The Core
Grade: C
Year: 2003
Director: Jon Amiel
Writer: Cooper Lane
Genre: Action
Rated: PG-13
By Scott Spicciati

"The Core" had the potential to be a great disaster film; which in some ways it is, but it lacks the necessary moral lesson movies like these need to teach. This is where it loses out to "Armageddon," and whenever you hear 'losing out to "Armageddon,"' you know you're in trouble.

Viewers must throw logic and reasoning out the window in order to enjoy anything about this film. You hear a lot of talk about 'physics 101,' although none is present in this film. If you don't know by now, "The Core" is about the Earth's impending doom after its core stops spinning. Because of this, the electromagnetic field that protects us from such hazards like kamikaze birds and door-handle electric static, has stopped working.

The first part of the film introduces us to the main characters whose jobs will be to save the planet. This closely resembles "Armageddon," although no felons or red-necks make this particular journey. The second half of the film is about our heroes making their way to the center of the earth where they will have to jumpstart the core which will commence the electromagnetic field. Some will survive; some won't.

And now for the lively cast: We begin with Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart), a University of Chicago physics professor. Coincidentally, the day he is summoned by Government to save the planet, he is teaching a lesson on the structure of Earth. Here on the blackboard we see a diagram of Earth's layers. But before Keys can finish his lecture, two black-suited agents haul him off to an undisclosed hanger. There are hundreds of tables with something on each one of them covered by a green blanket. Casually, Keys rests his weight on one of the tables and an arm swings near the ground revealing a body. Keyes is shocked after realizing (long after we have) he is in a morgue. And I was thinking to myself, this guy is a PhD?

While in the morgue, Keyes meets up with his old pal, Sergei (Tchéky Karyo), a weapons technician and the second man on the team. Both men are shocked to see all the dead bodies; for some reason, none of them were watching CNN when just a few hours ago, dozens of people in Massachusetts dropped dead in the street. But why?

Believe it or not, Keyes isn't the stupidest character in the movie. He must explain to a panel of U.S. military men that the planet is toast. One would think all you have to do is say, "Hey, the core has stopped spinning, and electromagnetic firestorms are going to cook the planet." But Keyes asks for a can of air freshener and I think to myself, ooh, what great demonstration is he going to pull off? When Keyes gets his can of freshener, he has an assistant hold up a peach while he lights a stream of flammable air freshener. The peach is then cooked. Ah, so that's what he meant by cooking the planet!

The assistant of that great peach explanation is Dr. Conrad Rimsky (Stanley Tucci), the arrogant one of the bunch. He's one of those I-know-everything kind of guys and refuses to accept an explanation from someone not as qualified as he is, which is pretty much everyone.

As for action and special effects, they are a blast. While not perfect, the effects are believable, although no better than 1998 "Armageddon." As for the action, I was thoroughly impressed with an early scene where a space crew runs into trouble due to the effects of the stopped core which leads to the malfunctioning of the spaceship's instrument panel . Expecting to land at an official landing site, the crew quickly realizes they are headed for downtown Los Angeles and must make a crash-landing. The pilots are Col. Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) and Maj. Rebecca 'Beck' Childs (Hilary Swank). They will also be the pilots on the mission to save the planet.

The device used to get to the center of the Earth is constructed by Dr. Edward Braselton (Delroy Lindo), the final crewmember on our list of heroes. Braselton's $50 billion (that's right, $50 billion) ship is a long probe constructed of a metal called Inobtanium that is strong enough to withstand Earth's gravitational force. In the front of the ship is a laser generator that cuts through rock, and it will be used to cut through miles of crust, mantle and lava. The probe is divided into compartments like that of train. Each department is set to automatically seal its doors and eject from the rest of the craft if it sustains a certain amount of damage. Uh-oh, that's never a good sign in disaster movies to learn that the ship's compartment doors automatically slam shut. Let's just hope that nobody is ever caught in one of those rooms when it ejects.

As the crew prepares to descend hundreds of miles below the surface, Earth's magnetic field goes haywire and starts the unimaginable. As I've already hinted, birds, for no reason at all, begin nose-diving at tourists in Europe. And in Rome, everything that is metallic delivers a nasty shock upon touching it. Sure, it will get worse. For one, San Francisco gets destroyed, but Earth's population doesn't seem to react to those catastrophes, nor do they ever know that a crew of six is trying to save them from total annihilation. Well, the word gets out, but I'll save that for the conclusion.

