The Core (2003)

The Core is a not-very-well-received 2003 sci-fi movie starring Aaron Eckhart as geology professor Dr. Josh Keyes, who discovers that the Earth’s core has stopped spinning, and it’s up to Keyes and his merry band of scientists to burrow down and fix things up before something bad happens, like, say, the end of the world.

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The movie starts off just as the core has stopped spinning, which leads to some immediate trouble; that is to say, absolute mayhem. The effects wreak havoc on people all around the world: Pacemakers give out, people drop dead, watches quit ticking, birds go crazy, and even the Space Shuttle’s navigation systems go awry, forcing its crew to crash land in the Los Angeles River. All of this goes on while Keyes and his colleagues search frantically for an explanation for all these disasters.

The Core (2003)

Keyes figures it out pretty quickly, being the geologist that he is, and takes his newfound information to the greatest scientific mind he knows, which is apparently some condescending jerk named Conrad Zimsky (played by Stanley Tucci). Zimsky gives the typical genius “Hoho, I’m right and you’re wrong” spiel, then immediately has to eat his words when he sees Keyes’s evidence. He decides they should take these findings to the government, who quickly realize that the end of the world is indeed a big deal, and so begin assembling their dream team.

The Core (2003)

Keyes, his friend Dr. Serge Leveque (Tchéky Karyo), and Zimsky fly out to the desert where another scientist named Ed Brazzleton (Delroy Lindo) has already been building, conveniently enough, a device that uses lasers to drill through solid rock. Brazzleton is then given a large sum of money to immediately bring his laser project to completion. And luckily for them, he’s also created a material called “unobtainium” (no, James Cameron didn’t invent the term) that can convert extreme heat and pressure into energy.

The Core (2003)

Using this material, he designs a large vessel made for tunneling into the Earth’s core, which he names Virgil (after the character who, as the movie reminds those who skipped high school literature, guided Dante through the circles of Hell).

Joining the crew are astronauts Rebecca Childs (Hilary Swank) and Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood), who were part of the crew that crash landed the Space Shuttle, and who serve as the pilots of the ship.

The Core (2003)

They load the ship up with tons of nuclear explosives in order to detonate them at the core and start a chain reaction to get it spinning again. Yes, much like Armageddon, a team of experts are dispatched with nukes to a hostile environment to save the Earth from imminent destruction, only this time they get launched in the opposite direction.

Oh, and they also decide to hire a stereotypical hacker kid (DJ Qualls) to hang out at Mission Control, ostensibly as some kind of backup plan, but mainly to annoy the more technologically savvy viewers.

The Core (2003)

They take off into the ocean near the Marianas Trench, and enter into the crust of the Earth. But they soon find out it’s a whole new world underneath the surface (well, technically, it’s the same world, but still). The crew braves several perils, including numerous run-ins with superheated magma, giant diamonds, and getting trapped inside a massive geode.

The Core (2003)

During the course of their journey, there’s talk about a shady military project called DESTINI (which is misspelled by the movie as “Destiny” not five minutes after someone explains the acronym). What kind of sci-fi flick would this be without some secret, foreboding government plan waiting to be used as a last resort at the expense of our main characters’ lives? Probably a unique one.

The special effects range from decent to downright immersion-breaking at some points. Some of the machines feel stiff and too robotic, and other effects, like the laser that burns through rock or the sun’s rays, look too cheesy for the kind of movie they’re in. Or maybe cheesy effects are perfect for this movie and its premise.

The Core (2003)

As far as the science is concerned, it seems like they at least put some thought into what would happen if the Earth’s core stopped spinning, and what it would take to fix it, even if the technology they use is pure fantasy, and restarting the core in real life would be utterly impossible. The parts of the interior of Earth that were shown, such as the giant crystal geode cave, were pretty cool looking and an interesting take on what could lie underneath the surface. Although, according to the IMDb, a course at the University of British Columbia uses this film to teach students about bad science. Oh well, so much for that.

The plot, while silly, was at least an entertaining idea. However, the actual implementation of the plot drags the movie’s already suffering quality down with it. About the first hour or so is nothing but people preparing to embark on Virgil, mixed in with various scenes of disasters to remind everyone that despite the meandering pace of the first half of the film, there is a looming threat that requires immediate attention.

The Core (2003)

This gives way to the second half of the movie, which consists of the crew sitting in their seats reporting on hull integrity while Rebecca navigates the ship. For the most part, it’s just shots of the navigation computer displaying different colored shapes, and occasionally the crew has some kind of crisis or encounter with trouble, requiring someone to sacrifice himself, which at least breaks up the monotony.

The Core (2003)

Droning plot aside, the characters (barring the annoying hacker kid) are all pretty likeable and the right mixture of silly and serious. For instance, Zimsky and Brazzleton have some prior history, and bicker humorously from time to time, but eventually end up working together in the confines of Virgil because if they don’t, the world is doomed. It was surprising to see relatively well-done characters, or at least likeable characters, in an otherwise mediocre movie.

The Core (2003)

The Core, at first glance, seemed like just another crappy sci-fi disaster flick that would be hilariously awful, but it was a pleasant surprise to see that it was a step up from your typical action blockbuster. It’s not really impactful or profound or anything like that, it just isn’t as awful as it appears based solely on the premise. It has its fair share of flaws (the least of which are the actual science) but looking past these flaws, it’s still an enjoyable experience, albeit a tad bit long. If you’ve seen Armageddon, you’ve basically seen this movie, and if you haven’t seen either and are looking for a simple popcorn action…-ish flick, then give it a try. It’s an amusing movie, and manages to remain interesting through some of its duller moments.

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  • Sardu

    I love this move, and so does my wife. To us, it’s a total throw-back to Irwin Allen and those types of rediculous yet loveable “sci-fi” action popcorn flicks. I don’t think anyone involved with The Core took it remotely seriously, which is what sets it apart from Micheal Bay and related shit-fests. Like you said, at least this movie really does have likeable characters, even the scientist jerk-wad. Except for DJ. He should have died in a fire.

  • Thomas Stockel

    Maybe I’m mis-remembering this, but I thought the original trailers implied that some sort of military weapon had been responsible for the core’s state, and then by the time the film came out things had gotten re-written. Does anyone recall that or is my subconscious just making stuff up?

    Anyway, if they did re-write that, good for them. I got pretty tired of military-is-evil subplots a long time ago.

    • danbreunig

      I think that really was a plot point, at least according to my memory when I saw it in the theatre. It just wasn’t especially as in-your-face as other movies cut from this cloth can get. The military jumped on the scientists to fix the problem immediately because their top secret project caused it in the first place. It also didn’t sit right with me that the scientists/heroes’ mentality was “anything to fix this” without really initially considering “what started this?–we can use that knowledge as our answer”. At least not without some exposition long after the fact.

    • mamba

      The movie itself hinted that it was a test firing of the DESTINI that caused the problem in the first place, and the millitary quickly changed the subject when one of the characters brought it up. It was around the time they first mentioned the DESTINI as their “back-up plan”.

      As Danbreunig brought up, they wanted the scientists to deal with it, but they didn’t even want to talk about DESTINI until they absolutely had to, because they knew they were to blame.

      If I can find a youtube clip of the scene in question, I’ll post it sometime.