Wednesday, December 15

Movie Review - The Core

     This review will be a bit different than usual. Why? Because the movie I'm watching is just OK. It's not a good or a bad film. So why am I reviewing "The Core", a mediocre film from 2003 on a blog where I usually make fun of terrible ones? Because the science is hilariously stupid. No seriously, this movie is more scientifically inaccurate than Plan 9 From Outer Space's atmospheric conditions in space. But before I get into that, let's talk about the plot.

    Basically the core of the earth has stopped spinning and a team of scientists are trying to jump start the core with nuclear bombs by drilling into the core before it's too late. Yup, that's the plot. Sounds implausible? That's because it is. As a movie though, it's really just a big disaster movie. There's nothing special about it, no hilariously bad acting, cliche characters and scenes, and no real dramatic weight. The soundtrack tries to sound epic, but it only serves to distract from what's going on and remind you that this is just one big dumb action movie.

    The Core stars Aaron Eckhart as the lead scientist, Hilary Swank as the drilling pilot, Delroy Lindo as the drill's designer, Stanley Tucci as a famous scientist whose somewhat smug, and Bruce Greenwood as the caption of the drilling machine. A fairly decent cast to say the least, but it really didn't help this film. Enough about the movie itself though, let's get onto the science. I'll be borrowing a lot of science from the website, which has a number of articles about bad science in movies.

    The movie starts off with some business guy's watch dying. Shortly after he heads into a business meeting, he collapses and dies. Seconds later, we hear multiple car crashes outside and see a long camera shot scanning across the street. Several people have collapsed onto the ground and...road blocks are already up on the road? Yeah, the movie starts off with roadblocks magically appearing on the road with no explanation whatsoever. Believe me, that's the least of this movie's scientific problems.

    We then cut to Dr. Josh Keys, played by Aaron Eckhart, teaching about rocks in a university by blowing a trumpet at them. He's doing this to demonstrate how sound travels through different kinds of rocks, but what does that have to do with the diagram of the Earth that you see in the background? Uh, anyway the FBI shows up and tells him to come along. They tell him that they don't know what's going on and that he has higher security clearance than he does. Question, why this guy? You'd think the FBI has some pretty smart scientists around, or that they could ask the military. But no, they need this random college professor who has a trumpet fetish.

    They send him to some base where he meets up with an old friend of his. They talk for a bit about how they've been doing, but it's all forgettable. They end up in a large room with 32 dead bodies lying on tables with green blankets over them - CREEPY! The two of them decide they must be in the wrong place and try to leave, but they are stopped by a general. The general explains that all 32 of the dead people died in the same block within seconds of each other.

    Immediately, Dr. Keys figures out that they all had pacemakers and that this wasn't caused by a secret weapon, you know, because a college professor would know more about secret weapons than the frickin military. Also, if some electric interference stopped pacemakers, that wouldn't kill the patients - the pacemaker is to help the heart beat properly, it doesn't make the heart beat on its own. Oh, but the general accepts Dr.Keys's conclusions without question and sends him on his way. But don't worry, we haven't even started with the stupid science yet.

    Dr. Keys isn't satisfied with just leaving though, and he starts looking into things. He comes up with a theory and tries to share his finding with Dr. Zimsky, the smug scientist played by Stanley Tucci. Dr. Zimsky, a world renowned scientist (in the movie) not only accepts the folder this seemingly random person gives him, but he takes time out of his busy schedule to study it carefully. He dismisses Dr. Keys's theory as stupid, but after Keys leaves, he starts looking into it more. Turning a character into a jerk this early on in a disaster movie is never a good idea, because now we're just waiting for him to either redeem himself or die a horrible death.

    In the next scene, a huge flock of birds starts flying around mindlessly. They start crashing into buildings, monuments, and windows. Civilians start panicking and run away. We never see anyone get hit, but we see people covering their eyes or foreheads - weak.Dr. Keys and his peers discover that this isn't an isolated incident, and that rampaging birds has occurred before. They conclude that that some electromagnetic field altered their brainwaves to cause the birds to mindlessly fly into solid objects. Anyone else having a hard time believing that magnetic forces can alter brainwaves?

