Getting to the Bottom of Things (the Core Reviewed)

Before I begin, a quick note to those Non-Partisan Alliance members who have noticed that their blog feeds haven’t been appearing on the feed gathering page. The problem appears to be our gathering system, CaRP, having difficulty reading feeds burned on Feedburner (it’s already incompatible with Atom feeds, and so I tried turning to Feedburner to burn RSS feeds out of Blogspots’ Atom feeds).

There’s nothing I can do with the current system, but as soon as Jay Currie is through with his move, he and I are going to work on a new system which I hope will pull all of the members’ feeds equally, and possibly offer other amenities, like BANPC-specific RSS feeds, etc. Your patience is much appreciated.

And now for our regularly scheduled review…


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Longtime readers will recall that Erin, Dan and I (along with Cameron, if he can make it) enjoy renting bad disaster movies and making fun of them. We had a good time with The Day After Tomorrow, despite the fact that the film was perfectly decent for what it was.

For a long while, Erin has been itching to see The Core, motivated by the atrocious, so-bad-its-funny reviews it received. So, Dan and I rented the movie two Saturdays ago and settled in with Erin to watch. We weren’t disappointed.

The movie starts in Boston when a sales executive drops dead with a thump in the middle of a sales presentation — keeling over onto a glass table and smooshing his face in a (unintentionally?) hilarious spot. He’s not alone. People all over Boston have essentially been switched off, and everyone stumbles around in confusion.

Me: What do you think killed the sales guy?
Erin: I’m betting pacemaker!

Cue Dr. Josh Keyes, the rugged, youthful scientist that no-one believes at first, played by Aaron Eckhart. He’s called in by the men in black of the government to identify the reason about thirty-two individuals in Boston dropped dead at the same time. He guesses “pacemakers”, and the military is suitably impressed. “It only took you a minute”.

Dan: It only took Erin T-minus-four minutes!

As soon as The Government (tm) realizes that the Boston incident wasn’t an attack by a country they could invade, they try to brush it off (and set off to invade Iraq), but Dr. Keyes is like a dog with a bone. He knows that something is up. So he feeds in some random data, muttering to himself “please be wrong, please be wrong, please be wrong!” which might be code for “please let movie end now.”

But that would be letting the audience off easy.

More incidents follow, including an intriguing sequence where the Space Shuttle Endeavour gets knocked off course by faulty navigational equipment, Pilot Major Rebecca Childs (a.k.a. Love Interest Pilot Lady, played by Hillary Swank) is forced to take over and manually land the shuttle in the Los Angeles River. An exciting and fairly well-directed sequence, if you ignore the physics.

Erin: Take note: the space shuttle takes two miles to come to a complete stop.

Well, what good is the Love Interest Pilot Lady if she can’t bend the laws of physics?

Dr. Keyes goes to Dr. Conrad Zimsky, played by Stanley Tucci, who might as well be wearing a sign on his chest saying “I have a distinguished greying haircut and I represent institutionalized science gone horribly wrong,” and asks him to check the data. Institutional Scientist laughs off Rugged Scientist’s concerns, but then gets a little concerned himself when he actually sits down and reads some of the findings. Frowning, he gets up and unlocks a special, high-security drawer in his filing cabinet.

Erin: That must be his SECRET cabinet.

(Sure enough, the first file he pulls out has SECRET blazoned on front.

Dr. Conrad Zimsky is decent enough to check Dr. Keyes’s findings and then bring him into a special meeting of The Government (tm) and The Military Industrial Complex (tm). And finally we get The Explanation (tm).

Turns out the Earth’s outer core has stopped rotating.

Us: Huh?

Yeah, the Earth’s like a peach, see:

Us: With you so far.

You got the crust, the mantle, the outer and inner cores…

Us: GET ON WITH IT!

Anyway, the outer core is liquid metal. And by somehow rotating in some way separate from the Earth’s rotation, it’s generating an electric field. Which is responsible for our magnetic poles and our protection from solar radiation. Now the core has suddenly stopped rotating, our magnetic field is about to collapse and the Earth is going to be fried by solar winds much the same way as this peach will be fried by this blow torch that we managed to sneak past security into a top-secret meeting of high level government officials.

Dr. Josh Keyes: As the EM field becomes more and more unstable, we’ll start seeing isolated incidents - one plane will fall from the sky, then two, then, in a few month, anything, everything electronic will be fried.
Dr. Conrad Zimsky: Static discharges in the atmosphere will create superstorms with hundreds of lightning strikes per square mile.
Dr. Josh Keyes: After that it gets bad.

Hmm…

I recall a Nova special on PBS about the impending reversal of the Earth’s magnetic wherein the pre-announcers said, in ominous tones, “Are We Due for a Flip?” The pre-publicity was so over the top, you could hear the handwringing over at the corporation for public broadcasting, counting the individual viewers who had already switched over to “When Celestial Bodies Attack!” on FOX. Unfortunately, the scientists profiled had too much respect for the truth in order to live up to the pre-publicity’s dire warnings.

