More noise than signal

The Core

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Back in the seventies, when all this internet were just fields, there wasn’t the same level of special effects there are today. As such disaster movies had some tight constraints on them and were limited to relatively small scales, such as Airport or The Towering Inferno. As a genre it pretty much dropped off the radar until fairly recently. With advanced computer thingamajigs, it’s now possibly to dissolve the entire planet in pin-sharp digital crikeyvision. We’ve had multiple alien attacks, volcanoes, earthquakes, viruses, meteors, nukes, genetically modified foods, flying monkeys, Godzilla and every vaguely conceivable scenario thrown at us in recent times. What else could possibly threaten us?

Well, once we have eliminated the possible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the case. In The Core, the second blockbuster of the year behind Daredevil, the latest terror to befall our world is that the very core of the planet itself has stopped spinning. This, as you may imagine, is a bad thing. With the core stalled, the magnetic field around our planet destabilises and decays, causing all manner of whacky mishaps. Localised electromagnetic disturbances over a few city blocks cause pacemakers to fail, of which a surprisingly large number of people had fitted. In Trafalgar Square pigeons go crazy and start flying into buildings, cars, windows, people and anything else in the vicinity. From these oddities the brilliant, witty, heroic etc. Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) figures out the trouble the planet is in and takes his calculations to the brilliant, egotistical, sarcastic etc. Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci). He initially pooh-poohs Keyes’ ideas but after a more detailed, chain smoking powered analysis he calls in the military bigwigs of the Pentagon, taking more than his fair share of the credit for the discovery. The pair describe the consequences for the planet, boiling down to everyone dying within a year as microwave radiation cooks the planet once the magnetic field dissipates.

This is deemed sub-optimal. “What can be done about this?”, they ask. “Nothing”, they respond. Unless you have some kind of ship capable of withstanding the enormous pressures of the Earth’s core to deliver five nuclear bombs to restart the core, like some kind of mad planetary jump leads. The Pentagon doesn’t have such a craft, but they know a man who does. Or has plans for it at least. Dr. Edward Brazleton (Delroy Lindo) is yet another brilliant scientist, who bears a grudge against Zimsky for taking more than his fair share of the credit for their joint research back in the day, propelling Zimsky to international fame and Brazleton to obscurity in a hanger on a Utah salt plain.

He’s not done too badly, creating a nifty rock devouring ultrasonic beam, which seems to be referred to as a laser for the purposes of the film unless I missed a bit of crucial exposition. He has created a nifty compound to build the ship out of which, due to its name being 37 words long, he refers to as unobtanium. He at least has the good sense to look somewhat abashed for digging out the oldest sci-fi trick in the book, but the whole film doesn’t take itself at all seriously, which is commendable. I have normally been irritated by movie attempts to justify their plot-driven advances by having five minutes of techno-babble to try and establish that due to current theory this makes x possible and so can do y thus creating z, combined with some quantum acceleration dohickeys can create the necessary Future Technology 7. Here we just lay Future Technology 7 out on the table and get on with the special effects.

The ship is planned to be ready in about 12 years. The world needs it in 3 months, so money and manpower is thrown at it. The pilots come fresh from a spectacular landing of a space shuttle in a L.A. canal bed after being guided off course by magnetic interference. Col. Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) is the experienced commander and Maj. Rebecca ‘Beck’ Childs (Hilary Swank) the young hotshot ambitious rookie, not yet deemed ready for command by Iverson, to Beck’s chagrin. Dr. Sergei Leveque (Tch?ky Karyo) rounds out the squad for the mission, a close friend of Keynes and the nuclear weapons expert.

Supporting characters include NASA flight/depth controller Stick (Alfre Woodard) and almost entirely superfluous geeky computer jockey Rat (DJ Qualls). His role is to stop information of the Earth’s predicament and the mission getting out, so he ‘hacks the planet’ with a super-dooper wonder virus somehow. I’d be less annoyed with this patent nonsense if Rat had some other useful purpose that couldn’t be fulfilled by any other member, but no. Perhaps the character is an attempt to drag those computer geek in, although they’re exactly the ones that will be irritated by his Swordfish style messiah-of-hacking ability.