    Next up, a space ship, piloted by Hilary Swank as Major Rebbecca Childs and Bruce Greenwood as Commander Robert Inverson. They're in the process of re-entry, but somehow they're 200 miles off course. How? Because the electromagnetic field interfered with their instruments. Really? You didn't try calculating by sight to make sure? It's the earth, you can kind of see where you're heading, and I'm pretty sure problems with the electromagnetic field won't interfere with light. Anyway, they're heading straight for LA. As they try to figure out where to land, they fly right over a Major League Baseball game in the most cliche way possible. It isn't played as a joke, it it's simply there for no reason whatsoever. This has been done so many times in alien movies that even Men in Black, which came out six years earlier, made fun of it. I would also think that these space ships would have enough fuel to pull up in case of an emergency like this so they can, you in an alternate location. They crash land into the Los Angelas river, snapping off the shuttle's wings on bridge supports, and safely stop before a construction scaffolding. The whole scene just comes across as a big special effects spectacle, and you'll soon realize how weak this movie's special effects really are.

    Keys is drinking in a bar with a colleague of his when he is once again pulled aside by the military. This time though, he's brought into a conference room. Keys is apparently the only person on the planet to discover what's going on, as it always goes in these movies. Dr. Zimsky is trying to explain what's going on to a group of officials but has fallen out of favor of the General. Keys takes the opportunity to explain how the end of the world is coming in a few months. He blabbers on about how the electromagnetic field is protecting us from the sun's deadly radiation by burning a ball with a makeshift flamethrower. The electromagnetic field is apparently faltering because the core of the earth has stopped spinning. I'll talk more about that later. Keys explains everything to the military as if they're a bunch of kinder garden students even though they lead one of the most advanced research teams in the world.

    Let me side track for a moment. I'm using the earlier mentioned website as a reference here, but the electromagnetic field has nothing to do with the sun's radiation. It's like shining a flashlight at a magnet - nothing will happen. In terms of microwave radiation, there's no difference whether the electromagnetic field is stable or not. The atmosphere is what protects us against that. Sure, the field protects us a little bit from solar winds and flairs. Also, the sun emits very little microwave radiation, and at the most it will interfere with cell phone and radio transmissions.

    There is little reason to panic over the electromagnetic field becoming unstable. In fact, that happens naturally during a cycle every half-million years or so. Some bad things happen during these events, but never a mass extinction or incineration. Scientifically speaking, this movie makes no frickin sense.

    The heroes decide to save the world from this non-issue by drilling into the center of the earth and kick-starting the core with five 200-megaton nuclear bombs. Um, right...

    It's estimated that the solid inner core rotates with the kinetic energy equivalent of 340 200-megaton bombs, and that the liquid outer core is roughly at 32,000 200-megaton bombs. Assuming that the earth could be kick started with these bombs, our heroes are at least 335 bombs short. To make matters worse, the earth's core is spinning in one direction, but try finding a nuclear bomb that will explode in one direction. Bomb explosions typically explode equally in all directions, so detonating them will do little more than cause temporary ripples in the core. You'll need torque to make the core spin, and a spherical explosion simply cannot create torque. You'll have to somehow focus the explosion in one direction, and I imagine that's physically impossible with nuclear weapons.

    The entire group then travels to some shack in the middle of the desert, where a technician shows the scientists what he's been working on. He first demonstrates a laser that can cut straight through rock. He's discovered a metal, called Unuptanium (don't care how you spell it,) that gets stronger when it heats up. Not only that, but it automatically converts the heat into electricity. I don't think I even need to explain how stupid that is, but they had to come up with some way to drill into the insanely hot core without their entire crew vaporizing. To the movie's credit, even the best science fiction movies often have to fabricate something physically impossible to continue their plots, so I won't count that against it...too much.

