe this. It would JUST SO HAPPEN that Delroy Lindo as Ed has developed not JUST a super-laser that can bore through anything, but ALSO a brand-new compound that can withstand massive heat and pressure! You know, sometimes things just work out! Not one, but TWO miracle technologies, and RIGHT at the moment they're needed. Hallelujah. Oh boy, I forgot to mention the space shuttle emergency landing. It seems one of those pesky electromagnetic thingys cased the space shuttle to veer off course and be heading straight for downtown L.A., and only the quick thinking of Hilary Swank as Beck (for Becky) is able to reroute it to land safely without incinerating any of the populous. Still, she's held back by Bruce Greenwood in his typical "dispenser of hard-earned wisdom" role.

So everyone mentioned this far is part of the team that is going to train for three months, build and learn to pilot the brand-new technologies, and dive to the center of the Earth to light off some nuclear firecrackers that will restart the core. If you're guessing that this is where the training montage might go, well, I'd hate to prove you wrong. Oh by the way, they've also procured a brilliant hacker, whose mission it is to prevent the story of their mission from getting out to the public. He hits every early 2000’s hacker cliche in just under two minutes: 1) skinny dweeb, 2) joke about how he's never had sex, 3) crack that he can have your credit cards and personal information within a few seconds, and 4) he wants an unlimited supply of a crappy snack food, in this case, hot pockets. Then, oh dear, time for Rome to be destroyed.

One of the super-bad things about the core of the Earth remaining stationary is these mega-lightning storms, one of which quickly lays waste to the Coliseum, and then that massive building with the columns that even the Italians think is tacky. This film follows in the footsteps of all notable disaster films in that only major tourist destinations seem to suffer any damage. Despite this, geez, how come Disneyland never gets hit? You also see, as Rome is destroyed in under 60 seconds, that this film has a bit of a conscience in that it's going to try to have mass destruction without really letting us get off on it, and thus everything explodes quickly without us seeing much human suffering, and then we cut back to the team. Look man, I paid to see mass destruction, okay? So take your little conscience and stuff it, alright?

Okay then, time for launch. Their ship, which resembles a big cigar, goes down into the Mariana's Trench (the deepest spot on Earth), is greeted by whales, handily evades an earthquake, and descends into the rock. Their ship also, by the way, is constructed of little modules that can break off if damaged, which would make it especially convenient if the ship were destroyed sequentially, back to front. Well, we'll just have to wait and see how things turn out!

SPOILERS > > >
So Beck is navigating by some system that envisions the rock in front of her, told that she needs to avoid anything that looks black. But what of this large grey area they're hurtling toward? Oh no--it's empty space! They fall into this massive cavern that is soon revealed to be full of huge crystals, like a giant geode. One of them gets stuck in their laser, meaning they'll have to go outside and cut through it. Urgency is added by a sudden waterfall of lava that is filling the space up. The geode cavern is kind of cool, and raises hopes that we'll be exploring a number of other fantastic little worlds, but ummm, not really. Just as they're about to get underway Bruce Greenwood gets a little crystal in his brain, and falls back into the lava, our first casualty. This is supposed to create human drama as now Beck is on her own, the heat is on, blah, blah. Soon enough they're moving again.

More human drama follows soon after as they nick a rock, have a hull breach, and the guy who may be either Jurgen Prochnow or Tchecky Kayro dies saving the last nuclear weapon. Umm, if these nukes are central to the mission, maybe not the best idea to store them in the last little container, right? Anyway, Josh tries to get Beck to open the door to save him, but she can't risk the mission, and much anguish is had. That's two down! There's got to be a morning after.

Now surely you know that if there's a government role in a film, they're either noble saviors or, more likely, have destroyed the world in craven pursuit of a super-weapon. This film, being vaguely lefty, goes with the super-weapon route, which was developed by Zimsky, and was designed to cause earthquakes in enemy territories. It is called DESTINI, which stands for something, making you wonder if there is also a smaller one elsewhere called DESTINI's Child. Maybe for the sequel? Turns out this thing is what CAUSED the core to stop spinning, man's hubris, respect Mother Nature, blah, blah. The point is that the government is going to use it again to start the core, or something, if our intrepid team fails though, it... will do something really bad. It's the well-worn trick of our heroes now having seconds to complete the mission or the government will nuke the town for whatever (last seen in The Avengers), and it's an attempt to up the tension, except the threat remains so abstract it doesn't really work.

