One expects moments of discomfort from a Hollywood disaster film, of course, and The Core doesn’t disappoint on that front. On a number of others, to be sure, but not on that one. Some of these moments arise out of spectacular computer generated tragedies, others from an unfortunate overlapping of fact and fiction.
The first act in the movie, for example, introduces us to two of its heroes played by Bruce Greenwood and the Oscar winning actress Hilary Swank. They portray NASA astronauts at that moment in the process of piloting one of the space shuttles as it returns to earth following completion of its mission. Due to a mysterious glitch, the craft faces imminent destruction. Something has thrown it off course. It hurtles through the atmosphere like a white-hot brick gaining speed, losing altitude, its landing strip unreachable in the time it has left aloft. One way to describe this opening sequence: exhilarating. Another: borderline tasteless.
My suspicion is Paramount would’ve scrapped the sequence in deference to the recent shuttle disaster had it not cost a digital arm and leg to produce and provided a significant percentage of the picture’s overall entertainment value.
Later in the movie, we’re treated to one of those traditional media montages used to signify worldwide awareness of a particular event. Sometimes these take the form of magazine or newspaper covers. In this case, the audience is shown snippets from a series of broadcasts by the globe’s most prominent news outlets. The Core may be the first film to include Al Jazeera beside CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and the networks. It’s a prescient touch which proves distracting and somewhat unsettling in light of recent developments.
That said, the first third or so of the film is a surprisingly good time. Aaron Eckhart costars as a ruggedly handsome electromagnetic theorist. When people with pacemakers start dropping dead in the streets and large numbers of birds begin smashing into buildings, top military brass tap Eckhart for insight into the freakiness. The explanation he eventually provides accounts for all the weird stuff happening worldwide as well as that shuttle glitch. The earth’s molten core has stopped spinning.
Who knew that everything from your e-mail to the migration of geese depends for its proper functioning on the electromagnetic field the core’s rotation generates? Great. Something new to worry about!
There’s some truly funny writing early on. A highpoint is a running gag involving a pair of federal agents who joke dryly about their humorlessness as they bring Eckhart in for repeated interviews. The pacing is brisk-something wacky happens every couple of minutes, the editing crisp and the effects promising. Then disaster strikes: the first act gives way to the relative witlessness of the second and third.
The next thing you know, Greenwood, Swank and Eckhart are tooling toward the center of the earth in a nondescript rocket that burrows through rock with the help of laserbeam headlights designed by Delroy Lindo. The plan is to give the stalled core a sort of nuclear jump-start and then hightail it topside ahead of history’s greatest shockwave.
One or two spectacles which take place above ground are quasi-convincing, in particular the sequence in which cosmic rays pretty much melt the Golden Gate Bridge. The action below, however, speedily deteriorates into by-the-numbers Armageddon-style silliness throughout which the movie’s makers don’t even bother to play by their own, so to speak, ground rules. On one hand, the audience is informed that the ship can only travel through the planet’s inner mass with the aid of those stone-disintegrating lasers. On the other, it’s left to spend the film’s climactic moments watching as Swank inexplicably zips back up without them. Also not boffo: the subterranean special effects, so low tech they look like they could’ve been lifted from an old Jules Verne movie.
Director Jon Amiel has made a career out of crafting more or less adequate, ultimately forgettable fare like Copycat, Sommersby and Entrapment. If his goal was just to make the list one lightweight title longer, he should consider this mission a complete success.