    The military decides to run with this drilling mission, and even hires a teenage hacker to, um...hack the planet. Basically they want him to make sure any information about the core and the electromagnetic field doesn't show up online. Surely there are other ways for the information to spread, so his job is kind of pointless.

    Anyway, they start building a drill machine with these materials. Keys also adds an amazing MRI vision system for the drill that can see through solid lead. The drill also has a communications device that can perfectly transmit messages through the earth. The technician explains that his drill machine will take 12 years to build, but somehow it's completed in 3 months just because the military forks mega-cash into the project.

    The drill is made into several compartments, and ends up looking like a windowless subway train. The weapons control compartment is in the back of the drilling machine. In case of a hull breach, the breached compartment is sealed off and ejected. If that's the case, why the frick is the weapons control in the back of the frickin drill? The second they have to eject a compartment, they've lost weapons control and the mission is a failure. Why not put the crew quarters compartment in the back - you know, the least important compartment? Also if there's any sort of hull breach, everyone will be killed by the ultra intense heat and pressure so quickly that the entire mission is finished anyway.

    There's a scene where Dr. Zimsky is explaining to the drill technician about the earth's outer core, and that nobody's exactly sure how pressurized it is. When pressed on the matter, Zimsky says,

    "It's all best guess. That's all science is, best guess." Scientists tend to hold back from saying anything until they're very sure of what they're saying. They're almost always right because their so meticulous about everything they're studying. Science has very little to do with best guesses, unless they're states specifically as theories.

    Anyway, we have our training montage - yeah, a disaster movie with a training montage. This training montage is probably the weakest I've ever seen because it doesn't even have a theme song. Shortly afterward, Rome is destroyed by a static discharge in the atmosphere that comes across as a lightning storm.

    How is this possible?

    The team hurries up and begins the drilling mission. There's not much going on scientifically here so the rest of this review will seem fairly rushed. While descending through the mantel, the team runs into a void. Yup, a void in the mantle - a liquid hot layer of rock deep in the earth at thousands of degrees Celcius and who knows how many earth atmospheres in pressure. They crash land inside this void which the scientists stupidly declare as a giant geode. Do I really have to make fun of a movie that's officially a joke now? The drill is jammed and the team has to go outside to un-jam it. Several people put on flimsy looking space suits with clear visors and walk out of the drill. What? Is there a clear form of unoptanium now? Everything in this void should be glowing white hot and the intense pressure would greatly slow their movement.

    The technician starts burning a crystal with a torch to un-jam the drill. How would this help when the surrounding atmosphere is already hotter than the torch could possibly be? The torch starts running out of oxygen, so Keys donates his suit's oxygen. He's only slowly suffocating inside his suit despite his oxygen tube being directly exposed to the insane heat. He should have died instantly. Not to mention that in order for this to work, his oxygen tank had to be pressurized even more than the atmosphere around them, and that would react quite violently with its surroundings. Also, wouldn't that kind of air pressure kill him instantly too? Several crew-mates pull Keys back into the drill after he passes out, and Commander Robert Inverson is struck in the head with a falling crystal. He dies from the wound, but I have to ask why he didn't instantly implode or incinerate - whichever would happen first. Overall, this scene makes absolutely no sense.

    Minutes later in movie time, pilot Major Rebbecca Childs has to dodge a bunch of diamonds in what looks more like a video-game than an movie action scene. Here, we get that hull breach foreshadowed earlier with that ejection plan whenever a hull breach happens. Guess what? It's the weapons control compartment that's breached. Keys and the nuclear expert scramble to pull the weapon timers out of the compartment before it seals off. In reality, even a pinhole would instantly fill the entire machine with rock hotter than steel cutting flames. The pressure would be slightly lower than that of the Hiroshima bomb. Instead, all we get is the nuclear expert trapped as the compartment is sealed and ejected. The compartment slowly crushes in around him as he explains to Keys what they must do to detonate the bombs.The scene tries to be heart wrenching, but the compartment squeezing in like someone's crushing a pop can is too funny to be taken seriously. Heck, the nuclear expert is crushed to death before the camera stops working, and that really confuses me. I told you the science got worse.

