THE CORE is a prime example of how film critics who purport to be knowledgeable (not just on cinema but rather miraculously on every subject movies choose to use) can miss the point by a mile, blithely tagging along with the herd stampede that can often make or break the end result of good intentions and hard work from hundreds of artists and craftsmen. In the case of this 2003 sci-fi adventure, the sneer brigade spat out The Core like a wormy apple. As if the concept of fun is beneath them. Well, dig me a hole…*
Sudden large-scale disasters reveal something messing up Earth’s magnetic field (protecting us from solar searing) and when it’s divined that the problem lies at the center of the planet, a team of brilliant scientists and crack Air Force/NASA jockeys steer a craft that can bore through layers of crust and mantle, thousands of miles into the molten heart of our orb. The banzai mission hopes to save our bacon before it’s burned to a crisp. In the meantime, London, Rome and San Francisco (how many times now?) get fast-track lessons in geophysics.
All movies require some suspension of disbelief, and those that involve things far outside the norm—fantasy/horror/sci-fi films in general—more so than other genres. What director Jon Amiel (Sommersby, Entrapment) and his writers (Cooper Layne and John Rogers) aimed for was a throwback to the older science-fiction adventures that relied not just on effects but on engaging characters. They weren’t going the full-on spoof route, though their affection for the ‘Saturday matinee’ idea allowed humor that was aware of the obvious incredulity of the subject matter. The dramatic passages are played straight: the “science” explained in simple comic book fashion plain enough to keep the plot points progressing so anyone from six to eighty could get some smiles before saying “Hey, wait a sec” and abacusing up the tally of illogic. A hark back to oldie faves like Journey To The Center Of The Earth, Crack In The World and Fantastic Voyage.
A prime team of charismatic actors make up the crew. Aaron Eckhart gets the likable hunk spot, Hilary Swank the whip-sharp navigator, Stanley Tucci the egotistical dissenter, Tchéky Karyo the amiable clown, Delroy Lindo the intense inventor of the sub(surface)marine, Bruce Greenwood the calm pilot. Tucci’s freakout is a highlight. Back on the fraying surface are the General in overall command (Richard Jenkins), a hacker genius (D.J. Qualls) pressed into service to keep the media and Internet panic in line, and the NASA coordinator (Alfre Woodard, in a sit-and-look-worried throwaway role).
The colorful effects aren’t Star Wars quality, but are still entertaining. In the year of The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King there was no way this popcorn muncher would steal the crown, but the overkill of snotty reviews, most lamely lambasting the scientific errors—what did they think they’d get?—contributed to lackluster boxoffice. Placing a below C-level 87th in the States—the average American had issues with the science? Uh-huh—the global take was just $74,121,000. That was planetary disaster against a cost estimated from $60,000,000 to $85,000,000. Jeers from buzzkills can go fish, it’s 130 minutes of underrated fun.
* The lore of The Core includes the alternative fact that a poll of hundreds of scientists selecting bad sci-fi flicks elected it as the worst. Must be a fun bunch at a party. Maybe they were charter members of that sourpuss segment that mainly enjoy films as a snarky venue to prove how smart they are by wizzing on other folks good time. By the way, thanks for nuclear bombs, bio weapons and @#$%^&* phones that would give Einstein a migraine.