Daily Archives: March 6, 2023
The Core (2003) [Review Re-View]
Originally released March 28, 2003:
I knew about 15 minutes in that The Core was not going to take its science too seriously. Aaron Eckhart, as a hunky science professor, is addressing military generals and essentially says, “We broke the Earth.” He tells them that because the Earth no longer spins (don’t think about it, you’ll only hurt yourself) the electromagnetic shield will dissipate and the sun will cook our planet. And just to make sure people understand the term “cook” he sets a peach on fire as an example. At this point I knew The Core was going to be a ridiculous disaster flick with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.
Earth’s core has stopped spinning and horrific disasters are starting to be unleashed with anything from drunken bird attacks to lightening strikes in Rome. I always love how in disaster films Mother Nature always instinctively goes after the monuments, the landmarks, the things of cultural importance. The United States government hires a ragtag group of scientists and NASA pilots to journey to the center of the Earth and jump-start our planet. Of course everything that can go wrong on this fantastic journey will eventually go wrong.
The Core is so improbable, so silly, that it ends up being guilty fun. If you let go, ignore the incredible amounts of birth imagery (the sperm-like ship tunneling through to get to the egg-like core), then the very game cast will take you for a fun ride.
There’s a scene where the government approaches kooky scientist Delroy Lindo to build the super-ship that will take them to said core. When asked how much he thinks it’ll cost Lindo laughs and says, ”Try fifty billion dollars.” The government responds, ”Can you take a check?” I was pleasantly reminded of an episode of Futurama where the space-time continuum is disrupted and time keeps skipping forward. The old scientist and a Harlem Globetrotter (it was a very funny episode) theorize that to create a machine to stop this problem they would need all the money on the Earth. Flash immediately to the two of them being handed a check that says, “All the money of the Earth.” Richard Nixon’s head, in its glass jar, then says, “Get going, you know we cant spend All the Money on the Earth every day.”
The assembled cast is quite nice. Hilary Swank assumes a leadership role quite nicely. Eckhart is suitably hunky and dashing. Stanley Tucci is very funny as an arrogant science snob. Tcheky Karyo (the poor man’s Jean Reno) is … uh, French. I don’t think anyone would believe that these people were the best in their fields (only in movies are scientists not old white men but hunky and sexy fun-lovin folk).
Director Jon Amiel (Entrapment) seems to know the preposterous nature of his films proceedings and amps up the campy thrills. An impromptu landing of the space shuttle in an L.A. reservoir is a fantastic action set piece, yet is likely the reason the film was delayed after the Columbia crash. The cornball science and steady pacing make The Core an enjoyable if goofy ride. The film does run out of steam and goes on for 20 minutes longer than it should.
The Core is pure escapist entertainment without a thought in its head. And in dire times of war and harsh realism blaring at us every evening, there’s nothing wrong with a little juicy escapist fair. Buy a big tub of popcorn and enjoy. Does anyone else wonder if we broke the Earth just after its 5 billion-year warranty was up?
Nate’s Grade: C+
WRITER REFLECTIONS 20 YEARS
I never knew just how influential the 2003 disaster movie The Core has been. It’s a schlocky Hollywood sci-fi thriller built upon junk science but still enjoyable junk food entertainment. However, the science was so unrepentantly bad, that the science community as a whole decided to do something about it, and in 2008 the Science & Entertainment Exchange was launched. Founded by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), its director Rick Loverd told Salon magazine how influential pop culture can be in its depiction of science, citing Star Trek inspiring scientists, Top Gun inspiring pilots, and CSI inspiring young forensic students. He also cites the power of seeing positive representation, like 2016’s Hidden Figures. The Science & Entertainment Exchange is an organization that is intended to consult on the application and depictions of science in cinema, hoping to make things more realistic. Apparently, The Core’s director, Jon Amiel (Entrapment), was so taken back when a science advisor was bad-mouthing the movie to Scientific American because he was under the impression that his movie, including restarting the Earth’s iron core with atomic bombs, had been scientifically accurate. Among the scientific community, they regard The Core as the nadir of big screen accuracy (as an example of a movie that got the science fairly accurate, they cite 2014’s Interstellar). I bet you never knew how truly influential and world-changing The Core was, albeit for being a junk movie. However, as it was in 2003, and even twenty years later, this is exactly my kind of junk.
