The Core Review
If you're making a big, expensive disaster film, it's best to pick a disaster that doesn't require too much explaining. A volcano erupting, an asteroid heading for Earth, a skyscraper catching fire - these are fears we can all identify with. In The Core, the liquid magma at the centre of the Earth stops rotating and electromagnetic waves play havoc with the weather. I don't know about you but this is not something I lose sleep worrying about. It's little wonder that the $85 million movie is shaping up to be the biggest box office flop of the year. Not that it really deserves such a fate. This is one of the more entertaining pictures I've seen in the last few weeks, although not entirely for the reasons the film-makers hoped.
I used to doze off during Geography lessons so my geology is a little rusty but I'll try to summarise the plot as best I can. The Earth has a core made of molten lava which spins at thousands of miles an hour. This core has stopped rotating and for reasons I didn't understand, this is causing massive electromagnetic interference in the atmosphere. The first symptoms are people with pacemakers dropping dead in the street, birds going crazy and the space shuttle entering the atmosphere miles off course. In three months, every electronic device in the world will stop working and superstorms will ravage the planet. In a year, the shield around the atmosphere which protects us from cosmic radiation will have been destroyed and we'll all be cooked alive by microwaves. The cooking part doesn't sound too pleasant but look on the bright side - that's nine months with no mobile phones. The only way to save the world is to set off a giant nuclear explosion at the Earth's core so the US government, which is keeping the situation a secret to avoid panic, builds a rocket ship which can burn its way through the Earth's crust and survive the intense heat of the molten rock underneath. To pilot the vessel and carry out its mission, they assemble a crew of six "terranauts".
Aaron Eckhart is the ruggedly handsome, wise-cracking college professor who broke the news about the impending catastrophe; Bruce Greenwood is the square-jawed NASA mission commander; Hilary Swank is the beautiful rookie co-pilot; Stanley Tucci is the arrogant, world-famous scientific expert; Delroy Lindo is the resentful genius Tucci screwed to get where he is; Tchéky Karyo is the lovable French guy who misses his wife and kids. Now as the rocketship has obviously been designed to create a new life-threatening crisis every twenty minutes, the more cynical among you will be guessing who dies and in what order. If you can't pick at least three who are obviously doomed, you're a disaster movie amateur. If you didn't even get the Frenchman, shame on you.
Back at Mission Control are Alfre Woodard doing her best Ed Harris impression, Richard Jenkins as a sinister general who knows more about what's happening than he's letting on and DJ Qualls as a brilliant teenage computer hacker whose assignment is, I swear to god, to prevent conspiracy theories about the disaster taking off on the internet. His real job is to fill the Wesley Crusher role, named after the young genius in Star Trek: The Next Generation who used to save the Enterprise in every other episode. The list above includes some of the best character actors working today and while they're not exactly stretched here, the script is wittier than you'd expect and Eckhart and Tucci in particular make the most of their lines.
The over-qualified cast and capable director Jon Amiel struggle valiantly to disguise The Core's second major flaw, after the head-scratching premise, which is that this is supposed to be a spectacular sci-fi blockbuster yet the sight of a ship which resembles a large Toblerone bar ploughing through orange lava is not exciting to watch. In fact the computer effects gets repetitive and dull very quickly. Nor are scenes of people in jumpsuits talking scientific jargon a lot of fun. The script tries to compensate the same way Meteor and Armageddon did, by cutting to disasters taking place on the surface. Of course the catastrophes only strike famous, recognisible cities like Rome and San Fransisco so we get to see the Colisseum explode and the Golden Gate Bridge collapse. Still, the best set pieces are at the beginning: pigeons dive-bombing tourists in Trafalgar Square and the space shuttle making an emergency landing in downtown Los Angeles. The shuttle sequence is done so well that nothing else ever comes close to topping it.
The Core is not a great film, it's not one of the better disaster movies and it's not even the number one guilty pleasure around at the moment - that title goes to Cradle 2 The Grave. I can't recommend you go out and spend your hard-earned money on seeing it but nor do I have the heart to condemn it. This is a movie made for a wet bank holiday afternoon when there's nothing on telly and you fancy a big, daft Hollywood blockbuster to cheer you up. The Core may not be a blockbuster but it's definitely big and daft, it's more fun than it has any right to be and there are much worse ways to waste two hours.