Saturday, March 07, 2009

Film Review: 'The Core' – 7.0/10

Film Review: Sci-Fi • Disaster (2003)
'The Core'
Written by Joé McKen on Saturday, March 07, 2009

Major Rebecca Childs (Hilary Swank) learns there are some obstacles you just can't beat (though not many) in Jon Amiel’s 2003 The Core.

(NOTE – This is a special review that I’ve divided in two parts: the actual film review, detailing and reviewing the film itself, the characters, plot, etc.; and the scientific aspects of the film, detailing what’s acceptable and what’s just ludicrous to the point of hysterical laughter. I’ve made a separate page for each section.)

Section I/II: Film Review of The Core

Let’s play a little game called ‘Solve the Riddle’. Here’re the clues: a bunch of people, within a few city blocks in downtown Boston, all hit the ground dead in less than a second; a swarm of birds suddenly goes berserk in London’s Trafalgar Square as though they all instantly went blind; and a NASA Space Shuttle experiences electronic interference that results in them trying to find a landing spot in downtown Los Angeles.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably be thinking ‘terrorist attacks?’ or such. But if you’re Dr. Joshua Keys (Aaron Eckhart), a geophysicist college professor, your guess is that the Earth’s core has stopped spinning, causing the Earth’s electromagnetic field to collapse. Rather rash a judgment to make, no?

Actually, that’s exactly the scenario governing Paramount Pictures’ 2003 flick The Core. The film is rather eclectic in its own way: a mixture of solid acting, an endurable script, some fairly ho-hum special effects, an insane plot that belongs to the realms of Jules Verne’s wildest dreams, some genuinely good humor at times, and a motley mixture of science ranging from feasible to utterly ridiculous.

The movie starts off as per the formula of pretty much all such disaster films, with quick scenes of some seemingly random and isolated incidents here and there. Then we slowly but surely are introduced to those who will become the central characters. Now that Dr. Josh Keys has a hypothesis as to what’s going on, he approaches Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci), a self-absorbed caricature of Carl Sagan, with his results, which leads to the pair explaining to the military how the Earth without its electromagnetic field is essentially doomed in less than a year.

Deciding they need to reach the Earth’s core (an idea that anyone with a minimal understanding of geology and geophysics will simply heartily laugh at, perhaps to the point of tears), Drs. Keys and Zimsky, along with the military, visit reclusive scientist Dr. Ed ‘Braz’ Brazzleton (Delroy Lindo) in his desert hangar, where he’s spent the last few years designing and building a subterranean vehicle that could, in theory, reach the Earth’s core, constructed of a 37-syllable material he dubs 'Unobtanium' which, in theory, only gets stronger as its exposed to higher levels of heat and pressure. He and his ship, appropriately christened the Virgil, are recruited by the military to plan a mission to reach the Earth’s core, and then launch a thousand-megaton nuclear bomb to, somehow, restart the core’s spinning, saving the Earth from being roasted by the Sun’s cosmic radiations.

I need some Tylenol. Can’t stand much more of this laughter-induced headache.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Space Shuttle manages to land with minimal damage in L.A.’s river system, all thanks to the quick thinking and skills of Major Rebecca ‘Beck’ Childs (the pretty Hilary Swank). Instead of having her career terminated as she’d feared, she’s instead reassigned, along with her Commander, Robert ‘Bob’ Iverson (Bruce Green), to the Navigator’s post of the aforementioned Deep Earth mission, where she meets her fellow Terranauts (her term).

The last addition to the team is beaker-nosed Donald ‘Rat’ Finch (DJ Qualls), called the world’s best hacker. (Pfft – if they knew anything about hacking, he’d be called a cracker, not a hacker.) His role in this shindig? Controlling the flow of information on the entire fucking Internet to try and prevent panic across the world. (What, are phone lines, ‘snail mail’ and word-of-mouth systems all down?)

This is where I’ll leave the plot of the movie hanging, for two reasons: one, this review is running a bit long already, and two, it’s so twisting and complicated you’d need a novella to detail it anyway. There are many things to be said about this movie, ranging from praise to tearing it up with a machine gun, so I’ll try to wade through it with a modicum of coherence.

The visuals are a bit outdated, even by 2003’s standards; nothing horrible perhaps, but they do seem to be about 10 years overdue for an overhaul or something. The score, from Christopher Young, isn’t one of my favorites, but it fits the movie’s mood perfectly with tense strings and ambient horns, coupled with the occasional bout of percussion.

Several seem to criticize the acting or characterization in this film; I dunno what they’re talking about, as most of the characters I saw in this movie are rock-solid and quite credible in their dialogue and mannerisms. Eckhart plays the know-it-all handsome Dr. Josh Keys, while the pretty Hilary Swank incarnates ‘Beck’ Childs, who refuses to be beat by obstacles ranging from dodging Everest-sized diamonds to tying a Windsor; I also particularly liked the arrogant and egocentric Dr. Zimsky, who you can’t help but like even though his irritating self-concern. Others however, such as Delroy Lindo as ‘Braz’ and Tchéky Karyo as Josh’s friend Serge, are utterly forgettable.

However, that’s pretty much where the praise ends for now. One of the movie’s biggest problems is that it reeks of inexperience or uncertainty on the part of the director, Jon Amiel. The movie’s pacing and editing is wonky and unbalanced, with quick cuts spanning hours or days followed by scenes that seem to drag on and on, and much of the story, even outside of its scientific goofery, seems quite haphazard in writing and plotting.

Now normally this here is where I’d launch into details and criticism about the plot and what’s feasible and not, but I’m saving that for that second page I keep mentioning (you know, this one), so I guess that’s pretty much it for this movie’s review for now.

Overall, this is a perfectly decent action film to just lay back and watch with some popcorn or chips at hand, but don’t be expecting too much out of it or you’ll be left embittered. I myself had a perfectly good time watching it, it’s a good distraction from the dullness of everyday life, and some of the special effects, such as a certain famous bridge being devastated, are quite entertaining. This movie is worth your time if you’ve got two hours or so to kill, but you should perhaps leave it at a rental unless you’re a buff for these sorts of movies.

For giving us an asinine story completed with good acting and shaky science, I give Paramount Pictures’ The Core 7.0 exploding Coliseums out of 10.

Dr. Joshua ‘Josh’ Keys: Aaron Eckhart • Maj. Rebecca ‘Beck’ Childs: Hilary Swank • Dr. Ed ‘Braz’ Brazzleton: Delroy Lindo • Dr. Conrad Zimsky: Stanley Tucci • Theodore Donald ‘Rat’ Finch: DJ Qualls • Cmdr. Robert Iverson: Bruce Greenwood • Serge: Tchéky Karyo • Gen. Thomas Purcell: Richard Jenkins
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Jon Amiel • Writer(s): Cooper Layne, John Rogers • Original Score: Christopher Young
General Information
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures • Released: March 28, 2003 • Running Time: 135 mins • Budget: US$85 Million (production) + US$30 Million (advertising) • Rated: PG-13

Head to Part II/II: Scientific Review of The Core


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