Today, I am going to take a look at one of the most infamously terrible natural disaster movies: 2003’s The Core.
The plot of The Core is summarized on IMDb as follows:
The only way to save Earth from catastrophe is to drill down to the core and set it spinning again.
The screenplay for The Core had two credited writers: Cooper Layne, who also penned the remake of The Fog, and John Rogers, who wrote Catwoman and worked extensively on Cosby and Leverage.
The Core was directed by Jon Amiel, whose other film works include Copycat, Creation, Entrapment, and The Man Who Knew Too Little. On top of that, his television credits include work on shows like The Tudors, The Borgias, Marco Polo, The Singing Detective, and Hemlock Grove.
The substantial cast for the movie includes Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Thank You For Smoking, Suspect Zero), Stanley Tucci (Road To Perdition, Lucky Number Slevin, Spotlight, The Lovely Bones), Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Insomnia, Boys Don’t Cry, The Next Karate Kid), Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Flight), Delroy Lindo (Domino, Sahara, Gone In Sixty Seconds, Broken Arrow, Get Shorty), Tcheky Karyo (Bad Boys, The Patriot, GoldenEye), and Richard Jenkins (Bone Tomahawk, White House Down, The Cabin In The Woods, Six Feet Under).
The cinematographer for The Core was John Lindley, who also shot St Vincent, Legion, The Good Son, The Sum Of All Fears, True Believer, Field of Dreams, The Serpent and The Rainbow, Pleasantville, and Money Train. Terry Rawlings, who has cut films like GoldenEye, Entrapment, Alien, Alien 3, and Legend over his career, provided the primary editing.
The musical score for the movie was provided by Christopher Young, whose other music credits include movies like Sinister, The Rum Diary, Drag Me To Hell, Spider-Man 3, Swordfish, Rounders, Trick or Treat, and Hider In The House, among many others.
A fictitious material known as “Unobtanium” is referred to a handful of times in the movie. “Unobtanium” is essentially a short-hand code word in science-fiction to refer to a non-existent material with inexplicable powers or properties. The term will occasionally make its way into film scripts: most prominently in James Cameron’s Avatar. However, it is widely viewed as a lazy move.
At the University of British Columbia, The Core is routinely shown in a course on “Earth and Ocean Science” as a demonstration of bad science in movies. However, Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait, who specializes in criticizing bad movie science, didn’t take as much of an issue with the movie as you might think.
The Core is essentially a high-budget remake of Deep Core, a low-budget science fiction movie from 2000 that starred Wil Wheaton, Bruce McGill, and Terry Farrell.
Made on a $60 million budget, The Core wound up with a lifetime theatrical gross of $73.5 million. While this was able to cover the costs of production on paper, it likely didn’t make much in the way of profit once advertising and post-production costs were taken into account.
Critically, The Core was instantly the victim of mockery for its outlandish concept. It currently holds an IMDb user score of 5.4/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 41% from critics 33% from audiences, and is widely remembered as one of the goofier disaster movies of the era.
Upon a re-watch, the first thing that stood out to me about The Core is that the effects haven’t aged well: a lot of the CGI that probably looked good in the early 2000s looks like it belongs in a SyFy original movie today. While this is a testament to the speed of technological innovation, it doesn’t do the film any favors.
One of the reasons that The Core is still remembered today is because of the huge liberties it took with movie magic science. While the premise is certainly goofy, I didn’t find the bogus science nearly as distracting as I expected: the film actually does a pretty good job of immersing the audience in its exaggerated reality, and somehow it holds up the suspension of disbelief.
Aaron Eckhart, as always, is a charming lead. However, I feel like he was a bit miscast: the character was clearly written to be a bit of a helpless nerd who lacks assertiveness and confidence, and who grows from the experiences of the story. Eckhart, however, just looks too much like a movie star. Outside of his pretty awful hair cut, I didn’t find him a good fit for his character’s needs. Stanley Tucci, on the other hand, is fantastically hammy in his semi-villainous role, and was perfectly cast. Outside of those two, there are so many character actors in this movie that I couldn’t possibly list them all. What is important, however, is that they all put in decent performances, from the top to the bottom of the cast.
Rewatching it now, one of the biggest issues I have with The Core are the excessively agonizing character deaths for generally likable characters. Typically, the more painful deaths are saved for characters with vices, or ones who have in some way earned their demise, based on their decisions or behavior. Think about how often the unlikable jocks are killed off in horror movies, for instance. In The Core, however, the two most brutal deaths are experienced by supporting characters who are, more or less, flawless. Why do these characters suffer such terrible deaths, like being slowly crushed or boiled alive? My best guess is that this was a simple way to raise the stakes of the plot, and reinforce the inherent danger of their mission. However, it definitely left me with a weird taste in my mouth. The traditional karmic wheel that mandates character deaths just doesn’t seem to be in motion.
Overall, The Core is a very shallow movie when it comes to plot and character. However, it almost makes up for it with the performances from the cast, and the sheer silliness and popcorn-friendliness of the flick. The biggest issue with the movie in retrospect are the overabundance of CGI effects, which certainly haven’t aged well. That said, I think this is a b-level blockbuster worth digging back up for a fun watch: just don’t expect much substance underneath the surface.