I recognized the campy appeal of The Core right away. It’s a goofy movie from the premise to the science to the action set pieces but it’s all played one hundred percent straight, which makes it that much more entertaining and amusing. The opening sequence involves people with pacemakers dropping dead (approximately 1.5 million people worldwide). Then the birds start acting funny and crashing into buildings and cars and panicked outdoor crowds. For a disaster movie literally about the possible demise of the planet, this is such a strange and minimalist start to the looming threat at hand. The movie feels like it’s a throwback to the science fiction mission movies of the 1950s with a touch of the worldwide disaster movies of the 1970s. Even with the modern special effects, which are as delightfully cheesy as the rest of the movie, it doesn’t feel akin to the disaster epics of Roman Emmerich. The movie feels cornier and more dated and less interested in large-scale disaster spectacle. The surface-level disaster carnage is marginal, mostly an out-of-control lightening storm in Rome that knows to always steer for the monuments and cultural artifacts. The Core, at its core, is about the fantastic journey of its brave scientists. Take for instance a scene where the Serge is locked behind and being crushed to death by extreme pressure. I don’t know how anyone could keep a straight face while Aaron Eckhart, our handsome lead scientist, shouts, “Serge!” over and over while Tcheky Karyo (The Patriot) pretends he’s being squished to death while the walls get closer and closer to his face. That’s the kind of stuff I want, not CGI waves killing thousands in large-scale yet antiseptic spectacle.
The movie takes about an hour before it really gets going, which is also admirably silly. Why devote so much time to setting up the reality of this dilemma for the complications and solutions to seem so throwaway? Seriously, the government uses one hacker (DJ Qualls) to control the entire Internet so that they can cover up the news about the possible impending apocalypse. It reminds me of an episode of The X-Files from the early 1990s where the government sends out an “all-Internet alert.” Perhaps the screenwriters felt we needed more time to accept the outlandish premise, which is strange because most disaster movies get a significant benefit of the doubt from audiences. Just having a person in glasses, and maybe a lab coat, or sweater if you want it to be more casual, explaining in a grave tone while removing their glasses dramatically, is likely all we need to accept the craziness to come. However, we do spend more time with our characters so that, when they depart one-by-one through sacrifice and accident, I actually cared enough because I was enjoying their comradery. I enjoyed Stanley Tucci being a blowhard who would even record his own narration as they travel through the Earth. I enjoyed Bruce Greenwood as the stern father figure that of course has to die first. I enjoyed Delroy Lindo as our excited but exasperated drill scientist. I enjoyed Hilary Swank as, essentially, the “best damn pilot I’ve ever seen.” I liked simply watching them all banter and bond together. It had enough development that their losses actually felt like losses and/or the accumulation of a character arc.
The question arises how do you keep things interesting when you’re burrowing through layer after layer of rock, and the answer is to just make things up. How about a layer of air? Could the Earth, compact as it is through billions of years of gravitational forces, have a layer of air like it was an English muffin? I did enjoy how the team had to restart their vessel before the magma poured into the vacant and awaiting space from their entry point. Of course, that raises the question now that magma is filling this vacant layer, have these scientists unintentionally ruined this unknown layer of the Earth? How about a layer with diamonds the size of states? These internal layers might as well be alien planets for as little they connect to reality.
The movie is overlong and too uneven, but for fans of schlocky science fiction, it’s a delicious combination of campy entertainment. The silliness, played completely straight, even down to the part where Richard Jenkins explains man’ hubris is at fault for destroying the rotation of the Earth, is the grand appeal. I’m not going to call The Core a good movie but it sure feels like it knows exactly what kind of movie it is, and boy does it lean into that. My original review in 2003 caught on right away and I still recognized that same knowing vibe (why do we need a visual demonstration for the obvious concept of the sun cooking the Earth?). There really is a lot of birthing imagery too with the shape of the vessel burrowing to that egg at the center, so there’s that as well. The special effects are pretty murky and hokey for this kind of budget, but in 2023, that even works to the bountiful charms of the movie. I won’t pretend that most people will watch The Core with derision regardless of whether or not you’re an actual scientist. It inspired a generation of movies to be more scientifically sound, and it also inspired one of the biggest filmmakers on the planet. The metal that encases the spaceship? Unobtanium. You cannot tell me James Cameron wasn’t watching and taking notes.
Re-View Grade: B
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