THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Core begins with the premise that the earth's core has stopped spinning, leading to a series of electromagnetic storms that threaten the existence of mankind. Somehow on my list of things to worry about, this is relatively low. As silly as it was, even Armageddon had a more unnerving concept because it's easier to believe that a giant asteroid will collide with Earth than it is to believe that our planet's core will simply shut down. Just because an idea is silly doesn't mean you can't enjoy the movie, though. When we are living in a post-terrorism era (and in a current war situation), it's kind of nice to sit down and watch a movie in which everyone is worrying about something we in the audience really don't have to worry about.

A group of "terranauts" travels to the center of the earth in The Core
To "fix" the earth's problem, the government calls in a predictably ragtag group of experts. Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) is a college professor specializing in geophysics; Sergei Leveque (Tcheky Karyo) is an atomic weapons expert; Rebecca "Beck" Childs (Hillary Swank) and Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) are astronauts who averted catastrophe by landing a wayward space shuttle in the Los Angeles river; Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) is a much-lauded (and very egotistical) geophysicist; and Ed "Braz" Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo) is a mad scientist who invents a machine that will allow all of these "terranauts" to journey through the planet to its core. Once there, they will launch nuclear explosions designed to kickstart the core's rotation again.

This is one of those movies - much like a Michael Crichton novel - where the story basically consists of the team experiencing one problem after another. Each time something happens to threaten their mission, a character will stop and stare off into the distance thoughtfully before coming up with an a-ha! solution. As soon as one problem is fixed (via incredibly complicated scientific principles which are nevertheless easily explained), another one pops up in its place. This happens repeatedly, right up to the last two minutes of the film, when all suddenly becomes well. I should add that I like Michael Crichton novels and, although the author had nothing to do with The Core, the movie very much adopts the formula of one of his page-turning books.

The whole premise of the movie is kind of silly, but how could it be anything less? We know space, so it's easy to make a realistic outer space movie, such as Apollo 13. Conversely, we know relatively little about what the earth looks like 2,000 feet or more below the surface, so the film has to make certain things up (albeit using what scientific knowledge we do possess). Silly though it may be, I am certain that The Core knows it's silly and actually intends to be silly. You can see it in the occasional bits of broad humor, as well as in the amusingly tongue-in-cheek performances from the fine cast. Stanley Tucci in particular seems to be having fun giving a performance that would have been right at home in a B-grade 1950's sci-fi thriller. Even the special effects tip you off that this is purposefully wacky; some of them are cheesy in a vintage kind of way. Certainly the filmmakers could have used their budget to create extremely polished effects. The fact that they left some rough edges around suggests to me that a spirit of fun took precedent over the desire to be "real."

That last bit said, there were two scenes in which the special effects look too real. One involves the destruction of several landmarks in Rome, the other shows the collapse of the Golden Gate bridge. Having seen a world-famous landmark destroyed for real on 9/11, I find this kind of thing off-putting in movies now. It's intended to be exciting I guess, but really it just made me uncomfortable.

As I watched The Core, I was often reminded of Deep Impact, another movie in which our planet was threatened with imminent destruction. That film undoubtedly had a more ambitious premise, as it attempted to show how ordinary people tied up the loose ends in their lives when faced with catastrophe. However ambitious its idea, Deep Impact didn't work for me; it made it seem like the petty problems of a few people were more significant than the death of mankind as a whole. The Core takes a less ambitious road, but succeeds more. The focus here is on the journey to save the earth. There are no domestic squabbles to get in the way of what we've really paid our seven bucks for. The fast pace begins early on and never lets up.

The Core is probably not a movie for die-hard science freaks who want to know what it would really be like to travel to the center of the planet. Nor is it a movie for those who want to be creeped out by the thought of impending disaster (the film never plays the scenario for nearly as much fright value as it could). So who is this movie for? I believe that it is for people who miss the spirit of sci-fi movies of the past. Flicks like Fantastic Voyage, which was also about a journey inward, or dozens of other similar films that weren't afraid to take an almost impossibly unrealistic idea and have fun with it. Film critics have a label they often use for this kind of amusingly lightweight fare: "popcorn movie." I've never been overly fond of that label, but that's exactly what The Core is, and I (pardon the expression) dug it in a turn-off-your-brain-and-munch-on-some-popcorn kind of way.

( out of four)

The Core is rated PG-13 for sci-fi life/death situations and brief strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.

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