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The Core (2003) Review

The Core was directed by Jon Amiel (Creation, The Man Who Knew Too Little), written by Cooper Layne (The Fog (2005 remake), Ruthless) and John Rogers (Leverage, Marry Me), and stars Aaron Eckhart (Wander, Paycheck), Hilary Swank (The Homesman, Red Dust), Delroy Lindo (LX 2048, Crooklyn), Tcheky Karyo (Vicky and Her Mystery, 1492: Conquest of Paradise), Stanley Tucci (Spotlight, Montana), Bruce Greenwood (The Resident, Passenger 57), DJ Qualls (Z Nation, Delta Farce), and Richard Jenkins (Kong: Skull Island, Berlin Station). It follows a team of scientists and engineers as they drill down to the slowing center of the Earth to get it moving again.

The Plot: Layne and Rogers seem to have made an effort to make their version of the apocalypse as silly as possible, as nothing about the story holds up to either scientific or narrative scrutiny, but they plow downward toward the end.

On Earth Day (go figure), a large number of people simply drop dead. General Purcell (Jenkins) calls on University of Chicago professor Keyes (Eckhart) and weapons specialist Serge (Karyo) to figure out whether or not a weapon caused it, or some other event. In a quick and easy way to drum up suspense, Purcell pushes the two men away until more random sub-disasters happen, which results in Keyes calling on scientist Zimsky (Tucci), who calls back to Purcell in a tangled knot of relations, but this at least gets The Core moving.

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Since those in power are finally listening, The Core has one of those scenes where our main character puts the scenario in layman’s terms: the electromagnetic field is failing because the Earth’s center has stopped flowing. Silly as this may be, it is a creative idea that the movie sells acceptably well. It’s selling the process of getting down there, which it fails at. Acquiring the rest of the crew means bringing on astronauts Beck (Swank) and Iverson (Greenwood), ship designer Brazzelton (Lindo), whose machine they’ll use to bore down to the titular location and release a nuke to restart it, and hacker Rat (Qualls) since this was made in the early 2000s.

Amiel doesn’t have an inspired story to work with, but The Core tries to pass off some authenticity, which falls by the wayside as soon as the ball is rolling. Beyond semantic differences, there’s nothing here that has yet to be seen, even in the twist, which does at least give some personality to the feature.

The Characters: The writers offer up a weird mix of cartoons and semi-realistic personas throughout the roster of The Core. Success is present in both areas, but so is an equal amount of failure from poorly sketched noblemen and villains.

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As far as the down-to-Earth (pun intended) characters go, there are Keyes, Beck, Serge, and Iverson. Keyes is a geophysics professor who clearly wants his students to take interest in what he’s teaching, as he tries to make lessons interesting and concise. He knows what his capabilities are but never flaunts them, and oftentimes wants to be wrong about all of his work given the subject. Beck has made her way up the NASA ladder with Iverson, who doesn’t share much of a bond. Always wanting more success and room to lead, she took over a crashing spaceship and navigated it back to the surface without dying. These two fare well, while Serge and Iverson are blank slates.

Instead of sticking to believable characteristics, The Core includes a helping of over-the-top characters too. All of this ilk are one-note caricatures and only serve to grab attention for the wrong reasons. Brazzelton is a super scientist who developed not only a new element but has used it to create electricity and utilized it to make his ship. Zimsky is the chain-smoking, egomaniacal scientist who cares more about getting credit for saving the world than actually doing so, and Rat is the requisite hacker who can do anything the screenwriters need. It’s a chronic case of convolution and backdoor writing that stifles half of the people in The Core, though thankfully(?) it’s just one half and not both.

The Adventure: Undoubtedly watched by those who wanted another serving of apocalyptic action, Amiel indulges the desire while mainly aspiring to take the crew on the most improbable journey ever put to screens. Some of the sights in The Core keep it watchable in the most brainless sense, and there are some good setpieces, but, in the same fashion as the plot, no surprises here.

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Hour one is largely spent observing the situation and preparing the mission, which is where the movie has its highlights. None of what happens on-screen comes close to reality – especially the blatant disregard for thermodynamic laws – but the setup is replete with the piecing together of tools like Brazzelton’s boring laser and the time lapses of both the ship being built and the team doing training exercises in a stripped-down model version that ably illustrates the coming adventure.

Realistically, the adventure side of The Core starts at the Marianas Trench, which has the benefit of scale in all senses. Unveiling the ship (nicknamed Virgil), which is bigger than was shown prior in the middle of the ocean would be a big deal to the public in most movies, but in The Core, it’s all too little fanfare, all by design of course. It’s a short sequence in the grand scheme but seeing the crew transition from the blues of the surface to the black of the deep ocean is a harrowing start.

Once the crew makes their way past the water and into the rock and metal, The Core loses its momentum and lapses into a series of inadvisable narrative choices. Some of the areas – while remaining distinct – look too cheesy even for this kind of film, as the supposed deposits of precious metals that make up the Earth’s core are rendered as perfect six-sided diamonds and fiery hellscapes instead of a glut of grey and black liquid. Together with the multiple stalls the craft itself experiences and a lack of inventive obstacles, the core of The Core lacks a genuine sense of discovery, which torpedoes the goal of the film.

The Technics: Like any disaster movie worth its salt, The Core comes with plenty of effects sequences and honourable sacrifices, but Amiel and company can’t manage the way in which these prerequisites take place.

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Finding a tone seemed to be the most difficult task for the director and writers, as the movie frequently wobbles in between deadly seriousness and outright silliness, oftentimes in the same scene. The Core has moments like the scientists breaching the core, proceeding to argue over book deals, and then switching back to a mission-threatening crash, which all happens in maybe two minutes. Dialogue is rough too, as some of the lines the estimable cast has to deliver are overwhelmingly goofy, even for a disaster movie.

Most will tune in to see the way that the movie illustrates its disasters and the journey to stop them, and the movie’s effects only sometimes deliver, as the CGI has a high variance in quality. Some sequences like the crash of Beck and Iverson’s ship look quite good, and other moments like some of the explosions and lightning that are ramping up on the surface look downright awful.

Amiel’s disaster movie isn’t a disaster in itself, but The Core struggles to do anything new during its extended runtime. Even when it does find a kernel of originality, the movie doesn’t know what to do with it. It retains the necessary elements, but the movie is just too unsure and bland to make much of an impression.

The Core is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Platforms from Paramount.

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