So what is this mission, you ask? It is to set off a couple of nuclear explosions that they hope will get the core to start spinning again. The inside of the Earth reminds me of those colorful spinning patterns that rotate to a song's rhythm on an MP3 program. We get a decent view of Earth's interior as the crew drills through rock and lava.

At one point, which happens to be my favorite scene of the movie, the crew realizes they are about to enter dead airspace. This is a cool concept. To think that between the United States and China is a massive parcel of air. The crew will eventually have to save the ship after it crash-lands in a bed of crystals that consequently damages the ship's instruments. One can only imagine the pressure they must be withstanding several hundreds of miles below Earth's surface; to think your ears pop at only six feet, here they are hundreds of miles below. But the crew is able to exit the craft and space-walk on the crystal bed in their light space suits. One crew member makes the observation, "It looks like our suits can handle the pressure."

But it's not just the pressure laws that are painstakingly overlooked, it's many other things too. How is it possible that the crew is able to maintain perfect communication with ground control on the surface? I thought radio waves had trouble transmitting through caves and under bridges, yet the signal these guys use can transmit through miles of crust.

From here on out, problems happen and crew members start making sacrifices for mankind. But at this point the movie still lacks some suspense, so filmmakers turn to big-bad Government again. In the beginning, they came to escort Keyes to the military facility in the form of two black suited men. Now, Government is a secret team located somewhere in Alaska and in control of "Project Destiny," a laser that will be used to hopefully jumpstart the core if and only if our crew fails their mission.

And you should see their lair, a bleached white facility stocked full of Asian technicians and colorful graphs and -ometers. At one point, ground control tells Major Childs to come home because "Destiny" is about to take place, and if the crew is still at the center of the earth, they will surely fry. Of course, the evil Dr. Rimsky likes the idea of surfacing, but the good guys ignore command and proceed to improvise a plan to save the world after the original one failed.

The crew gets help from a kid called Rat (DJ Qualls), the computer genius that can "hack the planet" with a few keystrokes. In typical introductory fashion, we learn Rat's background when an official from Government reads aloud his rap sheet. "Top of your MIT class…famous hacker….convicted felon….blah blah blah…we need your help." And his job, you ask? To hack the planet in order to stall the flow of information in cyber space so nobody learns the truth about the dying planet. Before he agrees to cooperate, he does his geek-line from the trailer, "But first, I'll need an unlimited supply of Xena tapes and hot pockets." At this point, most the audience laughed, but I could only wonder to myself: he can have unlimited resources to anything he wants, and he calls for hot pockets? What about lobster, steak, or even Burger King? But he's the boss, and if it means he'll hack the planet and every official website, then give him his hot pockets and Xena re-runs.

Despite it's many faults, "The Core" can and will probably entertain the majority of audiences. However, I found too much fault in the ending to give this a passing grade. It is messy, as it has to do with singing to whales and telling the world about their heroes via internet. Had this all been cut out, I would have been much more satisfied.

On a good note, the acting is fabulous. I never expected such great performances, but everyone in the cast carried their weight, even Rat's DJ Qualls, who probably thought his job was more important than any of the crew submerged below Earth's surface.

The next paragraph is a spoiler that describes why I was so unsatisfied with the conclusion. It has to do with being unoriginal and extremely typical. If only it was done differently, this would have been a great and fun action movie. Instead, it is only a somewhat fun, kind of good action movie.

SPOILER WARNING:

This paragraph reveals details about the ending, so stop reading if you don't want to know the outcome of our heroes. The reason why I couldn't stand the conclusion is because I am tired of seeing the standard two-man love couple surviving team. Out of the six team members, only two of them survive, and I promise you that you'll figure it out immediately. You can already rule out the evil Dr. and the nameless pilot, now you have four left to choose from. If you guess the one female character who was made out to be a hero when she safely landed the spacecraft in the beginning, you are right. As for the other survivor, you'll know who he is just by the way he looks and the amount of screen time he gets.

When will Hollywood throw us a curveball? When will the character least-expected to make it be the one to survive? It can happen, and it can be done well. I've mentioned the evil Dr. Rimsky a few times in my review. He's the know-it-all character who is only concerned about himself and believes he should be the team leader. But he does turn around before his death. He becomes a good guy. How great it would have been for Dr. Rimsky to be one of the survivors. He would have been a changed man, rather than a changed man seconds shy of his obliteration.

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