Then the highlight of the movie as Stanley Tucci gets a long, extended hysterical freak-out that is just plain good fun. Meanwhile, goll-darn it, one of those microwave beams turns up to cook everything in its path. As its path MUST be over a major tourist destination--catastrophes never strike rural areas--it cuts clean through the Golden Gate Bridge, also wasted in under two minutes, then continues on... and next we cut to news footage telling us that half of San Francisco has been destroyed. Huh? Look man, you promised me mass destruction, and what I want to see is mass destruction. I don't want to see news reports ABOUT mass destruction. Sure, people getting cooked alive is not the most aesthetically-pleasing, but how about the Transamerica tower melting? That would be fun. Work with me here.

You might also be wondering how our nerdy hacker is supposed to keep the destruction of a major city secret, but he's now busy trying to hack into DESTINI's Child and download the "Single Ladies" ringtone, as well as stop the technology from, you know, doing that really bad thing, whatever it is. This is handily accomplished. Meanwhile, our intrepid team has reached the core but, shucks, Zimsky miscalculated and now the whole thing's a wash. Looks like bye bye Earth when they RE-calculate and figure if they put a bomb in each section and detach all the sections spaced apart, it just might work! See? THAT'S how you're going to use algebra in real life, as I know you once asked in math class. I just think it is such a special blessing that 1) the sections detach, 2) they are left with PRECISELY enough sections left, and 3) they have EXACTLY the number of bombs to use, one per section! I wouldn't have believed it if this whole thing weren't actually based on a true story.

Somewhere in here Delroy Lindo has died, doing something or other, but we can be sure it was noble. Then the whole separation thing is going swimmingly when Zimsky is trapped under the bomb, and must nobly sacrifice himself, Armageddon-style, to ensure the future of humanity. The bombs blow, leaving Beck and Josh just enough time to make it up to the sea floor, the core re-starts, humanity is saved, and everything is peachy. Except for Josh and Beck, who are stuck on the sea floor with no way to tell anyone where they are.

Now we have a little screenwriting trick that was also seen in disaster movies Daylight and Dante's Peak, which is to have the major climax resolved, but our heroes trapped somewhere quiet and intimate, with little hope of survival. It is a decent idea, but one that needs to be handled delicately for it to work--that is, keeping the intrigue up past the major climax, overcoming that feeling of "WHY is this movie still going on?"--and sadly, none of these movies is able to really make it work. Dante's Peak succeeds best. Here the movie just seems to be continuing despite being way over, but at least we can be thankful that the movie hasn't hard-sold us a romance between Josh and Beck. The Navy is about to give up the search when the hacker--WHY has the hacker been brought on the Navy rescue mission?--realizes that whales just love that submarine, perhaps because it saved Mother Earth and we all know that whales are staunch environmentalists. So they find the whales, they find Josh and Beck, everyone's happy and--Christ! ANOTHER scene?!?!

Yes, because the team realizes it's such a darn shame that no one will know of the brave souls who gave their lives to save the Earth (and if it results in book deals for them, well...), so they get the hacker to upload the news to, you know, wherever hackers upload such things, the world finds out, and we're all super-happy and in harmony with nature once again. Hold me.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was darn lame, but at the same time, totally watchable. That is to say, it’s never great, or even that good, but it’s not boring and passes time well enough. You might forget about it soon after, but it successfully seems not that bad while it’s on. A lot of the stuff I found to rip it apart in the review above didn’t even occur to me until after it was over. Although perhaps I was transfixed by the handsome Mr. Eckhart.

I have already complained about not getting enough disaster footage to make it fun in that regard. It also doesn’t have enough action, human drama (interesting human drama, that is, it’s got a bunch of bullshit human drama). I don’t know… it’s just wan. You could watch it, you could not watch it, it doesn’t make much difference. At first I was going to commend director Jon Amiel for making boring material watchable, then I looked up his resume and it’s jam-packed with middle-of-the-road time-fillers like Sommersby, Copycat, and Entrapment. One of the two co-writers here is also one of five co-writers of Catwoman, by the way. If that tells you anything.

Should you watch it: 

You've got nothing to lose but time.