Although the vessel is built and largely full of Americans, it goes to some effort to point out that this is an international effort with resources and manpower coming from across the globe to finish the project. This is a welcome touch in a genre which almost always has world saving as an exclusively Yankee exercise.

The craft built, the mission gets underway with an aquatic launch. As the craft is pumping out ultrasonics, this confuses some passing whales, which sing to the craft and escort it to the bottom of the sea in a gorgonzola-esqe visual of the whole planet coming together as one. Once the drilling down starts in earnest, we can start to get into the heroic sacrifices the genre of film is famed for.

When you think of exiting forces of nature, a big rock is probably quite far from your mind. A film based on going through rock should logically be quite dull, and so it’s to the film’s credit that it remains fairly entertaining. Most of the effects budget is spent destroying things on land, such as electrical superstorms demolishing Rome and a microwave beam melting the Golden Gate bridge, displaying disasters’ remarkable tendency to home in on recognisable landmarks. As such, most of the voyage down is viewed through Keyes’ scanning/navigation device that provides a simple and effective view, cutting to the CG for the niftier shots of crossing over into the magma layers and a crash-landing in a bizarre crystal cave. To dig themselves out of this they don pressure suits and nip outside with a shovel. Well, a cutting laser allowing a great opportunity for selfless sacrifice. Please skip over the fact that these suits are withstanding a few hundred thousand p.s.i, how these remarkable suits came into existence in never explained and therefore surely unimportant.

And they continue down, with the modular design of the ship allowing it to jettison damaged sections as it falls, allowing more selfless sacrifice. I’ll skip the details of who dies where in the interest of preserving the surprise for y’all. The remaining crew reach the core, only to find it far less dense than expected. This is unfortunate as they now don’t have the firepower to start the core up again. The crew look to be stuck, and Zimsky urges them to do back and utilise his backup plan, Project Destiny, a weapon created by Zimsky to cause earthquakes through Future Technology 6. This may or may not have caused the Earth to be in it’s current broken state, but that’s more of a side issue than anything. The rest of the crew want to continue on and think of some other way, which Zimsky rightly although hysterically points out as madness. Stanley Tucci is undoubtedly the star in the film, hugely overbearing, self-serving and egotistical and very funny with it. Overblown and not deviating from type, to be sure, but that fits with the themes of the film well.

After going to pains to point out that it took him and a few hundred others 3 months to do the simulations to restart the core, and how it’s inconceivable that they could do it in the meagre time and resources left to them. He then promptly does it, after hilariously demanding he be allowed to smoke a cigarette before revealing it. This kind of self-nullifying the silliness of it for the most part excuses it from blame. The scriptwriters know we aren’t expecting to take this seriously and takes the opportunity to poke a little fun at the genre, while staying within it’s established boundaries. This makes what would otherwise be a bland experience more colourful.

Of course, they win and the world is saved after some more selfless sacrifice. And, being a very Hollywood movie, the survivors of the mission all learn a valuable life lesson and end as better people. The film is a comparatively lengthy 135 minutes, but doesn’t ever seem to drag which is an achievement in itself.

The Core isn’t a challenging movie, but it’s not marketed as such. It has one of the worst trailers in recent memory that had me expecting an uber-turkey, but I was pleasantly surprised. The CG shots are pretty good, although not earth-shattering if you’ll pardon the pun, and the script, while silly offers a few opportunities for laughs and the liberties taken with science are glossed over in ways that are far less offensive than most other sci-fi flicks. Acting is good throughout, Tucci having a ball with his character and Aaron Eckhart proving charismatic with a good sense of comic delivery for many of his asides and conversations with Tch?ky Karyo.

It’s not enough for it to be described as a ‘good film’, but even ‘average film’ could be considered a triumph given how dumb a concept it’s chosen to run with. I’m violating my own hatred of the ‘if you don’t think about it it’s good’ principle, but I feel it’s self-parodying nature justifies it.