Turns out, we are due for a flip. Overdue, in fact. Our planet’s magnetic field has swapped poles dozens of times in geologic history. It’s happened before, so of course it’s going to happen again (and signs point to it happening sooner rather than later). And when it does, there will be a three-hundred to one-thousand year transition period where, essentially, the Earth has no magnetic field. The exact scenario that causes San Francisco Bay to boil in The Core.

Now, Mars has almost no magnetic field — hasn’t had one for millions of years — and some scientists say that this was why the planet’s atmosphere and water boiled off. “Oooo!” say the screenwriters behind The Core. But that was a process that took millions of years. (“Aw! But we want the atmosphere to boil, now!”) What would be the result of the Earth losing its magnetic field for one thousand?

This is an almost direct quote from a scientist on the Nova special: “a statistically significant rise in cancer rates, and auroras to die for.”

And not much else. Oh, the birds might get confused, but most would adjust within a generation. Communications might suffer, but there are ways to deal with that.

Most disaster movies take liberties with the science in order to force the drama. Only a rare few choose to stick to the worst case scenario that science has to offer. Consider all of the asteroid movies that woefully underestimate the power required to destroy a mile-long piece of rock. Or the storms that miraculously alter course to hit at the worst time possible. But most disaster movies have at least some basis in science — if only to say “we’ve seen tornadoes; we know what tornadoes do; lets knock over some buildings!” The Core represents somewhat of an exaggeration of reality. In fact, if the producers of The Core paid any scientific advisers anything, it was probably to shut up.

But we’re not done yet.

More disaster porn follows, with Rome getting totalled by a hyperactive electrical storm. The Government (tm) knows it has to act fast, so it assembles a crew of scientists along with shuttle-flying babe to board a special ship designed to journey to the centre of the Earth and miraculously avoid paying the Jules Verne estate a plug nickel. The plan is to set off a nuclear device to get the core moving again. Because there is not a single problem in God’s green universe that can’t be solved through the use of a well-placed nuclear device. Not even credit card debt. The crew gets ready, chemistry is allowed to develop, and we’re off to save the planet, and look damn good while doing it.

Or, so we hope.

It’s worth noting that the crack scientist team and The Government (tm) decides to hire a hip young superhacker to spread misinformation across the Internet and block real news of the impending disaster in order to prevent panic. Yeah. Because when I can’t get a decent explanation as to why my city just got totalled by a hyperactive electrical storm, I calm right down!

The movie is not all bad. There are some decent action scenes and okay special effects. Most intriguingly, there are occasions where you think that the script writers (Cooper Layne and John Rogers) have woken up into the nightmare realization that their careers are about to end and are sending SOS messages to their audience, begging to be let out of the movie. Some of the government Men in Black personnel are delightfully irreverent (“You must come with us, sir. We have no sense of humour. And we’re armed.”). When the time comes to alter the grand plan to blow up the core so it can spin properly, splitting up the nukes and detonating them manually, despite the huge number of safety protocols that would have to be bypassed to make this happen, Dr. Keyes throws in a great line, “so all we have to do is hotwire some nukes… as one does …”, practically winking at the audience.

[when asked what it would take to get the ship ready within 3 months]
Dr. Ed ‘Braz’ Brazzelton: [laughing] Fifty billion dollars… I…
General Thomas Percell: [with straight face] Will you take a check?
Dr. Josh Keyes: Why don’t you use a credit card? You get miles.

Then there is the material required to make Naut— (oops! Sorry, “the Virgil” — can’t be paying a penny to the Jules Verne estate here!) survive the unbelievable heat and pressure of the Earth’s core is called — get this — “Unobtainium.”

Yup. That’s clearly the point where the science behind the movie just threw up its hands and said, “I give up.”

For the most part, the movie follows all of the disaster movie clich — s to the letter. Erin, Dan and I were able to predict which members of the crack scientist team were going to die and in what order. Indeed, I was just stepping out of the room when I heard Dr. Serge Leveque, the French best friend of Dr. Keyes start talking about his wife and kids:

“I came here to save my wife and my two children and… six billion lives… it’s too much. I just hope I’m, I’m smart enough and brave enough to save three…”

I immediately shouted: “he’s mentioning his young family! He’s gonna die!” He lasted all of five minutes after that. There are hilarious scenes of overacting, including one where the bad guy scientist goes so over-the-top in his frustration over how bad the situation is turning out, he’s halfway up the next mountain before any help arrives. The complete “oh, my God, somebody forgot to take his meds” silence of the other two characters in the scene adds to the unintentional hilarity. The bad guy scientist redeems himself a lot, however, when he breaks off a flowery tape-recorded last-words monologue that nobody will hear, asks himself what the heck he’s doing, and dies laughing.

It would only take a few steps to make The Core into a riotous comedy; so much so, in fact, that I have to wonder if the decision was at the edge of the scriptwriters’ minds. But I think that their decision to take most of the movie seriously was a good one, for my personal enjoyment at least, as satire is hard to do, especially satire of bad disaster movies. Best just to be a bad disaster movie and let the audience entertain themselves. The result is a film that is so bad, it’s good, and maybe the screenwriters don’t have nearly as much to worry about as we thought.

So, The Core is worth watching if you bring along friends, popcorn and beer. And we can chalk up another good sitting around a bad disaster movie.


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