    As the drill reaches the core, the team realizes that the core is not as dense as they though it would be. This apparently means that the mission has failed. What? They didn't bring an extra bomb or two just in case? Zimsky announces that they'll have to travel back to the surface so that the military can try an earthquake weapon to kick-start the core again. He also explains that this weapon may have cause the core to stop spinning in the first place.

    You cannot be serious! This wasn't plan A? To attempt to kick-start the earth with the same, already existing  experimental weapon that supposedly stopped the core to begin with? Instead you spend billions of dollars on a drilling machine to travel into the earth's outer core to attempt to kick-start the core with nuclear bombs? Keys argues with his ever reliable insight that this is a horrible idea because it would cause all the earth's volcanoes to erupt. Really? That's your biggest worry here? This would only cause disasters in their local areas which sounds like a deal compared to the entire planet burning to a crisp. Heck, this was made fun of in Austin Powers.

    Eventually the scientists work out another plan. They will detonate the five bombs in sequence around the core rather than in one isolated location. Really? I would think that was a better plan to begin with. They would separate different compartments in different locations, each with one of the bombs inside. Unfortunately, the master lock for separating compartments manually is inside a crawlspace burning at 9000 degrees. The technician explains that their suits are only built to withstand 5000 degrees, so one of the crew-members will have to sacrifice themselves. By comparison, the Hiroshima blast detonated at about 3900 degrees, so walking into this crawlspace would be worse than walking into a nuclear explosion. This begs several questions. Why is this manual override switch not inside a safe part of the drill?

    The technician draws the short straw and travels into the crawlspace. His suit's headlight breaks within seconds and his shoes slowly melt onto the floor. He has to reach into some hole resembling the kill-switch for the spike trap in the "Temple of Doom" that almost killed Indiana Jones. He succeeds and slowly dies. If this movie had even a shred of realism, he would have died the instant the airlock opened.

    Back at the earth's surface, there's a hole in the electromagnetic field and the San Fransisco Bridge is burned in half. Why isn't the water vaporizing if the bridge is melting in mere seconds? The General decides to run with the earthquake machine, so the hacker stops him by re-routing the base's power to a remote island. So a top secret weapons project doesn't have it's own power supply? How was the hacker even able to find out where the base was located? Oh right, because the military loves making websites about all their secret projects, forget I asked. How much longer is this movie? Not much thankfully

    As the drilling team are dropping compartments, Dr. Zimskey is trapped in with the second last bomb. Through the camera, he explains that the last bomb isn't powerful enough and needs 40% more blast power. Keys then decides to take the drill's plutonium power core and place it beside the final bomb. Even if the plutonium core exploded with the bomb, this would be a fusion reaction and wouln't provide the extra 40% blast required. He pulls out the plutonium core without his suit's helmet on, and yet he isn't affected by the radiation at all despite that his hands were burned through his unoptanium gloves from simply touching it..

    Now without power, Dr. Keys and Major Childs are stranded - only 12 minutes away from death. Keys suddenly remembers that unoptanium also converts heat to electricity. He rewires the engine into the unoptanium. Somehow this brings the drill back to life and they escape. In order for this to work, you need a circuit - the movie never explains how simply attaching wires to the unoptanium creates a circuit. Where is the ground wire? How does the unoptanium produce the exact right kind of power (AC vs DC.) If this is such an effective power source, why wasn't it used as a backup to begin with?

    This movie is just stupid. Sure, it's science is hilariously bad, but it's still hard to recommend this audience insulting disaster flick. I enjoyed the bad science, but I find it hard to recommend. There's really nothing else to say here, so I'll just conclude with my 2-word review.

Two Word Review - Ultimately Stupid


  1. given current news you might want to adjust your review of this movie as birds are indeed behaving this way globally. Still, terrible movie.

  2. Thanks for the heads up. I meant that I have a hard time believing any magnetic force could effect brainwaves - I should have been more specific.